Who's Attracted By Simplicity?

I’ve been reading a lot of various blogs lately, quite a bit of loud thinking and some 37 signals vs noise as well. A mantra I see over and over regards simplicity, and focusing on doing a few things extremely well. This is reflected in the 37 Signals products, Basecamp, and Backpack. It also bubbles over into the web framework these are all built on, Ruby on Rails.

The Rails framework has a lot of appeal, in large part because of how easy and simple it makes the vast majority of mundane web programming. The sacrifice is completely intentional, and summed up with “Convention over configuration”. This mantra is in the Agile Development with Rails book, and has been uttered on Loud Thinking as well.

Ironically, the people I know that dislike Rails do so because of the “lack of flexibility”. Many decisions have definitely been made for you when you create a Rails application, though I see no harm in this because every decision follows what most regard as the best practice and pattern for that context.

While Rails and Ruby are skills I’m currently learning, I spend a lot of time working with Python. The Python programmers I’ve talked to generally regard lack of flexibility as very unappealing, and would happily sacrifice simplicity or making any decisions for the programmer (I’m referring to Python toolkits/frameworks intended for use by programmers). The assumption is that the programmer will read how to use the tool, see that there’s a half dozen ways to use it, and plug it in as he best sees fit.

Having more ways to use it is a good thing, with no clear direction on any sort of best practice or pattern provided typically. Strangely enough the majority of toolkits and web frameworks for Python generally have rather small groups of users. Is this a coincidence?

My favorite framework, Myghty recently got the very cool ability to call module components implicitly . This added two more mechanisms of dispatch control to the resolver, very powerful stuff. It’s also rather confusing, not because how it works is actually difficult, but because now the way you should use it has become even less certain with the added choices.

The fact that there’s so many ways to use it has definitely hampered the ability of people to understand it and use it effectively. The powerful flexibility has made it powerful though, for totally different paradigms to be built on top of it. For example, you could replicate the pipelining methodology that AxKit uses by configuring the resolver to pass the different extensions through recursively until an “end” is signaled. Or you could configure Myghty to dispatch control to a Controller exactly how Rails does (which I’ve worked on doing).

In the end though, why should I waste my time replicating what another framework already has? I’ve got to admit, even though I know how to pick up the tools and plug them in, I’m still attracted to simplicity.