The A-Z of Programming Languages: C#

Microsoft's Anders Hejlsberg reveals the history behind one of the most common programming languages, C#, and what the future holds for C#4.0.

Anders Hejlsberg

Anders Hejlsberg

What functionality do you hope to add to C# in the future versions?

There are many. I have a huge laundry list, or our team does, of features that people have requested over the years. If I had to name the 3 big trends that are going on in the industry that we take an interest in and get inspiration from, I would say the first is a move towards more declarative styles of programming, and you can sort of see LINQ as an example of that. All the talk we have about domain specific languages, that’s one form of declarative programming, and functional programming is another style of declarative programming. I think those are going to be quite important going forward and are certainly areas that we will invest in, in C#.

Dynamic programming is seeing a big resurgence these days, if you look at phenomena like Ruby and Ruby on Rails, these are all of a sudden very popular, and there are certain things you can do with dynamic programming languages that it would be great to also have in more classical languages like C#. So that’s something we’re also looking at.

Lastly, I would say that concurrency is the big thing that you can’t ignore these days because the mechanics of Moore’s law are such that it is no longer feasible to build more powerful processors. We can’t make them faster anymore because we can’t get rid of the heat, and so now all the acreage on the chips is being used to make more processors and all of a sudden it’s almost impossible to get a machine that doesn’t have multiple CPUs.

Right now you might have two cores but it’s only a matter of years before you have 4 or 8 or more than that, even in a standard desktop machine. In order for us to take advantage of that, we need much better programming models for concurrency. That’s a tough problem, it’s a problem that doesn’t just face us but the entire industry, and lots of people are thinking about it and we certainly are amongst those.

There’s no shortage of problems to solve!

Speaking of problems, how do you respond to criticism of C#, such as that the .NET platform only allows the language to run on Windows, as well as licensing and performance concerns?

It is possible to build alternate implementations. We are not building .NET for Linux, because the value proposition that we can deliver to our customers is a complete unified and thoroughly tested package, from the OS framework to databases to Web servers etc. So .NET is part of a greater ecosystem, and all of these things work together. I think we are actually running on certain other platforms, such as Mono on Linux and other third party implementations. Silverlight now allows you to run .NET applications inside the browser and not just in our browser, but also in Safari on Macs for example.

As for performance concerns, I feel very comfortable about .NET performance compared to competitive platforms. I feel very good about it actually. There are performance issues here and there, as there is with anything, but I feel like we are always on a vigilant quest to make performance better and performance is pretty darn good. Performance is one of the key reasons that people choose .NET, certainly in the case studies I see and the customers I talk to (productivity being the other.)

What’s the most unusual/interesting program you’ve ever seen written in C#?

Microsoft Research has this really cool application called Worldwide Telescope, which is written in C#. It’s effectively a beautiful interface on a catalogue of astronomical images (or images from astronomy) which allow you to do infinite zooming in on a planet and to see more and more detail. If you happen to choose planet Earth you can literally zoom in from galactic scale to your house, which is cool. I’ve been playing around with it with my kids and looking at other planets and they think it’s fun. It popularizes a thing that has traditionally been hard to get excited about.

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