Charging for Windows-only Kid’s Programming Languages

This is a bit disappointing but forseeable. There was a language developed last year for kids to use called Kid’s Programming Language (KPL, later renamed Phrogram). It looked exactly like Visual Basic .NET minus a lot of features. They received a HUGE amount of press and marketing from Microsoft, such as being featured on their Coding4Fun site. It was Windows-only, not open source. It was developed by a couple of programmers at a private consulting company (not by educators or learning specialists). They didn’t guarantee that it would even remain free to use, and sure enough, now they charge money to use it, and charge extra to use their “educators forum.”

Now another developer has developed a language for kids named Leopard. It looks like BASIC or logo minus a lot of features. You lay out parameters line by line instead of on one line:


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Sunburn Central

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And sure enough, despite being still early in development, Windows-only, non open-source, and charging money to be able to compile programs with it, it is already receiving a lot of publicity from Microsoft, including an interview by Robert Scoble.

The rule seems to be that Microsoft will promote a 3rd party language (non-kids tools included) if it is strictly Windows-only, AND doesn’t compete with their own programming tools, AND ideally isn’t open source. So for example the IronPython language (which they own), yay, but the boo and nemerle languages, nay. The latter are written to work in both .NET and mono, are free and open source, and might be viewed as competitors with VB.NET or C# because they are statically typed and fast like they are. Other programming tools which are designed for kids such as Scratch and Squeak’s Etoys also don’t qualify because they are not Windows-only. Microsoft has become more committed to open source lately, but a recent review of their efforts suggests there is much room for improvement.

Posted in children, programming
7 comments on “Charging for Windows-only Kid’s Programming Languages
  1. Jonathan says:

    Boo? Nemerle? Why would Microsoft waste time with those when their stated goal is to promote languages specifically for kids?Open source is a stupid requirement in this context. The user of the langauge are, by definition, people who are not expected to be able to edit the source of the IDE and compilers.

  2. jason says:

    This is a travesty. More annoying than the Microsoft hegemony is the development of new educational languages without the foresight to do research into what actually works. Languages such as Logo and Scratch benefit from being developed in an academic atmosphere where things such as developmental psychology are considered. From watching Scoble’s video, it’s clear that this guy was just coding on what he thought would be easy for him. It’s the un-scientificness of this whole approach that really infuriates me.

  3. D Holton says:

    I didn’t mean to imply that boo, nemerle and ironpython are meant for kids, too. They are definitely not, despite the $100 laptop project hoping that kids will be editing their python source code. For example they are all case-sensitive, which is worse for beginners. Divide 3 by 5 (3/5) and you get 0 instead of 0.6. No good visual designer support for any of them.Regarding open sourcing the programming languages, it isn’t that necessary for the kids, but say for example teachers or educators or learning specialists want to improve it for kids. Say for example you have data showing that making this change or that change would be better for kids. Or you want to add some feature or fix some bug in the language. We can’t. Instead we’re stuck with the decisions of one or two people who may be just following their own old-fashioned notions about the nature of learning and coding.

  4. Alfred Thompson says:

    Actually I have blogged about Scratch and Alice (from CMU and decidedly Java biased) on my blog at several times. And yes I have blogged about Leopard and Phrogram (KPL) as well. Not because they are Windows only but because I like to talk about beginning programming languages. I’d be happy to talk about more of them. Even if they are not Windows only and even if they are Open Source.BTW using a Robert Scoble interview as “support from Microsoft” is something I don’t understand. Robert hasn’t worked for Microsoft for a while. He is a VP at PodTech these days and seems to be a lot more of an Apple fan.

  5. L. Serflaten says:

    I support getting the younger crowd involved with programming. Just like sports, or racing, or other skills, it takes time to develop talent into skills and experience, so the earlier the start, the better. When they’re young, the means to get there is still wide open.While you say an open source project has benefits, you don’t mention the downside. Who supports the language when kids have questions? If they find a forum, how are the support people going to know what alterations may be in place? Advice for one altered version from Kentucky, may not be the best advice for a different altered version from Colorado. And then there is trying to validate time and effort. You say it may be nice to add this or that, or to fix a bug, but that supposes that there is already a project in place to make changes to. The original authors are due some renumeration for their efforts, and a nominal fee which is less than a parent might spend on a video game for their child is hardly a major hurdle for most kids. Even still the original Kid’s Programming Language is currently free for the downloading, so even that hurdle has been removed for those kids who really want to give it a go. It just seems too easy to sit back and say ‘Hey that package should have been open source, and free for all.’ when the person saying it has equal incentive and opportunity to create the project they want to see. People who provide software for others to use are due compensation. For some, the recognition and rewards of having others use their software is compensation enough, but others may still need to put food on the table and all the kudos and attaboys in the world aren’t going to fill an empty stomach.

  6. Brandon Watts says:

    Doug – To be honest, I’m a Mac user, and the only time that I use Windows is when I’m developing and testing Leopard. Therefore, I’m very anxious to get Leopard on OS X and Linux as well. I’m not in the pocket of Microsoft by any means.In addition, the free version of Leopard is available to everyone and is not limited in terms of teaching and learning the code. We do charge money for the ability to create executable versions of your programs, but the tool itself is not limited in any other way. It’s not a trial, so it doesn’t expire after a certain number of days.Jason – Leopard serves a purpose, and it’s been successful in getting people who’ve never thought about programming to develop their own applications. We’re still expanding the tool to support standard programming practices, but educators are already realizing the benefits of the tool.For example, I recently visited a high school technology teacher who used to teach Java, but he was frustrated with it in the sense that the students couldn’t get satisfactory results quickly. Their interest was lost because of the complications. Therefore, he’s going to start using Leopard in his course. This type of thing is happening more and more.

  7. Doug Holton says:

    At the high school level, I would recommend these free options for giving students quick & visual feedback on their programming:* processing:* express:* javafx:* or here’s a course that uses jython: course if you want to teach them “formal” CS stuff for an AP exam, you are required to use Java or Visual Basic .NET I believe.

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