Choose Your Tools with Care

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In 1995 David Garlan et al., wrote "Future breakthroughs in software productivity may well depend on the software community’s ability to combine existing pieces of software to produce new applications". Nowadays, their prediction has become true. In fact modern applications are very rarely built from scratch, but they are assembled using existing tools--components, libraries, and frameworks--for some very good reasons:

  • Applications are growing in size, complexity, and sophistication, while the time available to develop them is less and less
  • Widely used components and frameworks are likely to have fewer bugs than the ones developed in house
  • There is a lot of high quality software available on the web for free, which means less development costs, and higher likelihood of finding developers with the necessary expertise
  • Software production is human intensive work, so buying may be cheaper than building

However, choosing the right mix of tools for your application can be a tricky business requiring some thought:

  • Different tools may rely on different assumptions about their surroinding context--e.g., surrounding infrastructure, control model, data model, communication protocols, etc.--and this can lead to an "architectural mismatch"
  • Different tools have different lifecycles, and upgrading one (or more) of them may become an extremely difficult and time-consuming task
  • Sometimes free software is not free, after all. You may need to buy commercial support, which is not necessarily going to be cheap
  • Vendor lock-in. Code that depends heavily on specific vendor products ends up in being constrained by them on several accounts: maintainability, performances, ability to evolve, price, etc. Finally, there is a reduced scope to negotiate the licensing fees
  • Etc.

By all means use components, libraries and frameworks, but make sure you choose them wisely.

[this is still work in progress]

By Giovanni Asproni

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3

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