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The Results Are In

This article was passed to me by a friend. I have wanted to know the information in this article for a long time, and it confirms my leanings and preferences. If anyone knows of an actual paper copy of this article, or a more recent study, please send it my way.




The State of the Art
By Ted Bahr

Copied without permission from Computer Language, April 1989

Perhaps the most universally recognized tool for improving a professional programmer's productivity is C. Not the C language (after all, this *is* the April issue, not February), but the C additive, Caffeine.

P.J. Plauger would have us begin this review with a definition:

caf-feine \ka-'fen, 'ka-,\ n [G kaffein, fr. kafee coffee, fr. F cafe'] (ca. 1828): a bitter alkaloid C8H10N4O2 found esp. in coffee, tea, and kola nuts and used medicinally as a stimulant and diuretic.

Much has happened in the Cola wars to date, and the intent here is to bring you up to speed on what seven leading contenders have to offer today. Table 1 shows a comparison of basic features, Table 2 compares performance, and Table 3 ranks the products on a variety of tests.



The Line up  


Diet Coke
Diet Coke is an ably launched sequel to Coca-Cola's well-known, high calorie drinks. It scours well in the mouth and the taste is surprisingly full-bodied for a soda drained of all sugar. As a member of the Coke family, Diet Coke places well in the performance tests with 46 mg. of caffeine per can. Diet Coke supplies the user with excellent documentation, taking care to list a variety of vitamins and minerals of which it supplies less than 2% of the U.S. Recommended Allowances (U.S. RDA). The documentation is not perfect, however; one particular problem is sloppy indexing. Diet Coke notes that the product contains phenylalanine, a danger to phenylketoneurics, but does so in tiny letters on the front of the can, not with the ingredients where one would naturally search for it (by contrast, Diet Pepsi places this information with the other ingredients in a bright red color).

A toll-free help line is provided to support all the Coke products--their commercials play in the background while you are on hold. Diet Coke is an excellent reproduction of the market leader and maintains its good performance for programmers while nodding to the increased health-consciousness of the world today.

Mountain Dew
Long the late-night programmer's favorite with 17.4% more caffeine than any member of the Coke family and over 40% more caffeine than Pepsi, Mountain Dew means business. Clearly the heavyweight choice of this review, The Dew powers its way to a first place finish in both calories (178.8) and sugar(44.4 mg.). Its performance pales in comparison only to Jolt. Mountain Dew's taste is sickly sweet--the refreshing images of people splashing around in ponds are clearly in reference to the energy derived from the drink's effect, not the taste. And the participants in the ads are certainly not programmers (imagine--swimming!). The scouring test was disappointing--the tiny bubbles seemed buried by the high fructose corn syrup.

Documentation was generally good, with more information revealed about chemical content than any product except Diet Coke. A toll-free help number is offered on the can and questions to the technical support staff were handled efficiently and pleasantly.

Mountain Dew is still sporting its peace-and-love 1960s logo. The outdated packaging combined with levels of caffeine and sugar that show almost total disregard for the 1980s health-consciousness reveal parent Pepsico's intent to market Mountain Dew as a niche product. With only Jolt to battle head-to-head on the high end, that's not such a bad idea.

Pepsi may be the choice of a new generation, but definitely *not* a new generation of programmers. Finishing dead last in performance and buried in the middle of the pack with respect to calories, Pepsi is a generally uninspired product. The user interface (taste) is distinctive, but its caffeine engine lacks the punch of the other products we surveyed. Pepsi offers a toll-free help line and has adequate documentation, but finished at the bottom of the heap in the Grindstone (teeth-grinding after one six-pack slurped down in a two-hour period), ANSI (American Neurological Speed Institute) conformity, and compatibility with UNIX programmers. Although drinking Pepsi while chained to a 100,000 line Ada program for 36 hours will not make you a raving maniac, it probably won't keep you awake either. John Scully left for Apple years ago, and we cannot recommend this product for serious programmers.

New Coke
Coca-Cola's new upstart is a worthy alternative to sleeping at normal hours. It placed second in both the scouring test and the Wetstone (thirst quenching). The kid brother to Classic (real) Coke has a taste somewhere between the thinner, less-sweet Diet Coke and the heavy syrup of the original. Despite its less-sugary taste, Coke (its real name) actually has more carbohydrates than Classic Coke.

Classic Coke
Also known as "real Coke", this product seems to be adrift in a sea of specialized competition. Various tests provided some pretty mediocre scores for what has traditionally been considered by the general public the most high-powered cold liquid stimulant (unless you favor cold espresso). Documentation is thin for Classic Coke drinkers and thus tends to favor users who have some familiarity with the product. What's more, the toll-free help number was not printed on any of the cans we tested! While clearly a stalwart and founding member of the caffeine collection, advantages offered by a number of competitors may be worth a taste before settling on the real thing.

Dr. Pepper
While barely edging out Pepsi in caffeine performance level and definitely qualifying as a "boutique" soft drink, Dr. Pepper's unique user interface qualified it for review. Bottled by Pepsi, Dr. Pepper has had little national advertising in the past few years, being seen as a perennially big seller in Texas and a fancy alternative to root beer. Despite this, Dr. P weighs in as a reasonable choice for programmers. The taste is somewhat lemony, light, and fruity. Documentation is good, but Dr. P lacks a toll-free number for support. When I did call technical support, the Pepper People seemed confused. I bounced seven times before finding the right person at the right number. However, once I got there, support was excellent and very cordial.

Although Dr. Pepper cannot be recommended outright due to its mediocre performance, slipping a few in between a long night of Classic Cokes may be just the change you need.

Taking on the established Cola giants is a brash move for a little company in Rochester, N.Y., and Jolt is playing its role as spoiler to the hilt. In the face of a huge tide of "caffeine-free" soft drinks, Jolt boasts that it has "all the sugar and twice the caffeine." On the surface, at least, it seems as if the programmer's ship has come in.

Jolt's user interface is good, containing the bite and "look and feel" of Classic Coke and winning the scouring test. Performance is stellar with 32% more caffeine than Mountain Dew, 55% more than the Coke family, and a whopping 85% more than Pepsi. Unfortunately, none of these percentages back up the slogan aimed most directly at the programming market: "twice the caffeine."

While documentation is adequate, technical support was rather dismal. Jolt had the ambiance of a small company, with the receptionist answering my questions in an annoyed manner. She said the company doesn't release information on sugar content, which is odd for a company that boasts about it on the can. When pressed about the "twice the caffeine" claim, she said it referred to sodas other than the ones we tested but wouldn't reveal which ones.

Despite a shaky feeling about the company's ethics, programmers will find much to like in a can of Jolt. The only side effect may be too much of a good thing--the Grindstone test left me unable to bear the sight of a monitor, and soon found me lurching from lane to lane at 80 mph on Rte. 101, alternately screeching at songs on the radio and babbling incoherently to myself about RISC chips. Use Jolt with caution.

The Winners
A close look at the seven contenders in this review confirmed some suspicions and raised others. Pepsi's performance rated too poorly to recommend, and Dr. Pepper's only real benefit is its unique user interface. Any member of the Coke family can be recommended for general-purpose long bouts of coding and the company is to be lauded for maintaining performance levels in its newest releases. Jolt, the hands-down winner in pure performance, is too jarring to be recommended for prolonged use, but can be excellent for short bursts or quick patches. Based on overall excellence, the winner and sultan of swig for programmar productivity is still Mountain Dew.

View The Tables



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