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"You'll have to forgive me," apologizes Lehman at one point, sifting through a pile of research papers on a nearby shelf. "Since I lost my secretary, I can't seem to find anything."

The pile, a collection of recently published papers investigating the topic of software evolution, a topic Lehman helped inaugurate back in the 1970s, is something of a taunting tribute.

While the pile's growing size offers proof that Lehman and his ideas are finally catching on, it also documents the growing number of researchers with whom Lehman, a man with dwindling office space and even less in the way of support, must now compete.

Software evolution, i.e. the process by which programs change shape, adapt to the marketplace and inherit characteristics from preexisting programs, has become a subject of serious academic study in recent years. Partial thanks for this goes to Lehman and other pioneering researchers. Major thanks, however, goes to the increasing strategic value of software itself. As large-scale programs such as Windows and Solaris expand well into the range of 30 to 50 million lines of code, successful project managers have learned to devote as much time to combing the tangles out of legacy code as to adding new code. Simply put, in a decade that saw the average PC microchip performance increase a hundredfold, software's inability to scale at even linear rates has gone from dirty little secret to industry-wide embarrassment.

- "A unified theory of software evolution," Sam Williams, Salon http://www.salon.com/?x, April 8, 2002 http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/04/08/lehman/

Directory: http://www.larryblakeley.com/Articles/monthly_articles/

File Name: sam_williams20020408

Post Date: March 10, 2005 at 8:00 AM CST; 1400 GMT

Meir Lehman has been studying the life cycles of computer programs since he was a researcher at IBM 30 years ago. One of these days he's going to get it all figured out.

Sam Williams is a freelance reporter who covers software and software development culture. He is also the author of "Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software," Sam Williams, March, 2002 http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/