TITLE: A Cool Example of Turning Data into Program: TempleOS AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 12, 2015 2:39 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Hyperlinks that point to and execute code, not transfer us to a data file:
In a file from the TempleOS source code, one line contains the passage "Several other routines include a ...", where the "other routines" part is a hyperlink. Unlike in HTML, where that ... may lead to a page listing those other routines, here a DolDoc macro is used so that a grep is actually performed when you click on it. While the HTML version could become stale if no-one updated it, this is always up-to-date.
This comes from Richard Milton's A Constructive Look At TempleOS, which highlights some of the unusual features of an OS I had never heard of until I ran across his article. As I read it, I thought of Alan Kay's assertion that a real programming language should eliminate the need to have an operating system at all. The language should give programmers access to whatever they need to access and marshall the resources of the computer. Smalltalk is a language that aspired to this goal. Today, the best example of this idea is probably Racket, which continues to put more of the underlying system into the hands of programmers via the language itself. That is an essential element of the Racket Way. TempleOS comes at this idea from the other side, as an operating system that puts as much computing as it can in the hands of the user. This includes programming, in the form of HolyC, a homegrown variant of C. TempleOS is written in HolyC, but HolyC is also the scripting language of the system's REPL. It's odd to talk about programming TempleOS at all, though. As Milton points out, like Xerox Alto, Oberon, and Plan 9, TempleOS "blurs the lines between programs and documents". Writing a program is like creating a document of any other sort, and creating a document of any sort is a form of programming. Trading data for code creates a different kind of barrier for new users of TempleOS. It also pays dividends by injecting a tempting sort of dynamism to the system. In any case, programmers of a certain age will feel a kinship with the kind of experience that TempleOS seeks to provide. We grew up in an age when every computer was an open laboratory, just waiting for us to explore them at every level. TempleOS has the feel -- and, perhaps unfortunately, the look -- of the 1970s and 1980s. Hurray for crazy little operating systems like TempleOS. Maybe we can learn something useful from them. That's how the world of programming languages works, too. If not, the creator can have a lot of fun making a new world, and the rest of us can share in the fun vicariously. -----