Programmers' pets

By: Gabor Pinter

Abstract: Every programmer has a favorite application. By Pintir Gabor.

Most professional programmers regard programming not only as a way of living but as a hobby too. Writing software is such a tremendous experience that programmers continue doing it in their spare time. The only difference is that when they are free of other people's deadlines they work on their "pet" applications. Ordinary people keep cats, dogs, or fish as pets. Programmers keep pet applications. The pet application may be useless to others; we write it just for the pleasure of creation. If we have to learn a new programming language, we often rewrite the pet application first.

Just as ordinary people keep different kinds of pets, programmers have different kinds of pet applications, often more than one at any time. Programmers' pets can be graphics apps, communications utilities, database programs, or operating systems. Usually these pet applications are known only by the friends and the colleagues of the programmer, but sometimes they grow and become something unusual.

One example is the "Hello world!" program. Its origin is unknown, but somehow it became the pet of almost all authors of books on programming languages.

Probably the most successful of all pet applications is Linux by Linus Torvald.

My favorite pet application is called WStar. I wrote the earliest version in Basic while I was in high school. Then I adapted it to almost all computers I encountered and rewrote it in all the programming languages I learned. I wrote it in Basic, Pascal, C, PL1, Algol, Fortran, assembler. and several scripting languages. It worked on ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, some ancient Atari computer whose name I do not remember, and of course on PCs. Naturally, when I started learning how to write programs under Windows I wrote a Windows version too. Later I changed it to use object-oriented language features and added new abilities. When I rewrote it as a Delphi component it was the first time I really felt that my pet was a living thing that belonged to me. Placing several WStar components on a new form and changing their parameters was a surprisingly rewarding experience.

Sometimes we treat pet applications badly. We abandon them for years, half-finish some versions, and almost never document and debug them they way we should. Once we have played with our pets to learn the basics of a new programming language we forget them and begin work on boring (but profitable) applications.

I wrote this article to offer some recognition to my pet application. I commented the code carefully and published it here as freeware. I do not really care if you like it or not. If you like it, send me e-mail -- if not, just delete it. But stop and think a moment for your pet. You do have a pet, don't you?

Pintir Gabor
Szikesfehirvar, Krivanyi u. 15.
Tel: +36 30 9972445, Fax: +36 22 304326

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