Nostalgia

18/05/2017

My first programming experience was with VB6. I considered trying TurboPascal, but couldn’t figure out how to use it from cmd.exe on my measly Windows 98 SE machine. Many things have been said about the quality of the BASIC family of languages and the subpar programs created with VB6, but it’s easy to forget how convenient they make it for the beginner to create something workable without losing their head in irrelevant details in the windowing toolkit. The workflow looks mostly like this: Create and arrange widgets, edit their properties, double-click each widget with custom behavior and write code for the respective event handler. Needless to say that the few original programs I did write weren’t of the useful kind. Only much later after a brief encounter with C++ for game programming (which made me quit programming for a few years) I discovered scripting languages, learned to love Python and eventually spun off into the polyglossia required by modern software development jobs.

windows93.net reminded me of the good ol’ times, leaving me wondering just how hard it would be to recreate the irretrievably lost programs from back then. My excursions into GUI programming have taught me that GNOME offers two separate projects that connect their introspection for GTK and friends with a JavaScript interpreter, seed and gjs. Unfortunately seed is no longer in the Arch repositories, so I picked gjs, just to find out that there is no official documentation, aside from an auto-generated set of API docs provided by a user.

The good news is that with the help of #gtk+ on Freenode, I managed porting all applications in less than a day. The bad news is that I doubt I’ll use gjs again as its situation reminds me of LLVM: Lots of potential, intriguing claims (in their case, introspection giving you language bindings for free) but with outdated documentation if any (you’re better off with reading the source and experimenting a lot) and tooling being half-assed. Rewriting teapub might be possible, but for what gain? It’s no surprise Qt is eating their lunch despite being more complex and requiring you to use C++. Had I been given this environment ten years ago, I’d probably have gone for browsers instead. So, in a way it’s not surprising that environment appears to breed the new generation of programmers.