An Ambitious Vision or just a Marketing Opportunity?
By: Treff LaPlante
Aug. 28, 2009 12:00 PM
The debate has raged for some time now about the exact definition of a 5GL. One might argue that there also is still some debate going on about what exactly is a Platform as a Service PaaS. Throw together two semi-ambiguous industry-specific buzzwords and what do you get? Well, for all of you cynics out there, the answer is NOT "a great marketing opportunity!"
In all seriousness, taken together, the two do represent an ambitious vision of the future; a world where the "non-programmer", i.e. someone who does not have experience "writing code", can quickly create flexible software solutions that actually work to power real business processes, and that satisfy real business needs. It's an interesting vision that includes a much deeper penetration of application automation then we see today, including interacting seamlessly with external data sources.
There are two incredible value drivers here, and their magnitude and potential impact is important to understand;
Taken together, these factors represent a revolution of productivity and automation just waiting to happen. ...there is SO MUCH more that companies COULD be doing, if only it were easier to do.
The concepts of 5GL and PaaS seem to be the keys to unlocking this vision. To explain how, let's take each of the two concepts and dissect them a little bit.
What Is a 5th Generation Language (5GL)?
Each time a major breakthrough was made in moving towards human-speak, a new "GL" was coined. Here is a very rough set of examples to give you a sense of how this worked; 2GL - assembly languages. 3GL - structured languages; Cobol, Java, C++. 4GL - tool sets that solve specific needs, think; report builders, RAD tools, OLAP tools, some web development environments. Keep in mind that each of these advances in programmatic languages have corresponded to significant reductions in development costs, boosts in developer productivity and ultimately increases in business productivity.
A 5GL then must be some further walk along the path towards "human speak". Some would argue that you can't abstract an abstraction, and hence 5GL's aren't possible. Others have argued that a true 5GL imparts some sort of computer intelligence in interpreting human commands. Finally, some would say that "if it makes development faster, it must only therefore be a RAD tool, and a 4GL"; however the problem with that is that 4GL's still involve code and programmers. Still, many others say that a 5GL will be characterized by some sort of visual programming language, and this description is probably a lot closer to the truth of it all.
What does seem to be clear about a 5GL is that it will enable legions of talented individuals to quickly produce the kinds of sophisticated software that previously only trained software developers could produce - in any generation of language.
I've seen statistics that say that for every one person who writes code in a 3GL, there are a thousand people who work in higher-order tools (I believe visual basic was actually the higher-order tool cited in that statistic). A 5GL's promise is to empower thousands of people with the power to do what previously could only be done by the one person. What would that do for businesses today?
What Is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)?
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