I spent last week at my first Fortran Standards Committee meeting. It was a pretty interesting experience. Everyone there was brilliant, and interested in trying to do a good job improving the language. And yet, it was still somehow very disfunctional.
The committee is comprised mainly of representatives from compiler vendors/writers, with a few representatives from some large “users,” like NASA and some national labs. Because of that, they don’t really seem to have much empathy or concern for developers of new Fortran codes. They’re mostly concerned with how difficult it would be to implement something in a compiler, or if it might break somebody’s existing code.
The conversations usually result in statements like, “that’s just a convenience. You could already do something similar by doing X, Y and Z” or “yes the current thing is terrible and we shouldn’t have done it that way, but there’s nothing we can do about it now because the compilers will have to support it forever anyways.”
But there is a silver lining. One of the newer members on the committee created a Github repository as a way to solicit feedback from the wider community, work on official proposals to the committee, and facilitate a dialog. I would say this had a significant, positive impact at the meeting.
Several proposals from that repository were discussed, and work will continue on some of them. Additionally, we were able to use that as a channel to provide input from the community in time to stop a proposal from moving forward that had been twisted in such a way that the community would not have liked it.
I am also now collaborating on a project I’ve been looking for an excuse to start working on myself; a Fortran package manager. It’s still in early stages, but looks like it will not take long to get something usable.
I’d say my trip to that meeting was a success. Fortran is clearly old, rusty, and full of warts, and the committee is a bit dysfunctional, but I see an opportunity and people willing to work at it, so there is hope yet. Plus it was a great excuse to take a motorcycle trip :).