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Immortal Code 361

ziani writes ""... Sometimes a piece of code is so elegant, so evolved, that it outlasts everything else." Nice article at Wired wondering how much great (and lousy) code is lost due to business failures."
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Immortal Code

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  • It's nice (Score:3, Funny)

    by e12532 ( 158556 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:15PM (#5175782)
    It's nice to see some elegant code in this world of bloated redundant code... Is it me or does it seem that open source is written much more elegantly? Is this just because we can actually see the source :) I'd sit in a corner rocking back and forth if I was forced to read Micro$oft code...
    • Re:It's nice (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TerryAtWork ( 598364 )
      That might be the case. I once had a BBS utility out there in the bad world but I never released the source code as it, frankly, embarrassed me.

    • Re:It's nice (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:23PM (#5175850)
      How can you tell if something is written elegantly if you cant see the source? Elegant code does not imply well working code and well working code doesnt mean that it is written elegantly. You can have a program that works great and never crashes but is written poorly and does not use the system efficiently. You can also have very buggy code that is written beautifully.
      • Re:It's nice (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:35PM (#5175933)
        "You can also have very buggy code that is written beautifully."

        I guess it depends on your definition of beautiful code. For me beauty is not in the formatting or the intricacy... but in simplicity. The same aesthetic that favors art with clean flowing lines that is punctuated with edges and corners or melodies and harmonies that smoothly slide in and out of each other applies to beautiful software. There are, believe it or not, beautiful pieces of Fortran IV out there --
        they do the job cleanly and efficiently while being easy to read and follow -- elegant. Elegant code tends to be less buggy because you can see what it's doing.

    • Re:It's nice (Score:5, Insightful)

      by josepha48 ( 13953 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:29PM (#5175896) Journal
      Well I can't see M$ code so I can't say. However the biggest advantage I see in open source is if the API is not clear you can look at the source to see exactly what the f*** is going on. I find this helps the most. (Debuggable, cause you have the code.)

      Also in open source, I find that if I write something someone else may have a mod that they want in it or they may make their mod on the code and then ask me to include it. I then review thier mod and determine the best way to include it in my code. They may also review my code and offer suggestions on how to improve the code. This does not happen all the time at corporations. I can't speak for all companies, but some that I have worked for, it is more important (read moneywise) to get the code done and to the client than to do it right and nicely. (Code review, by someone trying to modify it or by the owner?)

      Lastly in open source, developers are more likely to rewrite code and drop bad API's (gtk1.0 -> 1.2 -> 2.0 just look at the text widget, notebook and a few more) and do it right the second time around no matter how long it takes than private companies. (Rewrites and screw the client they'll get over it!). I think that this is becase in windows it has traditionally been much harder to have multiple copies of similar dlls than UNIX (not impossible, just more difficult, IMHO). Glibc is a good example of shared libs that you can have many versions of. M$ has a tendancy to wrap its API's on top of each other and keep old baggage around so you have no idea of what you are actually calling, or to change the API and then not tell you.

      • Re:It's nice (Score:5, Interesting)

        by pVoid ( 607584 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:11PM (#5176153)
        you can't see microsoft code because you don't look.

        Download the friggin DDK from their site, and they have working samples for almost all their core drivers.

        Stripped of a license, the samples in there are as good as OSS.

        And btw, they are nice cleanly coded samples. There is just as much pressure on programmers there to keep that code clean: it's in their DDK, and they don't want to show shody samples. So I'm sure the code review processes are just as stringent.

        • Re:It's nice (Score:5, Insightful)

          by spitzak ( 4019 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @04:10PM (#5176921) Homepage
          Thus code that a programmer knows many others will look at appears to be well-written. This is as good of an argument for OSS as any other.

          I think if you look at a typical closed-source driver written by a hardware manufacturer based on this code you will see some really bad stuff. While open-source Linux drivers, even if based on sample code for other drivers, is a lot better. Closed-source linux drivers seem to be as bad as non-MicroSoft Windows drivers and crash a lot.

      • Re:It's nice (Score:4, Insightful)

        by scot4875 ( 542869 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:50PM (#5176432) Homepage
        M$ has a tendancy to wrap its API's on top of each other and keep old baggage around

        Granted, but the 'have no idea of what you are actually calling' part would only be applicable for someone who doesn't read documentation.

        or to change the API and then not tell you

        I call BS. Can you give an example?

        • Re:It's nice (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @03:52PM (#5176799)
          >>or to change the API and then not tell you

          >I call BS. Can you give an example?

          Here you go:

          MSDN Library (which came with Visual Studio), ODBC 3.51 Programmer's
          Reference, API Reference for SQLGetDiagRec():
          Length (in bytes) of the *MessageText buffer. There is no maximum
          length of the diagnostic message text. If the value returned in
          *MessageText is of a Unicode string (when calling SQLGetDiagRecW),
          the BufferLength argument must be an even number.

          Freshly downloaded Microsoft Data Access 2.6 SDK,
          same ODB 3.51 Programmer's Reference, API Reference for SQLGetDiagRec():

          Length of the *MessageText buffer in characters. There is no maximum
          length of the diagnostic message text.

          It took me few days to figure that one out.
          Oracle ODBC call was corrupting heap.
          If length is in characters, no corruption.
    • Re:It's nice (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:32PM (#5175919)
      I think it has to do with pressure of business that causes cruddy code. Often in my company we're asked to write full projects in 60 days or less -- that kind of tight schedule doesn't produce great code. Let's also not forget that open source code "matures", whereas in the corporate environment we rarely touch working code unless it's to add a new feature (in a day or two). It's a crying shame (and I frequently find myself crying), but we are just not allowed the time to go back and make the code "good".

      Rev 1.0 of any software is not as elegant as it could be; even in OpenSource. OpenSource has the luxury of not needing to move on to the next project ASAP to be profitable.
    • Re:It's nice (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pieroxy ( 222434 )
      I think a hell of a lot of nice code will never be used. I remember in my former company (a dot-com), the only thing worth a look was the engineering team. Their very nice code (some of which is mine) will never be used considering the useless people in all the other parts of the company (CEO-VPs...)

      The company will probably be - according to the CEO himself - out of business in a couple of month. And all this beauty will be forgotten forever.

    • Re:It's nice (Score:4, Informative)

      by DeadSea ( 69598 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:48PM (#5176017) Homepage Journal
      The code that the article is about is neither concise nor elegant. The article is about Dragon speech recognition software which as miraculously survived several companies and failures. The article refers to it as "deep" code. Code that to hard to do over from scratch. The code in question is archived on 5000 CDs (the version control repository).
  • Like DNA? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Overand ( 590318 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:17PM (#5175803) Homepage
    Code that lasts 'forever' and gets passed along, like DNA? How unusual!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:21PM (#5175833)
    #! /bin/bash

    while true; do
    sleep 1
  • by jj_johny ( 626460 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:25PM (#5175865)
    I read it and it says that people buy assets of failed companies and sometimes those assets are - oh mi ga - software code. Well I was as suprised as I have ever been that you could buy the software code assets of failed companies.

    Come on guys this is not a story at all. Good code gets bought and reused. Thats not news thats anti-news (it would be news if people didn't do it). So thanks for alerting me to another article that doesn't matter about anti-news.

  • Excuse me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:26PM (#5175868)
    No way the code from busted companies gets lost. I'd bet that most if not all coders get themself copies of their code and keep it in their own portfolio to reuse and recycle it.
    And of course you don't destroy your copies just because another dot bomb has gone off.
    Imho that article is a nice myth...
    • Re:Excuse me? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by On Lawn ( 1073 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @03:13PM (#5176578) Journal
      I'd bet that most if not all coders get themself copies of their code and keep it in their own portfolio to reuse and recycle it.

      I worked for a dot-bomb, and a company that is still around. I erased all of it. Not for security or copyright issues, but becuase there wasn't anything of use.

      Most of the broad purpose code was like re-writing CVS (yes I'm not kidding), or gnu-E. One of my qualms in working for those companies was their hush-hush secretive attitude. And when you get past to find out what the secret is, its like "your doing that? Why not just use this GPL code right here?"

      I realize my experience might be out of the ordinary, but I got rid of it just becuase I had no use for it.

      OnRoad: [] Boldly reporting the SUV war from the middle of the road.
  • by Peter_Pork ( 627313 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:26PM (#5175869)
    One of the true beauties OSS is its immortality. Given the "deep" copying of source code from OSS projects (there're many many repositories), it's hard to believe that we will ever lose any software developed in this way. In addition, good, useful OSS is iterated over and over. Just look at Emacs for example. I like to think that Science and OSS work the same way: result/programs are published and reviewed over and over by other scientists/programmers. Some projects will achieve amazing level of perfection, just as some theories, like quantum mechanics, are exceptionally accurate and useful. It took many iterations to get that theory right, as it takes many iterations to create perfect code.
  • by StevenMaurer ( 115071 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:27PM (#5175878) Homepage
    int main()
    printf("Hello world\n");
    return 0;

    Seems like the most well known piece of code in programming history.
  • by jschrod ( 172610 ) <> on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:29PM (#5175898) Homepage
    There are code pieces I think might get immortal. Henry Spencer's regexp routines come to mind.

    What other basic code pieces, used in hundreds or thousands of programs, do you know?

  • The Book (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:31PM (#5175915) Journal

    I'm reminded of what mathematicians call "The Book". This is based on a quote from Paul Erdos, who said that God keeps a Book in which He writes the most elegant proofs -- as a mathematician, you don't have to believe in God, but you do have to believe in The Book, and strive to make your proofs Book-worthy. Maybe God keeps a Book of Hacks, too?

  • by Amsterdam Vallon ( 639622 ) <> on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:33PM (#5175922) Homepage
    ... in COBOL nonetheless!

    000300 DATE-WRITTEN. 02/05/96 21:04.
    001000 DATA DIVISION.
    001100 FILE SECTION.
    100300 BEGIN.
    100600 STOP RUN.
    100700 MAIN-LOGIC-EXIT.
    100800 EXIT.

    * [] - Featuring BSD, Linux, OS X, Solaris, & More!
  • Doubtful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dubbayu_d_40 ( 622643 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:33PM (#5175923)
    I don't think they talked to many coders. Who doesn't keep a copy of their work, especially if it is good?
    Good code get reused, but in a more organic way...
    • Re:Doubtful (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 )
      Who doesn't keep a copy of their work, especially if it is good?

      Those who are afraid of being crushed by lawyers for violating NDAs, that's who.

      Last time I was job hunting I was asked for a code sample...all I could produce was a 2000 line Perl hack I did for my own amusement. Which was about all the Perl I've ever written, I'm a C/C++ guy. But I can't share anyone of the stuff I've done professionally, it's all copyrighted to my employers and trapped under non-disclosure agreements. (Well, some of the stuff I did back in grad school might be publically available somewhere.)

      • Re:Doubtful (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Salamander ( 33735 ) <jeff AT pl DOT atyp DOT us> on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @04:24PM (#5177005) Homepage Journal

        Good for you. Just last week a guy I was interviewing showed me (unasked) a spec he'd done, as a sample of his work. The copyright/confidentiality notice for a very large company was clearly printed right across the top. Needless to say, I told him to put it away and made sure he progressed no further through the interview process. I'm all for people distributing their own code freely, but I can't condone giving away someone else's trade secrets.

  • WATFIV (and WATFOR, WATBOL etc) are the classic example in my mind. Made by the University of Waterloo, now languishing somewhere (at Sybase maybe?!)
  • there can be only one.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    One of the first lessons that a student learns in his basic programming class is attention to detail. After typing in a program that I've given them, it is not uncommon to hear a number of students claiming that the program doesn't work. I reply, "If it doesn't work, it is because you didn't type it in correctly." This usually results in a great debate until I walk over to their computer and point out the missing parenthesis, spelling mistake, etc. Walla, the program now works!
    input "Your name is?" n$
    for x=1 to 100
    print "Hello ",n$
    print "\n All done!"
    A computer program is simply a set of instructions that tells the computer what to do. Computers are not "smart" like humans, thus they require very specific instructions in order to do anything. These instructions must be entered precisely in a specific programming language (BASIC, JAVA, C++, etc.), and if a command is misspelled or a character is missing, the program will not run correctly (or at all).

    To write a program, it takes knowledge of the programming language, an understanding of logic, the discipline to pay strict attention to detail, and creativity. Programmers marvel as they sit back and watch the computer program "come to life" as it runs before their eyes. In the process of brainstorming, debugging, and thinking critically, they also gain a great respect for those who program on a regular basis.

    In fact, those who do program for a living or for their passion may wonder who the greatest programmer is. After all, programming is a science and art that requires time and skill. Who has the "bragging rights" to be the greatest programmer of all?

    To recognize the greatest programmer, we must first identify the greatest program. Is it Microsoft Word®? Is it Windows®? Is it Linux? Maybe it is the GCC compiler or Emacs. Maybe it is some top-secret program being written at the NSA. Maybe the greatest program is the one created to operate the greatest computer.

    So, what is the greatest computer? This may not seem to be an easy question as super-computer technology continues to improve at a swift pace. However, there is one computer that remains far more advanced than all the rest. We call it the human brain.

    Scientists will quickly agree with me that the brain is far more advanced than any computer we have to date. When you are reading this text, your brain is accomplishing a task that programmers can only dream about - true language comprehension. When you walk out to get a snack or drive your car to the store to refill the refrigerator, you outperform the most advanced computers money can buy. Therefore, is it safe to say that the "program" that operates your brain is the greatest program of all?

    What is this program that operates the brain? DNA. The amino-acid chains that form the DNA molecule store the "blueprints" and the "operating system" not only for the brain, but every cell and organ in your body. This incredible "program" is responsible for the formation and operation of the greatest computer in existence. So, who is the programmer?

    According to some of our great computer programmers, nobody. That's right, the program just happened. It was the random jumbling of atoms and molecules over millions of years that finally resulted in the greatest program and the greatest computer of all kind. We call this evolution.

    Computer programs evolve - we see it all the time. Each time a new version is released, it has hopefully evolved to include new features and bug-fixes since the last version. We are thankful for the intelligent programmers who work hard to improve their programs and add new features. However, how many programs evolve by the random shifting of bytes of data? In all my experience, these program "mutations" either result in either a dysfunctional program or a computer crash.
    In fact, we've been performing an experiment in evolution for years using computers. It is natural for data to randomly be scrambled due to everything from power surges to cosmic radiation. At the rate at which data is transmitted over our world-wide Internet, surely we should have seen some form of natural program evolution, if even on a small scale. According to those who support evolution, man evolved from ape which evolved from lower mammals which long ago originally evolved from single-cell organisms in the sea. Following this theory (and that's all evolution is), simple programs like text editors should someday evolve into operating systems or even some form of computer intelligence. Why don't we see this?

    A great programmer by the name of Richard Stallman wants the world to call Linux by the name of GNU/Linux. He wants the world to know that Linus Torvalds only created a small (but important) part of the overall Linux operating system. Much of what we call "Linux" is based on supporting GNU tools. He wants the credit due him for the intelligent, purposeful design behind the programs used to make Linux a complete operating system. In fact, most programmers would probably not take too kindly to not receiving some form of recognition for their work. Yet both Stallman and Torvalds (and many others) deny recognition to the greatest programmer of all, God.

    If I were to tell you that nobody wrote Microsoft Windows®, or Linux for that matter, but instead it just "happened" due to the random shifting of bytes in my computer's memory, you would wonder if I was attempting some form of dry humor. However, many people so easily accept the notion that both the greatest computer and the greatest program originated in just such a way. Logic dictates that if the simplest of programs requires intelligent, purposeful design, then so does the most advanced and complex program in existence. To say otherwise is foolishness.

    The answer to the question, "Who is the greatest programmer of all?" is quite simple - it is God. It baffles me how programming and atheism often goes hand-in-hand when the programmer shares the very character of God in his creativity and purposeful design. Therefore, it is God whom I honor above all other programmers, because God's "program", His creation, was perfect (not anymore, thanks to sin) and to this day has no equal.

    RMS talks about "Free as in Freedom." True freedom is knowing the creator. As a programmer takes pride in their work, so does God take pride in and love His creation. You are very special to God, and He waits for you to seek Him and find Him. If you don't know God but you would like to, I invite you to visit the Billy Graham website. Billy Graham is one of the most respected evangelists of our century and speaks the straight truth. I also encourage you to talk with the pastor at a local church, or a friend who knows God. Most importantly, talk to God - He's listening.

    "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15
    • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:00PM (#5176079)
      Walla, the program now works! ...
      Computers are not "smart" like humans, thus they require very specific instructions in order to do anything.

      Yes, humans are able to know what you mean even when you type totally the wrong word, like "Walla".
    • Why did you turn computer programming into bible study?

      [16] But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.
    • I don't agree with the premise that DNA is "the program that operates the brain." DNA is the hardware; my personality, what makes me who I am, is built over that. A gene in my family that predisposes me to alcoholism doesn't automatically make me an alcoholic--it simply means there's an exploit in my OS which may be exploited through excessive alcohol use. The final decision on who I am, however, rests with me.

      True, some people are content to be nothing more than their DNA or their background dictates. But we can reprogram our brains, just as we can reprogram any other computer.

    • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @06:15PM (#5177760) Homepage
      As an anthropologist, I am always stunned by the misconceptions that some people have about evolution (primarily that it's just a one-time random snowstorm of debris that made man and beast out of nothing but mud).

      If you believe, as you seem to, that evolution is about producing something valuable from completely random events and matter, then you obviously have not studied evolution or the theories and hypotheses behind it, but have instead simply been listening to misinformation from the likes of Jerry Fallwell.

      Evolution does not function outside of one important context: the environmental context.

      Given this simple caveat to your post, we can now see that all programs are actually evolving.

      Consider this:

      A code snippet is written. But it doesn't function. What happens? It dies -- it is deleted, removed by its environment (i.e. the programmer and project) because it serves no purpose.

      Another code snippet is written. It works properly. Wow, it ends up in release 1.0! It has survived! It has a long and happy life on the retail shelf.

      But lo, another programmer comes along, sees the original code snippet, and adds to it so that it runs faster. Cool! Though 1.0 was very popular in its time, the 1.0 code snippet is removed and is never heard from again -- it has been out-competed by a new, more efficient snippet which works better.

      The new revision is so good, it becomes version 2.0! Soon it's everywhere; 1.0 is hardly ever seen any longer because 2.0 just works better and 1.0 keeps getting wiped and replaced by 2.0.

      Voila! Evolution.

      This exactly the way that natural selection (and by extension, macroevoluti) work on organic beings in the "real" world. Nature "proposes" a product by the mixing coding ideas (i.e. DNA) from different from individuals (i.e. SEX). If the result doesn't work -- if the code doesn't produce a functioning or an efficient product (i.e. individual) -- then the code dies and is never heard from again. If the code does work, then an efficient, functioning individual is born and survives into adulthood. The code lives! But now new ideas are infused into the code again (i.e. the new individual also has SEX!) and new DNA is born -- another new code snippet in the offspring. And yet again, if the code doesn't produce a viable product (i.e. individual), it eventually dies out -- removing it from the environment -- and it is never heard from again. But if the new code does produce a functioning, efficient individual, voila again! The code lives! Wash, rinse, repeat.

      Every time you or anyone else makes a baby, you are writing a new version of the code. Any time two whales mate, they are writing a new version of the code. The DNA is dancing, folks. If the new product works, it finds a place in the marketplace (the environment). It survives. If it happens to work better than anything else out there (Anna Kournikova, Natalie Portman), it dominates the marketplace and everyone wants a piece of it. As the generations pass, products with better code are better at survival -- getting food, getting attention, getting mates (and as a result, the good code doesn't die out).


      It's not random at all. It is actually an awful lot like software development.


      Voila! Voila! Voila! Voila! Voila!
  • duh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by bakawally ( 637407 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:42PM (#5175982)
    Of course code get reused. Just ask any college CS student. Hell, I just reused the code that my friend down the hall wrote for our latest assignment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:43PM (#5175990)
    I'm always curious as to what may be some of the oldest "working" code that's publicly available. Code that was written ages ago, but still used today.

    I'm sure that there are other examples, but I'd like to put forward the first candidate of such code: Squeak Smalltalk.

    The reason I put it forward is more because of my knowledge with it. Of course, I may be wrong also, but...

    Anyway, the first time I saw the predecessor to Squeak was back at an Apple sponsored event at college in 1985. They were showing off the Macs and new Mac Plus.

    One fellow there managed to have a copy of the original Smalltalk-80 image that Apple worked on with Xerox. It was a fascinating piece of software.

    That image was sourced from the original work done at Xerox in the late '70s and early '80s.

    When they decided to bring forth Squeak, they started with the original Apple image (which started with the original Xerox image).

    So, I'd like to think, though I don't know, that there are lines of code within that Squeak image that literally date back to the late '70s and have never been changed since. Coded late at night by some hacker at Xerox and simply pulled along with the Smalltalk image, never needing to be tweaked.

    No doubt there are the zillions of line of code still kicking and screaming within industry, but I'm more interested with code that is out in the wild, and still being used somewhat actively.

    Any other contenders?
    • by Frobnicator ( 565869 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:44PM (#5175997) Journal
      I'm always curious as to what may be some of the oldest "working" code that's publicly available. Code that was written ages ago, but still used today.
      How about DNA?
    • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:05PM (#5176106)
      There are millions of lines of code running in financial institutions from possibly as early as the late 50's for which the source is lost. That's why there are emulators. I've heard that some places have emulators running emulators running emulators running their original compiled code.

      Much of it may be replaced by now but when i was taking my CS classes back in the 80's I was told this was true.
    • by n__0 ( 605442 )
      Space war has been running since the 60s I think, on a website somewhere there is an emulation of the original machne running in java using the complete original code. I may be wrong though.
    • Voyager (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tellezj ( 612044 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @03:11PM (#5176564)
      is in its 25th year, and still communicates daily []. I'm sure the bus has been running the same code for the whole mission, although I'm sure the payload may have had some code revisions uploaded along the way.
    • Not exactly out in the wild, but not exactly purely for an industry, are mathematical routines and the like.

      For instance, a lot of aerodynamics code I've seen is written in Fortran IV or Fortan 77. It's often not the nicest formatting and stuff, but Fortran compiles cleanly, and the code still does it's job, so people still use it: it's also easy to interface Fortran and C/C++, which is a bonus. So you build on the core of this hard mathematical stuff that was written long ago.

      Of course, part of that's bad, because there's a chance there're some gotchas still in there that wouldn't be understood anymore, but thankfully a career in my industry is quite long typically, so there's often a gray-haired sage that you can consult.

      I think things that do math (even financial calculations) are more likely to last, because those kinds of operations endure.
    • No doubt there are the zillions of line of code still kicking and screaming within industry, but I'm more interested with code that is out in the wild, and still being used somewhat actively.

      Any other contenders?

      Try []. It's all mathematical libraries, the old stuff is all in Fortran, and it does still get used even though some of it goes back to the late 60's and early 70's. Completely debugged code is hard to find, and when you get your hands on it, you hang on to it forever.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    is BAD code, as bad code never dies... right?
  • Lifetime of code... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mseeger ( 40923 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:50PM (#5176030)

    there are several limitations for the lifetime of code:

    • Hardware lifetime: hardware specific code may loose its usefullness once the hardware itself becomes obsolete.
    • Purpose lifetime: A lot of code serves a temporary purpose. Once the purpose is achieved or dropped, the code will die.
    • Language: A code in an obsolete programming language will probably be dropped as there is no one to judge the elegancy of it.

    Perhaps we should look at it that way: If all good code would and could be reused, more than the half of all software engineers would be ou of duty soon. I think i once read a figure that less than 20% of all code written is "new".

    Yours, Martin

    • Perhaps we should look at it that way: If all good code would and could be reused, more than the half of all software engineers would be ou of duty soon

      In that case, a "software engineer" would be someone dedicated to designing and building systems by putting together building blocks of code, instead of writing code from scratch. Software would start to resemble other engineering disciplines.
    • In that case, a "software engineer" would be someone dedicated to designing and building systems by putting together building blocks of code, instead of writing code from scratch. Software would start to resemble other engineering disciplines.

      Would this be a good or a bad thing? This would probably depend on the personal view. I know a lot of software engineers who see it as an art and would loose all interest once it would become real engineering.

      I already thought ten years ago hat this was about to happen. Instead i see today more lousy code from more lousy coders than ever.

      Yours, Martin

  • by unfortunateson ( 527551 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:51PM (#5176032) Journal
    It shows no examples of immortal code. The closest thing they mention is that when Scour got bought, the new company archived the code, but never used it.

    That's hardly immortal, that's entombed.

    Examples of immortality would be things like

    * Bits of BIOS still in use from the original IBM PC through today's pentiums

    * Bits of Multiplan that percolated through Excel

    * Bits of CP/M still floating through Linux

    The article makes a bigger point on how transient software is, and how 99% of what's created is tossed out. How many times, when asked to fix code, do you just rewrite it anyway?
  • In some cases, I save source code in the file code by commenting it out. There are some cases where I remove features, but leave the code behind where I think it may be brought back in the future.
  • Duff's Device (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tokerat ( 150341 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:54PM (#5176051) Journal

    Tom Duff once came up with this very useful yet ugly piece of C code for high-speed blitter routines, or any other instance where data must be moved as quickly as possible.

    I'd post it but the Slashdot lameness filter is just that: It makes posting code like this impossible, therefore making Slashdot lame. :-/

    There is a link to a full explaination here []. Damn, if only we could all be this good.
    PS: Yea, I do believe it beats the living crap out of memcpy() or BlockMove() or whatever other routine your using ;-)
    • PS: Yea, I do believe it beats the living crap out of memcpy() or BlockMove()

      It's one of the fastest ways to do this in C, but if you've ever looked at the source code to an OS-level memory copying function, then you'll often see much faster, system specific methods. On the PowerPC, for example, you can get a signficant speedup by using cache manipulation instructions.
      • Very true. Assembly would make this even faster, and in fact makes such a construction obsolete. But it's just so weird and yet so fast, and quite easy to implement once you've learned how it works.

        I really never grasped how this doesn't choke a compiler to death but then again I've never written a complier, nor do I know the first thing about it.

        That made me think of an interesting question: Is it the code or the algorithm which is actually immortal?
        • In my other response I omitted the cache manipulation stuff. That really rocks if you get it right. Assembly will seldom beat a good optimiser these days, but a good knowledge of disassembled code will help you write C/C+ code in such a way as to make life easy for the optimiser, whilst still maintaining a degree of portability to your code.
    • Re:Duff's Device (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Chocolate Teapot ( 639869 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:15PM (#5176192) Journal
      Judging by your reference to BlockMove(), I take it you are a Mac programmer? In which case, you would gain a lot more by:

      a) Moving 32 bits at a time instead of 16

      b) Use four source pointers and four dest pointers, allowing the pipelining to really scream on the PPC

      c) Consider using Altivec (very Mac specific though)

      d) Lose that f***ing % operator, which will do a lovely job of stalling the integer pipelines while it computes the modulo. ( count & 0x03) does the same thing much quicker.

      In some cases, you can easily beat BlockMove(), especially if you know that your memory was nicely aligned on 4 byte boundaries. However, pit you code up against BlockMove() with mis-aligned data (especially if both the source and dest are on weird alignments) then BlockMove() will whip your sorry ass. My $0.02

    • Actually, Duff did this the most elegantly in C. However, I had seen the equivalent in assembler much earlier. The buffer mover used by the RSX11-M executive running on the 16-bit PDP-11 used the assembler version and was written in the seventies. I'm sure that other implementations were written but Digital's highly configurable executive had todelivered in source form.

      The author was a certain David N. Cutler. He works for Microsoft now.

      • Re:Duff's Device (Score:5, Interesting)

        by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @04:49PM (#5177152) Homepage Journal

        Actually, Duff did this the most elegantly in C. However, I had seen the equivalent in assembler much earlier.

        Duff had also seen, and written, the same construct in assembler many times. His Device was born out of frustration that he would have to drop down to assembler to unroll his loop. His fit of genius led him to try to construct it in C, and he was surprised when it compiled without complaint and ran perfectly.

    • I'm sure it does.
      Unaware of the fact that the idea existed, I've developed the same mechanism for graphics routines back in '90.

      Besides from the optmized example I think small pieces of C like these are quite immortal:

      1.) while (*d++ = *s++) ;
      2.) *s++ = pushv;
      3.) *--s = popv;
      Yes, they are blatantly obvious, but so is cutting when you have a knife. Funny thing about these is that the assignment statements map one on one with machinecode instructions found on the CPU's of the old PDP-11, on which C and Unix were born.

      And there are brilliant algorithm's for greatest common divizor calculation, multiplication and divizion... Not to mention Bresenham's Algorithm, which is a very elegant way to draw lines. It's very usefull too for changing sampling rates when writing music software.

      But an important point the article is focused on, is what makes code immortal... It seems the mortality of code is controlled by the greedyness of industry. Companies willing to kill each other for reaping and stealing code. Vultures! Well if code is free you cannot steal it. If it lives everywhere you can't kill. Open Source Software.

  • Makefiles (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HisMother ( 413313 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:56PM (#5176060)
    This story reminds me of the old saw that there is only one Makefile; everyone edits it for their own projects. There is grain of truth in that.

    A modern-day analogy might be the line

    <xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" xmlns:xsl="">

    that opens XSL stylesheets -- NOBODY ever types that by hand.

  • by mellon ( 7048 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:57PM (#5176063) Homepage
    Is it just me, or is that story just unbelievably depressing? The writer didn't really acknowledge this - those two people who spent their lives working on Dragon Dictate wound up completely hosed, and can't hack on their lifes' work anymore. I mean, *ouch*!
    • I feel really bad for the developers they mentioned, but really, what were they thinking? Selling out their life's work, as you say, for stock options in a dot-com company? Ouch indeed.

      • It's easy to see in retrospect that it wasn't a good idea, but this was back before all the corporate scandals, and people were a little less wary. I just hope they sold some of that stock before it completely lost its value, although if they did that's unfortunate for whoever bought it. Sigh.

    • Well, maybe they shouldn't have sold out to a large and crooked corporation then...
    • by giel ( 554962 )

      Yes. I find it very depressing. It's because of human nature. I'm not talking about you, me, or anyone in particular but individuals in general. It shows that we are a disgusting bunch of raping, stealing, exploiting, killing and reaping vultures. We do nearly anything if we might benefit from it. It doesn't really matter if it comes down to intellectual property, animals, geologic resources or just the power to rule. We consume and thereby destroy.

      Immortality might be achieved by sharing. Explain why widely published and available algorithms or OSS products and unpatented/copyrighted work outlasts all kind of proprietary and strongly protected software. If an individual gets lost, its properties get lost, just by getting forgotten or falling into the wrong hands, anyway it's lost for the public. In the end the public should decide what is usefull. That's good because only some (brilliant) individuals introduce new ideas and the (average) public should adopt or abandon. That's the way traditions and culture work.

      I'm not against copyright or patent. Copyright was invented only to share visions respecting the one who came up with them. Patents were invented only to prevent people with big resources to produce someones invention at large scale and so run away with the possible profit - correct me if I'm wrong; I always seem to confuse copyright, trademark and patent. Both are very good socialistic ideas, but in a liberal world they don't work. I could simply hire someone to 'steal' ideas. Put a copyright or patent on them before their creator does. And that's what happens at large scale, most contracts disown programmers/developers from their intellectual property involved during their employment.

      Nowadays copying and sharing of ideas has become very cheap. No wonder owners of valuable ideas are scared to share them. But... sharing them is the only way to let them become immortal. If - for example - Microsoft looses its strong ruler it will crumble. Nobody (except those who were involved) will know anything about the structure of the OS. There will be nobody able to adapt the products to new techniques and ideas, because they will be prevented by copyrights and patents.

      We have to deal with a new phenomenon, digital media. The current opinion on 'rights' will have to change in order to get software and information industrie really productive and continues.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:57PM (#5176066)
    The code escapes on floppies and CD-Rs. Developers are always swiping copies of good code to take home. Whether they wrote it or not. Good code resurrects itself again and again.

    We all know it happens. Many of us do it. We take code with us and "massage" it for the next job... or a job two years later.

    In they eyes of the law and in the eyes of society, it is wrong. To me and most developers I know, it is right. Nothing will ever stop this practice.
    • I learned my lesson (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Absolutely. When I went from my first to my second job, I foolishly took none of my source code with me. Since the second job was with the same company as the first, just a different division, I assumed I'd still have access to it. Hah. Many times, I regretted that as I had to re-create an object I should've been able to copy and paste.

      When that division folded and I moved on to the next job, this time I took a little more with me. Just some of the essentials I'd need for my portfolio, though, since I felt at the time that it would be wrong of me to abscond with the company's and clients' IP. I now very much regret that decision, because the company itself is gone and the clients have no access to the source - they're stuck with un-upgradeable software.

      At my current job, I am backing up everything I do. I will never touch or look at it except in case of an emergency, but this time if the floor falls out from under me I will be prepared.
  • Elegant code (Score:4, Insightful)

    by salimma ( 115327 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:01PM (#5176081) Homepage Journal
    Wonder how much well-designed assembler and punch-card code there is out there. While due to being platform-specific most would not be immediately usable, it would be nice to be able to read snippets to explore specific computer platforms for curiousity's sake.

    • Re:Elegant code (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hughk ( 248126 )
      This is one of the reasons for the projects to emulate historical computers. It doesn't matter whether it is a PDP-11, an IBM 360 or whatever, there is often a simulator out there. The odd thing about it is that due to the speed of modern hardware, you can often run the emulations at the proper speed.
  • by MadFarmAnimalz ( 460972 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:05PM (#5176105) Homepage
    Left with nothing, Jim and Janet Baker turned to the courts. In a failed attempt to retrieve Dragon from among the L&H assets that were now locked up by bankruptcy laws, they hired the powerhouse law firm run by David Boies.

    David Boies?

    MAN, is that code GONE.
  • by Anonymouse Howard ( 645530 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:15PM (#5176191)
    THIS CODE IS YOUR CODE - you know what tune to sing it to

    This code is your code, this code is my code,
    To California from the south of Finland,
    From the GNU compiler, to the ELF binaries,
    This code was made for you and me.

    As I was trolling the threads on Slashdot,
    In Unreal Tournament, I need an aimbot,
    I saw before me the new KDE,
    This code was made for you and me.

    This code is your code, this code is my code,
    To California from the south of Finland,
    From the GNU compiler, to the ELF binaries,
    This code was made for you and me.

    Downloaded sourcecode, unzipped the tarballs,
    Dot slash configure, then make-installs,
    And all around me, my systems showed me,
    This code was made for you and me.

    This code is your code, this code is my code,
    To California from the south of Finland,
    From the GNU compiler, to the ELF binaries,
    This code was made for you and me.
    • by EdlinUser ( 50699 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @03:32PM (#5176680)
      "This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."

  • Anyone remember the kernel source stuck between tags that was the color highlighted, so the whole thing was this big penguin?
  • "Software works best in its own environment so we always take the server." -- Marty Pichinson

    A very pragmatic attitude reflecting an unfortunate truth. It can be very difficult to duplicate dev and production environments even when you have people to talk to who set it up in the first place...add in the mystery and history of Company X and you might really be in a bind.
  • by obnoximoron ( 572734 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:41PM (#5176383)
    is a great example of long-lasting heavily reused library of frely available code. I have used the eigenvalue and matrix decomposition routines directly from NRC so many times I lost count.
    • No! (Score:3, Informative)

      by Moonbird ( 625445 )
      NRC is (a) not free ... you'll have to pay a hell lot of money if you use the code directly and (b) shoddy code - at least the C code. I think it's just automatically converted Fortran code...
  • That article talks of Baker using statistical probability towards speech recognition.
    That immediately makes me thing of the markov matrix/chain.
    The two ways I would have looked at speech without having read anything on it would be FFT and neural nets, and/or markov matricies (likely also with fft).

    When I first learned to use them in speech generation (either written or spoken) and also general analysis that became my favorite tool to abuse (my hammer making everything look like a nail?).
    I immediately thought of how I could use them in image recognition, game ai, and stock analysis...
    But mostly I used them to post to newsgroups and web discussion boards and then laughed at people responding to them as if they were regular users and usually fighting with them.
    I wrote a Poe generator (would write stories/poems based on his matrix) and also a radiohead song generator.

    Now my current hammer(s) are neural nets and genetic algorithms - but the markov matrix is stuff fun as all hell.

    It never says straight out in the article that Baker uses those - but the general concept that is discussed seems to point at them.
    (and yeah - I know the article was about losing code - but that's boring - what is cool is the code discussed)
    • I immediately thought of how I could use them in image recognition, game ai, and stock analysis... But mostly I used them to post to newsgroups and web discussion boards and then laughed at people responding to them as if they were regular users and usually fighting with them.

      As evidenced by your post to a web discussion board, your implementation is pretty decent; congrats :)

  • by jeorgen ( 84395 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:51PM (#5176436)
    ...I bought Lernout and Hauspie (LHSP, the company featured in the article) shares in their heyday, thinking the tech was good. But all the technology isn't worth anything if they screw up other parts of their business.

    Incidentally I also bought Tanox (TNOX) at about the same time. Thought they could come up with some interesting immune system stuff. They did, it seems they've made a vaccine approved in Australia for getting rid of allergies (anti IgE). Still their share value lingers in the basement!

    So now twice I've betted on technology, been right, and still lost.

    Check E-trade account:
    LHSP: -99.96 %
    TNOX: -80.99 %

    Seem you need more knowledge than just a bit of tech savy. Bummer.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @03:01PM (#5176510)
    Are we speaking of "immortal" in the sense of vampiric, blood- and money-sucking immortal code(Windows), zombie code(DOS) or of angelic/divine code(my database applications)?
  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @04:44PM (#5177125) Journal
    That beautiful piece of elegant code you wrote will be lost in a system crash as soon as you move on, if not sooner. That horrid inefficient kludge you wrote early in your career will be retained forever, and when through the vagaries of the world, you end up at the company which owns that code, you will end up responsible for maintaining it.

If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders. -- Hal Abelson