Gates talks up declarative modeling language effort

The main goal of the plan is to make customizing applications much easier by reducing the need to code

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates touted on Monday Microsoft's plans to build a declarative modeling language that could greatly reduce the need to code.

Speaking at Microsoft's 2008 Office System Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., Gates acknowledged work was afoot on such an endeavor, although he described the effort as a five- to eight-year project.

With the declarative language project, the goal is to make programming declarative rather than procedural. "Most code that's written today is procedural code. And there's been this holy grail of development forever, which is that you shouldn't have to write so much [procedural] code," Gates said. "We're investing very heavily to say that customization of applications, the dream, the quest, we call it, should take a tenth as much code as it takes today."

"You should be able to do things on a declarative basis," Gates continued. But this has not caught on partially because of weak data models -- first Codasyl and then relational. Stronger data models since have emerged, such as rich schemas around XML as well as modeling work being done by Microsoft and others, Gates said. "We're bringing the data models up to be much, much richer, and we think in that environment, a lot of business logic can be done in a declarative form. Now, we haven't totally proven this yet. We're doing a lot of internal developments ourselves that way," including some Microsoft business applications, he said.

"We're not here yet saying that [a declarative language has] happened and you should write a ton less procedural code, but that's the direction the industry is going," Gates said. "And, despite the fact that it's taken longer than people expected, we really believe in it. It's something that will change software development but more like in a five- to eight-year timeframe than overnight," he said.

Top Microsoft Technical Fellows, including Brad Lovering, are working on the declarative modeling language project, Gates said.

A published report has referred to the project as the "D" programming language being built as part of the company's Oslo modeling project. But Gates did not specifically mention the name "D" or Oslo.

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