Programming for Everyman: Just
Let the Users Do It
TRY AS THEY MIGHT, PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES have never really crossed the chasm from the profession to the broad populace of computer users. There have been great strides over the years, from FORTRAN and COBOL to Visual Basic and Java, in opening up programming to an ever-widening circle of professionals. Yet the unrealized promise of the field is that software technology could go further, and allow ordinary users to do the programming themselves. There are hopeful models from other industries. When telephone service first began to expand beyond local communities, it took two or more telephone operators to complete a single long-distance call. There were astronomical projections of the number of operators required for national service. Long-distance telephony looked hopeless, yet with improved message-switching technology and other advances came direct dialing, which automated what had been a labor-intensive job for specialists. Direct dialing, in effect, made everyone an operator.
The programming problem, to be sure, is more complicated than the telephone-operator dilemma of the early 1900s, but do-it-yourself programming is an idea with great appeal. It represents a step beyond the long-running effort to enable more people to use computers - the main aim of user-interface design - to having people increasingly program the machines themselves as well. The payoff would be to spread the benefits of information technology further, to empower users and to boost productivity.