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Google Pulls Plug On Programming For the Masses 236

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hacking-is-cancelled dept.
theodp writes "Google has decided to pull the plug on Android App Inventor, which was once touted as a game-changer for introductory computer science. In an odd post, Google encourages folks to 'Get Started!' with the very product it's announcing will be discontinued as a Google product. The move leaves CS Prof David Wolber baffled. ' In the case of App Inventor,' writes Wolber, 'the decision affects more than just your typical early adopter techie. It hurts kids and schools, and outfits like Iridescent, who use App Inventor in their Technovation after-school programs for high school girls, and Youth Radio's Mobile Action Lab, which teaches app building to kids in Oakland California. You've hurt professors and K-12 educators who have developed new courses and curricula with App Inventor at the core. You've hurt universities who have redesigned their programs.' Wolber adds: 'Even looking at it from Google's perspective, I find the decision puzzling. App Inventor was a public relations dream. Democratizing app building, empowering kids, women, and underrepresented groups — this is good press for a company continually in the news for anti-trust and other far less appealing issues. And the cost-benefit of the cut was negligible-believe it or not, App Inventor was a small team of just 5+ employees! The Math doesn't make sense.'"
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Google Pulls Plug On Programming For the Masses

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  • by zget (2395308) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:44PM (#37045730)
    Anyone who still does anything serious with Google's products kind of deserves it. Google has been for years putting some product up just to completely discontinue it soon enough. Unlike desktop software, Google discontinuing product means that you really cannot use it anymore. Google is really hurting itself and their image with this shit and ensuring competitors products like from Microsoft will continue to be widely used.
    • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:51PM (#37045834) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, I was just at a workshop today where the presenter was bitterly remarking that some history-related search function she was going to show us had just been yanked by Google.

      App Inventor always seemed like a toy to me, not really capable of even making, say, an app for checkers. That said, it provided a really nice GUI for doing event/handler coding, easy enough for kids to understand.

      I was debating teaching it to teachers... glad I didn't now.

    • by oakgrove (845019) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:56PM (#37045892)
      Not sure why you went on an off topic rant against Google's other products but in the case of App Inventor, Google has agreed to open source the whole thing. Which is great because as good as AI is, it leaves a bit to be desired. Honeycomb support in particular. Kudos to Google for not just taking their toys and going home but freely giving them away to benefit the rest of us and ultimately ensuring that App Inventor will always be an available tool no matter what happens behind the scenes.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Not good enough! We're worried about all the women and children! The poor, helpless things. What will they do now that their entire educational system has been dismantled by google?! Those monsters. Why do they hate children and women and teachers and schools and learning and children so much?

        [tldr; jesus fuck, that summary was annoying]
        • by sarysa (1089739)
          Well, everyone knows there are no women on the internet, but all hackers are children. Without AI, Anonymous will run out of new members within the next decade.
      • by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:48PM (#37046542)

        Yeah, I'm not sure how making it open source counts as "pulling the plug." The summary is extremely misleading, to say the very least. I wouldn't even be surprised if Google continues developing AI after open sourcing it. In fact, they mention that they are looking to do precisely that, and because of its educational usefulness.

        Seems like /. should be praising this move by Google. If Google doesn't release source code (see: Honeycomb) they're evil, and if they do... they're evil. I'm guessing someone just doesn't like Google. My guess is they don't want to develop it anymore because it just isn't powerful enough to be used for real app development, but they still want people to be able to use it. Good for Google.

    • Seen what? A company offering a service then open sourcing it when they decide it doesn't fit in with what they do any more?

      Services get obsoleted, if you can't accept that for a given project - then yeah, only use one where agreements that satisfy your needs can be put in place.

      As for the apparent oddity in suggesting people get started whilst announcing the closure of the service, I think the first line in TFA clarifies: "With the winding down of Google Labs, Google will discontinue App Inventor as a Goo

    • by turgid (580780)

      Google is now in the PHB phase, something that all companies enter when they become "mature."

      This is when the traditional PHBs come in and take control. They cut back on proper R&D and innovation and decree that the company must concentrate on "core business."

      There then follows a period of (hopefully) several years where the company is bled dry by the board of directors and the "investors." Meanwhile, the real innovation is done by small competitors and individuals with the good ideas and motivation.

      A t

    • by gorzek (647352)

      How the fuck did this get "Insightful" unless a bunch of people didn't even bother to read the announcement and see that Google is open sourcing it?

      Jesus Christ, Slashdot.

    • by HalAtWork (926717)
      You can make that argument for just about any proprietary platform. Schools should just use an OSS stack. If it doesn't include what they want, teach their kids to develop it.
    • by RKBA (622932)
      Google has been stinking for awhile. Now it's beginning to suck.
    • by Jonner (189691)

      Anyone who still does anything serious with Google's products kind of deserves it. Google has been for years putting some product up just to completely discontinue it soon enough. Unlike desktop software, Google discontinuing product means that you really cannot use it anymore. Google is really hurting itself and their image with this shit and ensuring competitors products like from Microsoft will continue to be widely used.

      This is not insightful at all. Anyone who read TFA would know that not only is Google planning to release the Android App Inventor as Open Source software, but a non-profit organization will take over management of it. It was a mistake to rely on it in the past because Google could pull it at any time. However, once the code is released it may make sense to "do something serious" with it since they will no longer have that power.

  • So simple (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:47PM (#37045768)

    Democratizing app building, empowering kids, women, and underrepresented groups

    So simple, even a woman can do it.

    • So simple, even a woman can do it.

      Yeah, that caught my eye too. My manager (woman), team architect (woman), staff engineer (woman) and last 3 dev hires (women) really depended on tools to empower themselves.

      Maybe I need some male empowerment since the 3 women on my team of 5 outrank me. Or, that's just how things came together.

    • by JudgeFurious (455868) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:30PM (#37046322)
      Maybe someone should tell him. I'm sure he can make this right.
    • by makubesu (1910402)
      I think we'll have to wait for Ice Cream Sandwich to put a woman on this job.
  • "Democratizing app building, empowering kids, women, and underrepresented group"

    How dramatic. If it could do my bed and wash my dishes it'd be perfect.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:50PM (#37045806)

    from TFA:

    "With the winding down of Google Labs, Google will discontinue App Inventor as a Google product and will open source the code. Additionally, because of App Inventor’s success in the education space, we are exploring opportunities to support the educational use of App Inventor on an open source platform."

    • from TFA:

      "With the winding down of Google Labs, Google will discontinue App Inventor as a Google product and will open source the code. Additionally, because of App Inventor’s success in the education space, we are exploring opportunities to support the educational use of App Inventor on an open source platform."

      I think it's pretty obvious what happened here. Because of close brushes with violating their "do no evil" mantra, Larry and Sergey have actually perfected time travel in order to ensure that no present actions result in future evil.

      As a result, the first subject has been sent into the future to report back only negative results from Google's products. When he returned beaten and battered and bruised, he declared that support and extensions of the App Inventor must be halted. Instead of assisting in learning, App Inventor gave uneducated kids the power of super hackers -- creating applications that could be viruses and malware. The explosion of malware on mobile phones sent markets reeling and devastated the world economy ... and then, one fateful morning, as a particularly evil hacker was using App Inventor to build a smarter botnet he had the idea to use App Inventor to create an App that simply used App Inventor to progenate. And he succeeded in making it 0.000001% smarter than he himself was. And so it set out using App Inventor to make more programs that used App Inventor to make programs that were 0.000001% smarter than their parent program.

      Nothing to fear, right? RIGHT?

      A few quadrillion iterations later (which Google's servers handled without any problem) and App Inventor had infected every system in the world. The result was a super brilliant application that could predict and see everything by harnessing the computation power of every implemented Turing Machine in the world. Therefore, Google had to kill App Inventor now while it still had the chance.

      Larry and Sergey debated for hours whether App Inventor was inherently evil or the application of App Inventor. What was worse, was that Larry was convinced that if App Inventor was not left to run its course then mankind would face an even more evil post-apocalyptic future past that when Microsoft's .NET Inventor overtook it.

      And so they came up with a simple, elegant solution that would shift all the blame onto the entire world should App Inventor become the end of mankind: open source it.

      • I am destroying all the turing machines within my immediate control starting after I'm done browsing slashdot for a while.
      • by dzfoo (772245)

        I read the report produced by the Google Futures project (AKA "Through the Looking Glass"), and I notice the following curious state of affairs: Apple was still making money with mobile devices (apparently Steve Jobs brain was preserved in a jar); Google owned the Internet, wholesale; Microsoft was touting their latest Windows 14 as "the most secure operating system yet"; Mozilla's Firefox v47.1 was still bloated, crashed every other tab, and oddly enough, still managed to introduced an entirely new tool b

  • by itchythebear (2198688) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:51PM (#37045832)

    Quoted from the original source at Google:

    With the winding down of Google Labs, Google will discontinue App Inventor as a Google product and will open source the code. Additionally, because of App Inventor’s success in the education space, we are exploring opportunities to support the educational use of App Inventor on an open source platform.

    source [googlelabs.com]

    • Additionally, David Wolber may just be upset because he won't be selling any more books [amazon.com]...

  • by jaymz2k4 (790806) <jaymz@nOsPaM.jaymz.eu> on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:52PM (#37045846) Homepage

    Democratizing app building, empowering kids, women, and underrepresented groups

    I said this when it came out and I'll say it again - where is the real demand for this from these people the author is quoting? I've yet to come across someone itching to create apps but with no desire to learn development. Those people who do want/think they want/have a need for an app have just zero interest in spending the (however small) effort doing it themselves and prefer to lean on techy friends.

    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:14PM (#37046128)

      Democratizing app building, empowering kids, women, and underrepresented groups

      I said this when it came out and I'll say it again - where is the real demand for this from these people the author is quoting?

      Supposedly that demand is the result of anti-kid / anti-woman in other dev tools. Ah that must be emacs with its "kitchen sink" comparisons, you know, keep em barefoot, pregnant and in the KITCHEN. Of course then there is vi. My guess is vi is anti-child, because you hit escape about every 5th keystroke, and everyone knows from horror movies that some mass murder ESCAPEs and kills all the teenagers in the movie. As for perl, well you got the camel book, and camels are from the middle east, and they're not known for their feminist outlook on life.

      • Your camel analysis is wrong, just look at the toes, if that isnt as feminine as an animal can get, I dont know what is.
    • by MightyYar (622222)

      where is the real demand for this from these people the author is quoting

      Teaching. When you introduce kids to music, you start with rhythm sticks and recorders - not a theremin. You don't ask them if they want to be introduced to music - you just start exposing them to it. Some will roll with it and some won't, but all will be more well-rounded for the exposure.

    • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:47PM (#37046538)

      There's also the reality that you can't make programming much more friendly than most of today languages.

      I taught high school computer science and its amazing to see the difference between kids. But more importantly, the concepts are what is hard. It is not the expression of those concepts.

      I don't know what it is with so many academics and educational people who seem to think the concepts are easy... we just need the right way to express them.

      The same kid who struggles with the notion of a variable in algebra is the same kid who will struggle with the notion of a variable in a programming language. No amount of drawing boxes to show it is 'holding' a value will help any more than saying this is X.

      These are just difficult concepts: variables, sequential steps, algorithms... Most of us who program take these things as trivial. Most of us who did quite well in school take these things as given. Most of us who naturally think analytically about issues take these things for granted.

      That's just not how most of the population thinks. I have friends who are teachers who still don't understand what fractions really mean and how to do basic math on them.

      These are just hard concepts. Part of me thinks that such people may never get it until they change their entire way of thinking. If you brain cannot comprehend the idea of a variable; you will never be able to think analytically; and you'll never be able to program.

      I don't say that in a bad way. I'll probably never understand the complexity of modern art until I change my entire way of thinking.

      Yet, time and time again, we see these tools which claim to make programming easy. Do you really think the big block is that a kid cannot comprehend an IF statement, yet if you draw a big diamond in a flow chart, it all becomes clear? No, that's the easy part.

      Time and time again, we see educational academics trying to say we just need to express ideas in a way students can understand.

      Yet, it is the concept that is hard. People can easily learn the different expressions of that concept.

      But anyways. There's no demand for products like this except by academia and the education bureaucracy.

      • by cdrguru (88047)

        What you are trying to describe here is something called abstract symbol manipulation. Some people can do it, others cannot.

        The problem for people conceptually is that you are dealing with manipulating object Q through a symbolic relationship with object X. Even when both objects are real-world things the abstraction of the relationship between X and Q stymies some people. They don't get it, they don't understand the relationship and they are never going to. The same person that can't do this then can t

      • by PCM2 (4486)

        I taught high school computer science and its amazing to see the difference between kids. But more importantly, the concepts are what is hard. It is not the expression of those concepts.

        At my junior high school, we had a computer class that taught some Basic programming. The thrust of it was just to get kids interested in computers, more than to teach real, practical programming concepts.

        After that, there was nothing until junior year, when my high school offered an AP Computer Programming class. It was taught in Pascal (Apple Pascal, if I'm not mistaken). In order to take that class, you had to pass Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II. By the time I was even old enough to be eligible to sig

      • by leereyno (32197)

        Why should we as a society waste time trying to teach these concepts to people who will never understand them?

        Vocational schools and other types of training were once offered for those who were not college material.

        Today the unspoken and unexamined assumption that every kid is college material is part of why our public schools are so laughably corrupt and dysfunctional.

      • by steelfood (895457)

        I have friends who are teachers who still don't understand what fractions really mean and how to do basic math on them.

        And people wonder why the state of education in the US is so poor.

        As for the rest of your post, I have to disagree. The concepts you mention are easy. They're incredibly basic, and are a combination of no more than two separate but related ideas. For example, a fraction is comprised of the concept of dividing something equally, and possessing one or more of those parts. A (strongly-typed) variable is the concept of something unknown combined with the concept of representation. Branching is the concept of ch

        • I'm by no means suggesting that if you start with any kid from birth, that you couldn't teach them any of these concepts. That I firmly believe.

          Do I think by the time they reach high school, some of their brains may be so wired to think a certain way that it is near impossible to teach these concepts? Possibly.

          And again, I don't say that as a bad way. Some kids might be raised to be more musical, physical, imaginative... I have no issue with that.

    • Democratizing app building, empowering kids, women, and underrepresented groups

      The implicit argument here is that these groups are too dumb to be able to learn proper development themselves, which I find very insulting.

  • They're shutting down google labs, it's a google labs product and, as the blog post reads, "Google will discontinue App Inventor as a Google product and will open source the code" so all that's likely to happen is the URL will change, new eyes will look at and update the code and things will continue as normal.

    Why is making it more accessible a bad thing?

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @12:57PM (#37045910) Homepage

    I tried to use it as I got in on the early beta and tried several times to make a basic app. and Gave up in frustration several times.

    Honestly, it was poorly designed from day one, and as a programmer if I was frustrated a "average joe" would have gave up 60 seconds in.

    • Maybe you were frustrated because you are a programmer. From the basic information you provided about your experience that cause is as good as the other. But I do agree that it was really hard to use it was ALMOST intuitive and that is way more frustrating that knowing that you have to read a huge book to get it. The idea that the designer apparently thought it could just be figured out and didn't provide the kind of resources you'd really need.
      • by mjwx (966435)

        Maybe you were frustrated because you are a programmer. From the basic information you provided about your experience that cause is as good as the other. But I do agree that it was really hard to use it was ALMOST intuitive and that is way more frustrating that knowing that you have to read a huge book to get it. The idea that the designer apparently thought it could just be figured out and didn't provide the kind of resources you'd really need.

        The reason it was hard to use is because it was web based with local components in Java. That made the GUI slow and limited.

        Opensourcing it would be the first step in turning it into a standalone IDE that will be more usable. Two features I could think off off the top of my head that would improve it immeasurably are copy/paste and autocomplete lists that would make building common functions faster.

        BTW, in case anyone doesn't know, App Inventor was based on codeblocks.

  • "You can use App Inventor to build just about any android app you can imagine"

    A famous quote deserves recognition: "I'll Believe It When I See It"
    • by ctid (449118)

      False. Like most tools like this it is simple but inflexible. There are lots of things that you can do with it but it's nonsense to say "... build just about any android app you can imagine"

  • Actually this is the first time I actually heard of the product... Or if I did hear about it it didn't appeal to me. But why would colleges, schools and groups jump at this technology and invest all these resources when its usage is rather shady. Wait for wider acceptance first then you can change your programs. I am not saying it needs to be top dog but it should at least have a good buzz around it.

  • BAD. bad. simple as that. a private company can just pull the plug on something masses rely on, and there may or may not be an alternative, and if not, an alternative may take years to come up. generations grow in the meantime.

    this is why we need open source. so no private profiteers will be able to undo all of us in one fell swoop.

    as for google - im saying this as a web developer ; its baaad bad p.r. for you. even from my perspective.
  • by hoggoth (414195) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:17PM (#37046170) Journal

    > And the cost-benefit of the cut was negligible-believe it or not, App Inventor was a small team of just 5+ employees! The Math doesn't make sense.'"

    One of those 5 employees parked in Sergey Brin's parking spot. The rest was inevitable.

    • by doom (14564)

      "'... And the cost-benefit of the cut was negligible-believe it or not, App Inventor was a small team of just 5+ employees! The Math doesn't make sense.'

      5 * 100K * 2 = 1 million/year
      Maybe I don't understand the biz, but that seems like a fair amount to spend on a public relations program.

      • Hey, what's all that there * 2 malarkey?

        It better not be for payroll taxes and overheads. Ah say, ah say, ah say we don't like none of that fancy MBA shit round these here parts, boy. We might not know the difference between sales and profits, but we know what Hollywood accounting is. It's bad, that's what it is.

        So if we decide a steak that costs 20 bucks in a restaurant is overpriced because you could buy the same meat at a supermarket for 5, then it is, OK?

      • by danlip (737336)

        Did you throw in that "* 2" just for kicks?

        And 1 million/year is a pretty small amount of money for Google. It's also a pretty small compared to what other companies spend on advertising - for example several million dollars for a 30 second superbowl ad, and that's just a tiny percentage of the annual advertising budget of many companies.

  • by thisisauniqueid (825395) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:38PM (#37046418)
    Empowering kids, women, minorities?? That's ridiculous. App Inventor's biggest problem is that it is too low-level. There is almost a one-to-one correspondence between every block in App Inventor and a single Java keyword or operator. Therefore there is NOTHING you can learn with App Inventor that you can't learn by learning to write source code. In fact the blocks themselves obscure meaning, because their visual representation doesn't convey much actual meaningful information. App Inventor could have been really, really good if it worked at a much higher level, and if the construction process wasn't so highly geometrically constrained and brittle.
    • by leereyno (32197)

      I'm honestly confused about the women and minorities bit. What does a person's gonads have to do with their ability to use an API? Does skin color help someone code? Products and their continued availability matter to the people who use those products, and unless I'm mistaken that has nothing to do with sex, race, creed, color, religion, or which professional sports franchise a person is a fan of.

      Wolber is pulling nonsense out of his arse to provoke people who can be counted on to display a pavlovian res

  • by Arlet (29997) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @01:43PM (#37046476)

    My kids have used 'Scratch'. I've no idea how this compares on details, but they were having a lot of fun with it, and from what I can see, it certainly creates an understanding of structured programming techniques.

    http://scratch.mit.edu/ [mit.edu]

  • Democratizing app building, empowering kids, women, and underrepresented groups

    Why, right you are, good sir! Capital idea! Our womenfolk would swoon right over with the vapors should they be forced to learn how to program our electromagnetistic computational whatnots the traditional way! The these "underrepresented groups" you speak of (wink wink), why they suffer constant indignities of many and varied brain fevers when attempting even the simplest mechanical tasks long ago mastered by proper Men of this Enlightened Age. It is demanded by Charity, not to mention we must field everyth

  • What I think was meant by the OP's clumsy remarks about "kids, women, and underrepresented groups" is that App Inventor has proven successful at attracting members of underrepresented groups. Some successful outreach programs based on App Inventor include:

    The claim isn't that members of these groups can't learn traditional CS

  • I'm totally not a programmer (dipped my toes in Basica in my youth) and I used this to make a little dialer app specific to my companies PBX setup. It's working great! Unfortunately now I'll never be able to update it if need be.

  • 5 employees == $600k per year in salary, plus benefits, plus bonuses, stock options, the office space to house them, their computers and maintenance on those computers, other IT costs associated with those employees, and so on. if you have hundreds of "cheap" projects like this, the cost adds up.

  • The funniest part of this incredibly horrible summary is the bit where it calls the post by Google "odd", because it contradicts the story they've decided on.

    Obviously, not only are Google EVIL for KILLING OFF THIS IMPORTANT SOFTWARE, they are also INSANE because they seem to be saying that they are not killing it off!

  • If you don't control it, you don't own it. If you don't own it, you cannot rely on it.

    Anything less than full control (i.e. you have the source and you can do with it what you will) means your usage is subject to the whims of those who do control it.

    In other words, control it or lose it.

    Buying service in the 'cloud'? Good luck with that. If you don't control it, your service provider controls you.

    Relying on some closed source product provided by a big-name or no-name tech company? Good luck with that.

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