I am intrigued by a trend that seems to be emerging, of companies from Google to Salesforce.com blurring the line between software developers and software users. Earlier this week, Google introduced App Inventor for Android, a visual development platform that it promised "requires NO programming knowledge." As proof, The New York Times reported that early testers of App Inventor included sixth-graders, nursing students and university undergraduates not majoring in computer science.
The democratization of software development is a burgeoning trend in the enterprise as well. It seems to be an especially hot trend in business process management, where it makes a lot of sense to let users map out their business processes and perhaps make them executable, a capability offered in new software releases by Oracle and Salesforce.com.
Now Microsoft apparently is preparing to jump in, too, with a new development tool code-named KittyHawk. As longtime Microsoft observer Mary Jo Foley writes on ZDNet, KittyHawk is Microsoft's effort to make its .NET development environment more accessible to non-developers. Microsoft was mum on KittyHawk, but Foley spoke to some anonymous sources, one of whom told her the target audience for the tool is "the corporate guy with some Excel/Access savvy."
It's reportedly a template-driven design tool with drag-and-drop functionality that will produce Silverlight 4.0 and XAML code, Foley writes.
Do these kinds of tools point to a future in which business users take over much of the development work while formally trained developers devote most of their time for the more complex task of creating foundational Web development platforms? Maybe. Sun Microsystems engineer Todd Fast spoke about this kind of a scenario at a JavaOne conference a few years ago.
According to an InfoWorld report, a software engineer attending the event thought Fast's vision was on target, although he predicted it would be at least another decade before business users began routinely creating applications. Based on KittyHawk and other recent developments, perhaps it won't be that long.
Predictably, some developers are not happy with this trend and think it will result in the creation of many sub-par applications, as comments following Foley's ZDNet post make clear. From wayne62682:
Another influx of clueless Morts to stink up corporate development departments and make businesspeople think programming is trivially easy. Access "programming" and Visual FoxPro were two of the WORST things in software development. You have no idea how many clueless "development managers" I've worked for who knew Access or FoxPro and thought that was real programming.
And from codeman0013:
I see this becoming a disaster within the corporate world with people now wanting to and building their own applications and when they break they will complain and expect IT to fix it.. From a programmer to Microsoft STOP! you are opening a can of worms that will never close if you release something like this!
Still, a few commenters conceded the tool could be useful in the enterprise, especially if used to create custom reporting/analytics applications.