During a gathering celebrating the 40th anniversary of the birth of IBM's 360 mainframe, Frederick Brooks looked back on his work and reflected on the state of programming today.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

April 10, 2004

2 Min Read

InformationWeek: Will the mainframe survive?

Brooks (pausing before answering): It keeps morphing. The more important question has to do with what industrial strength, extremely robust operating systems. The big database systems require an industrial-strength system with backup, recovery, and restart capabilities. They have very sophisticated protections. They're a different kind of thing than Windows.

InformationWeek: Does the example of open-source teams indicate we've learned anything about lines of communications in programming projects?

Brooks: The hard part of a project is getting a coherent attack on a set of problems. In The Cathedral And The Bazaar, it said open-source requirements are selected by the marketplace. When the developers are part of the community that generates the requirements, then open source will tend to produce a system that meets those requirements. I wouldn't do an air-traffic-control system that way.

InformationWeek: Where are the bigger problems of advancement in hardware or software?

Brooks: The hardest unsolved problems are software problems. Hardware gallops along with stunning speed. We're seeing in graphics processors performance way better than Moore's law. We're seeing prototypes in the lab of processors built to the molecular and biological levels of assembly.

Brooks was called away at this point to participate in photos with other members of the IBM 360 project. But one of the conclusions of The Mythical Man-Month is that ambitious software teams undertake projects at the limits of what human intelligence can accomplish. Near the end he concludes:

"One can expect the human race to continue attempting systems just within or just beyond our reach; and software systems are perhaps the most intricate and complex of man's handiworks."

Photo of Frederick P. Brooks Jr. by Jerry Markatos

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights