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A friend of mine once told an eminent operating systems expert that he wanted to design a really good programming language The expert told him that it would be a waste of time that programming languages dont become popular or unpopular based on their merits and so no matter how good his language was no one would use it At least that was what had happened to the language he had designed What does make a language popular Do popular languages deserve their popularity Is it worth trying to define a good programming language How would you do it I think the answers to these questions can be found by looking at hackers and learning what they want Programming languages are for hackers and a programming language is good as a programming language rather than say an exercise in denotational semantics or compiler design if and only if hackers like it 1 The Mechanics of Popularity Its true certainly that most people dont choose programming languages simply based on their merits Most programmers are told what language to use by someone else And yet I think the effect of such external factors on the popularity of programming languages is not as great as its sometimes thought to be I think a bigger problem is that a hackers idea of a good programming language is not the same as most language designers Between the two the hackers opinion is the one that matters Programming languages are not theorems Theyre tools designed for people and they have to be designed to suit human strengths and weaknesses as much as shoes have to be designed for human feet If a shoe pinches when you put it on its a bad shoe however elegant it may be as a piece of sculpture It may be that the majority of programmers cant tell a good language from a bad one But thats no different
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