Thursday, October 19, 2006

The problem with language templates

When the idea behind DSM and MetaEdit+ has just settled in the minds of many people I talk to - these usually include developers, their bosses, magazine editors and analysts - I regularly get the question about language and generator templates: "Do you offer any ready-made templates?"

Although this would seemingly make adopting DSM faster by offering a "more-ready" solution that users would only need to tweak a little, it actually falls into the "one-size fits all" trap that UML offers. Ready-made templates try to do what ready-made templates try to do: offer one solution to many, which is what DSM tries to avoid for productivity reasons. A solution that needs to work for many, even if they are all active in the same horizontal or vertical, has to make compromises in the design of the modeling language and therefore the code generators, which negatively affects the productivity boost that DSM seeks to offer.

What we at MetaCase see, is that there are huge differences between problem domains, even between companies in the same vertical that make the same product. They benefit from DSM just because they can design the modeling language to fit exactly the way they wish to design their products/systems: Not surprisingly, the desing languages they use differ completely from one another in terms of the concepts they use, the rules that apply to them....the abstraction level they work on.
Providing them with a ready-made language template would:
  • Get them started on the wrong path: They would not think carefully about their problem domain and attempt to create a language that would fit it. Instead, they would take the ready-template and try to fit it to their problem domain via all kinds of complex adaptations (similar to the UML profiles approach): Let's do it quick and ugly.
  • Because of this, limit the possibilities and flexibility to generate the code they need, leading to a need to reverse engineer and round-trip: A road to nowhere...
The problem with language templates is that they exclude the much better solutions that exist for an individual problem domain. Although the idea seems a good one at first thought, once the idea of DSM matures however, providing or using ready-made templates seems a lot less attractive.

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