F# Update: MonoDevelop, a New Book, and a New CTP
Though still officially just a research project, the excitement over F# continues unabated. In today's roundup, we take a brief look at what's new for F#.
First up is a new F# IDE plug-in for MonoDevelop 2.0. This version of MonoDevelop is still in a preview state and some F# features such as syntax highlighting won't work unless you recompile MonoDevelop from sources.
I haven't got my hardcopy just yet, but I read a draft of this book, and was really very impressed. The 3D visualization chapter is stunning in its simplicity and power, the parallel programming techniques presented are simple and powerful, and the examples of interoperating with Mathematica, MATLAB and using web databases opened gateways to the crucial information sources and tools that form a significant part of modern science.
In an Amazon review, Jamie Bernardin wrote,
I wish more books were written at this level of quality. While this book can be used by anybody that wants to get up to speed with F#, it's also well suited for use as a text book for an undergraduate course in applied math or computer science (or reference for a graduate course). It's well organized, well written, and draws from classic examples in mathematical computing.
It's not easy material, and deserves to be read slowly and perhaps a couple times - much like any sophisticated treatise on a difficult but powerful subject. Don't loose patience if you don't get it at first glance. If you enjoy this type of stuff, it's an absolutely pleasure to read - logical in flow and well articulated.
Probably the biggest problem for F# is that it is a moving target. Though the tools and books keep on coming, so do the new versions. Not even in beta yet, F# continues to evolve.
The September 2008 F# CTP targets Visual Studio 2008. IDE features include a scripting mode for quick experiments, a project mode for application development, and improved Intellisense via a new language service.
Incredibly useful for anyone doing scientific or engineering work, this CTP also adds support for Units of Measure. While any freshman science major knows you cannot multiply "50 meters per second" by "30 seconds" and shove it a variable expecting "kg-meters/second", most programming languages aren't so smart. F# does this by adding a meta-type system. In addition to the underlying type, usually float, F# variables can also know what units of measurement they represent. When used, both the IDE and compiler will check for conflicts and flag them as errors.