Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tipping point or tripping point

Yesterday Apple released new base Mac Pro configuration with 8 processing cores. These are truly workstation class machines at, albeit high end, desktop prices.

If we take for granted that Leopard, Vista or Linux can make efficient use of the raw processing power available, any given application should perform better on these machines than on the previous generation, however, I think that many people will be surprised by how modest those performance gains are. Unless the application was developed with concurrency in mind most of the cores will likely sit idle.

To me these machines represent a tipping point, a point in time when concurrency becomes mainstream. While I accept that these machines are targeted at professional users, how long do you think it will be before your laptop has a similar core count?Two years, maybe three?

I hope that means that functional programming languages gain greater momentum and acceptance, but at the very least, we, as a community, need to accept that knowing what a mutex is, does not a multithreaded programmer make. At a minimum we should be looking to trade in the mutex hammer for the Software Transaction Memory rapier.

Alas, for some software engineers this is not a tipping point, but a tripping point, one paradigm shift too many in a career littered with the wreckage of objects, aspects, templates, functors and categories. There is no shame in this, to you I ask only this question, can I have a raise?

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