Unix Insider: Better living through scripting

Unix Insider –

Scripting still has a lot of room to grow. While all of the scripting languages we know -- Rexx, VBScript, Tcl, REBOL, Scheme -- face challenges that occasionally escalate into crises, they all appear to have plenty of life in them. These are exciting times, and the future is uncertain.

First, a disclaimer: one of us had a tiny role in the production of the book we are reviewing, Dave Roth's Win32 Perl Scripting: The Administrator's Handbook. Cameron wanted to work on the book because it concisely communicates important abstract principles, while remaining technically precise and useful.

Scripting Windows

Some parts of the Perl world are focused entirely on Perl 6; some are focused on business models for Perl development. Meanwhile, Perl's usefulness in homes and workplaces continues to increase. The future of Perl requires both visionaries and mechanics; one of the charms of Win32 Perl Scripting is that Roth manages to balance those roles in his own life and career.

Roth offers a good theory: "Scripting ... is a tremendous way to automate, thus saving time, effort, and, in the end, money." It's frustrating to see people laboring at tedious tasks that could be automated with just a bit of low-cost scripting. Roth's book is full of concrete examples. The case study "Implementing a Unified Logon Script" is one of several instances of "a radical increase in productivity" that system administrators will appreciate.

Generalize valuable principles

Roth's book is not just for those involved with Perl, Win32, or system administration. Just as we frequently recommend John Grayson's Python and Tkinter Programming to GUI developers who rely on neither Tkinter nor Python, Win32 Perl Scripting is valuable beyond the domain its title specifies. It's a nice complement to Mark Hammond and Andy Robinson's Python Programming on Win32. A system administrator who prefers Python can pick up automation ideas from Roth -- his Perl coding is plenty readable, even for those who don't know the language -- and apply them with Hammond and Robinson's help.

Developers who aren't system administrators but are moving to Windows should also read Win32 Perl Scripting. It's the freshest introduction to application development with Perl on those operating systems. As developers, we thank Roth, who has contributed such valuable Perl extensions as Win32::ODBC and Win32::Daemon.

We salute Roth simply for his success in communicating the idea of scripting. We constantly struggle to determine how to persuade computer users that there's an easier way to do things.

New age for open source

We crossed a threshold recently, although we're not sure when, exactly. The new territory is easily described: the natural home for all open source projects is now SourceForge.

Tools like Perl and Tcl began their public lives on multipart Usenet postings or on nine-track tapes that could be tossed into backseats. We've come a long way since then; SourceForge appears to be the latest stop. Tcl is in the throes of sorting out its destiny in a world where its creator, John Ousterhout, is concentrating on other opportunities. The system SourceForge manifests seems to be working, though. The Tcl source code controlled by Ousterhout's company is being methodically transferred to a SourceForge home.

The same is true for Python, which is recovering from being moved twice in less than a year by the core Python team. The reorganizations have hardly slowed progress, though. New applications for scripting languages keep emerging (did you know the TiVo software is apparently just one large Tcl extension?), new capabilities are documented daily (the Tcl Wiki is now over 1,000 pages), and several companies are working behind the scenes to invent new ways to support scripting technologies.

SourceForge is so entrenched in the open source infrastructure that it might soon become invisible. The services different hosts offer on the SourceForge model have become commodities. The Apache Foundation, for example, still offers sites for its associated projects. Who cares, though, where mod_dtcl and NeoWebScript really are, when they're equally accessible on the Apache Tcl Project page?

Special thanks for this installment of Regular Expressions go to the following Tcl activists:

  • David Welton, for his role in the Apache Tcl Project
  • Damon Courtney, for TiVo tips
  • Andreas Kupries, for keeping us informed about action at SourceForge
  • Richard Suchenwirth, for his generosity in contributing explanations to the Tcl'ers Wiki
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