Craig Marvelley

Software and such

Jeff Atwood Is a Muppet.

I was having a nice, relaxing Saturday morning until I read through my Twitter timeline and was directed to Jeff Atwood’s latest post on Coding Horror, “The PHP Singularity“. After reading through it, and the comments from other readers, I got annoyed. Really annoyed.

I won’t repeat the article, but the gist of it is:

  • PHP is a horrible language
  • Something must be done
  • Jeff is the person to do it

I quite enjoy blogging but I don’t do it very often. I try to make sure anything I talk about is well researched, because a baseless opinion is worthless, but I don’t have a lot of free time – so if I don’t have something I consider worth saying, I don’t say it.

Jeff doesn’t have the same concern. You may wonder why I read his blog, given that I clearly take exception to some of its content, but the funny thing is that when talking about things he is knowledgable of, he has some great advice.

Like when he talks about his children, because he obviously knows them, or routers, where he’s clearly done some investigation. Now, I’m about to become a father, so I really enjoyed the former post, and if I needed to buy a router, I’d probably just be lazy and pick one from the latter because he knows a lot more about them than I do.

But here’s the thing. Jeff doesn’t seem to know much about PHP. I’d guess he’s read some posts about it, seen a few Q&As on Stack Overflow about it (a site he deserves massive kudos for), read through the PHP Manual, whatever – but he’s not a PHP developer. When he says PHP is ‘terrible’ or ‘deeply flawed’, I wonder how he’s come to that conclusion? Has he ever developed anything substantial in PHP? What is he basing this opinion on? He’s played with his children, he’s bought and installed a router. But when it comes to PHP, is the extent of his knowledge that which he has gleaned from others? Because if that’s the case, he really should think twice about offering his opinion on it.

The most glaring statement in the entire article is this one:

Therefore, I’d like to submit a humble suggestion to my fellow programmers. The next time you feel the urge to write Yet Another Epic Critique of PHP, consider that:

  1. We get it already. PHP is horrible, but it’s used everywhere. Guess what? It was just as horrible in 2008. And 2005. And 2002. There’s a pattern here, but it’s subtle. You have to look very closely to see it. On second thought, never mind. You’re probably not smart enough to figure it out.
  2. The best way to combat something as pervasively and institutionally awful as PHP is not to point out all its (many, many, many) faults, but to build compelling alternatives and make sure these alternatives are equally pervasive, as easy to set up and use as possible.

How anyone can offer a ‘humble’ suggestion and then go on to question the reader’s intelligence is besides the point (though it does nicely illustrate Jeff’s technique of drawing the reader in with deference only to hit them with a massive dose of self-righteousness) – but there’s two things I really take exception to here. Firstly, as anyone who has spent any real time with PHP knows, the language is far, far different now to what it was in 2002. For heaven’s sake, PHP5 (with a brand new object model that made proper OOP possible) didn’t make its debut ’til 2004, and support for register_globals (one of the worst features of PHP, ever) was removed in the most recent version, 5.4. Those facts are available under PHP’s entry on Wikipedia, but perhaps Jeff’s not smart enough to Google the history of PHP before commenting on it?

Secondly; assuming for a second that PHP is as horrible as he deems it to be – the best way to ‘combat’ it isn’t to ‘build compelling alternatives’ and ‘make sure these alternatives are equally pervasive, as easy to set up and use as possible’ – no, the ‘best’ thing to do (considering the amount of developers and sites worldwide who depend on the language and are getting things done with it every single day) is get involved with and actually understand PHP – read the internals mailing list, make requests for comments, code contributions, etc. It’s a silly person who decides to try something new before attempting to fix what’s broken, when there is so much invested in it. Perhaps if Jeff wasn’t trying to drum up interest in this new project of his, he’d have been a little less inflammatory?

Look, as someone who has used PHP successfully for the last decade, obviously I’m going to disagree with Jeff’s opinion. But the language has not only helped me get a great job, a nice house, and will shortly be helping me pay for one of those baby things, it’s also made Facebook the biggest website in the world, and enabled Yahoo! to build (ok, and throw away, but it’s not PHP’s fault) an empire. When Jeff’s got off his soap box and tried to build something equally successful in PHP and failed, I’ll start taking his opinion seriously.

As I said, I don’t like making statements unless I’ve researched them fully. I’ve read Coding Horror for a long time, and I feel qualified to say that Jeff Atwood is a muppet.