Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An Anemic Community

I am a .NET developer. I've dabbled with Ruby and Python, learned Java and C++ in college, but there's no two ways about it, I'm a .NET dev. Occasionally I think it would be nice to work at one of those dev shops that hires out bodies to companies that need them so that I'd get to work with more languages. But most of the time I like being specialized, it means I have time to really learn my language and its tools. And it should mean that I turn out higher quality product because of it.

.NET is a great platform. The language is very much at the front of the curve as far as strongly typed languages go, and with C# 4.0 coming it will soon be incorporating a number of dynamic language concepts as well. Plus, as IronRuby and IronPython mature, it may become feasible to work with dynamic languages for some things and static for others, which is cool. Add to this picture LINQ, Windows Forms, WPF, WCF, ASP.NET and MVC and you're looking at a pretty compelling platform.

Now, the platform itself has its issues. The major one being that the tooling is targeted at the "least common demoninator" developer, which can make things interesting for a dev working with non-trivial applications in a non-trivial environment. But, that's a topic for another blog post. For our purposes here, lets agree that .NET as a platform is pretty darn good.

Unfortunately, the .NET community kind of sucks. There has been some improvement here in recent years with things like ALT.NET, but for the most part, the community remains pretty anemic. Compare it with the Java community for example. The vast majority of the non-microsoft products in .NET are ports from Java: nhibernate and nunit for example. Or compare it with jquery, the number of quality plugins and code samples is just ridiculous. It's a bloody fruited plain!

Now take a look at the blog posts that turn up from Google searches for .NET stuff. Especially around WPF and WCF all you find is amature quality stuff. Look at Codeplex, all you find are tons of discontinued projects people started, and what work remains there is terrible. And don't even get me started on the half solutions that riddle Code Project.

Why is this? There are a large number of .NET developers. There are all kinds of conferences and user groups. So why would it be that there is so little happening on the web with .NET. And why is it that what is happening is so bad?

I think its because .NET is a corporate community. The people who are sharing their work or writing code sample blog posts are either amatures, college kids, or "low ranking" people just getting started in their career. The actual "professionals" who are doing good work are doing it for some company or other and are unable to share it on the web! The few who actually do get involved on the web stick with waxing philosophical on their blogs (kind of like what I do...) and don't really add much value. Worse, if there were projects available, many companies wouldn't use them simply because they weren't Microsoft's.

The corporate view point is that any ideas or tools or products that have been developed by their people represent a competitive advantage. Giving away your advantage in the interest of helping the community is just stupid. Who would do such a thing?

Because of this there is little organizing going on. People are not starting useful and interesting projects and finding contributors. They can't, for fear that their employer will find out and they'll get into some kind of trouble they don't understand.

This is a real problem for .NET. I think that's why Microsoft works so hard at planting .NET bloggers in the community, like some kind of covert operation run by the CIA. That's helpful, because those people are writing good useful stuff. But it all falls short of any kind of organizing. And it also tends to keep its sights quite low, not really trying to contribute anything impressive.

The fact that no one is sharing really lowers the averge state of the art across the board. The ridiculous strides taken by Ruby on Rails and jQuery are examples of how much an open oriented platform can do. It makes it easier for people to jump on board and do non-trivial things. It also makes it more likely that as those people gain experience they'll contribute back. If it goes well, you can get a kind of snow ball effect where the people keep getting better and better and so does the technology.

I'm unclear on how the .NET world could begin to do this, since its so corporate driven. All I know is the low quality material makes a .NET developers life much much harder. And at times, its really frustrating.

1 comment:

  1. Another great post. This struck a nerve because on many an occasion I have been told that i couldn't use projects because they aren't officially endorsed by Microsoft. Things like NHibernate, JQuery etc. The notion of a corporate community seems dead on to me. Also i think some of it has to do with the fact that to use .net, i mean really use it, you have to pay for quite a bit. Windows Servers, Visual Studio, SQL Server, etc. Languages like Java, Ruby, PHP they are free. So hobbyists get into them and their associated tool kits and build great stuff.

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