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March 11, 1997

End of the Ada Mandate !

by Magnus Kempe, Ada Home editor

It has been announced that the DoD has decided to abandon its policy known as the "Ada mandate".

"Ada will compete better without the mandate"
Mr Paige, Assistant Secretary of Defense
(Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence)

The Ada Language is Fine

Obviously, the Ada programming language does not need any kind of mandate --it is an international standard, used in a great number of highly reliable and vital computer systems, which are developed by many thoughtful, engineering-oriented software developers. These things will not change overnight, or in the coming decade.

Once we have chosen and are systematically using a good, pro-software engineering programming language, we are left free to focus our attention on essential aspects of software development, i.e. reliability, efficiency, useability, maintainability, portability, safety, and profitability (where appropriate). In other words, if the language proliferation problem is solved, it is time to deal with other problems.

The fact is that the US DoD's focus on Ada has been a great success in cutting development and maintenance costs, since the number of programming languages used for DoD computer systems has been reduced by two orders of magnitudes in less than two decades. It is quite unlikely that 1000 languages be used again where less than 10 are so widely used now.

However, the Ada mandate has also been a failure because it has not been enforced. The mandate has created resentment, where the technical merits of the language should have prevailed. If a policy has counterproductive results, it is probably best to seek alternative, acceptable means to reach the desired end. Today, the "Ada mandate" policy is perceived by many as detrimental to the language and good software engineering practice. It is for instance well known that companies that are granted a coercive monopoly by the government will be less innovative and dynamic than if they had to compete on the free market. This has probably been an obstacle for Ada and potential Ada entrepreneurs.

Now, let us see how Ada vendors fare without the mandate. Many amazing developments are certain to follow. Let us also remember that Ada is good: good for software engineering, good for safety and reliability, good for cost efficient maintenance, and good for the DoD. It is in everyone's enlightened self-interest to use and sell Ada.

Some Real Questions in Need of Answers

Does the DoD still need an Ada policy ("the mandate")?
for what purpose?
what are the risks?
what are the alternatives?

Who is concerned, directly or indirectly, by this decision?
When will the first effects be visible?

What will the consequences be for the DoD-supported activities that have centered around Ada? The AJPO (Ada Joint Programme Office) had been scheduled to close down in June 1997, with all activities left to either the free market forces or other government agencies; but this plan was cancelled. What new signals will now be sent to the commercial Ada actors, and how reliable are such signals?

How will the DoD's decision be perceived?
Will Ada be abandoned? (quite unlikely)
In favor of what better language could that be? (dearth of reasonable alternatives)
Is this a change of tactics, or will Ada remain a preferred language in coming years?
What is the DoD's strategy to control software development reliability and costs?

Will new language wars flare up?
Will Ada receive bad press due to this decision?

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Page last modified: 1997-03-11