Monday, September 19, 2005

Smalltalk Unreadable? Huh?

Spotted this quote in JavaLobby via James Robertson:
Have you ever tried to go back an make significant changes to a large Smalltalk application that you haven't touched the code for in 3-5 years or maybe didn't even a part in writing? Try that some time if you haven't and then tell us what you think of Smalltalk. If a language can't pass that battle test, it sucks. IMO, Java passes that test very well, much better than Smalltalk or C/C++.

OK, I've been there and done that with both Java (revisited old code from 3 years ago) and Smalltalk (revisited old code from 5 years) code bases. Now, both of the code bases were written by me and I didn't have a problem getting back into the code with either one. If you have well-defined names and intention revealing code, then it's NEVER a problem.

But, to get up to speed on existing code that I didn't write is another issue. I find Smalltalk to be easier than any language I've ever dealt with. It generally takes me no time to get up to speed with unknown Smalltalk code. Hell, I've been having a blast going through all of the Dolphin code recently. But, I've had my fair share of problems understanding Java code written by other programmers. And most of the reasons have nothing to do with language. It's mostly a matter of writing intention revealing code. Something that most good coders do unconsciously. I've seen my share of bad code in Perl, C, C++, Java, etc. But, I will say this, I find bad code in Smalltalk is much easier to read and understand. Since there's less rules, there's less to get messed up.

Anyway, it's amazing me that we are still having these discussions. Pick the language you love and write code. Stop whining about everyone else's. Each language has its strengths and weaknesses. I choose Smalltalk because it makes me more productive. If Java or Perl makes you more productive, then go write code in it! I do try to sell Smalltalk, but I don't believe in doing it at the expense of putting down another. I think Ruby, Smalltalk, Lisp, etc attacts a different kind of programmer than Java. And that's cool. There's nothing wrong with it. Now, let the Smalltalk flow!

1 comment:

Vincent Foley said...

Some people would learn a lot from reading Kent Beck's "Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns". The emphasis of the book is on communication, which I think is something that people often forget. Everything from using intention revealing names for classes, protocols, methods and variables to using the correct collection class for a given case help make Smalltalk readable and understandable by someone picking up the project. And those patterns are not all specific to Smalltalk: picking good names and extracting components to classes does help in any language.