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Title: Programming language choice:

Practice and experience

Author: Mark Woodman
Pub: International Thompson Computer Press

ISBN: 1 85032 186 8
Price £22-95
Disk N/A

This book is not what it claims to be. It claims to be a description of language choices made in “commerce, industry, teaching and research”. It is a series of papers delivered at an Open University workshop on language choice for teaching first year computer science students (UK 1993). Languages such as “COBOL, FORTRAN and (Visual) Basic are missing; so are APL, PROLOG and MIRANDA; C and classic PASCAL are alluded to but not discussed in their own rights.” As far as I can recall COBOL, FORTRAN, Basic, Ada, Pascal and C make up most of the worlds programming. 4GL’s are not discussed at all.

There is a section on C++ and a few pages on Ada95 (written in 1993) but the majority of the book looks at languages like Cool, Eiffel, Mod2, Mod3, Oberon, Omega, Extended Pascal, Turing, VDM-SL in a teaching environment. There is one chapter by a “consultant from industry” on Smaltalk. So, given that this book is aimed at academics largely using obscure and less common languages, it is interesting to see the arguments and concepts behind other languages.

What is very worrying, from my point of view, is the idea running through some of the book that language A is better than language B because the compiler for language A will flag types of errors that the compiler for language B will let through I.e. language A is “safer” than language B. Academics still do not realise that the compiler is one of a range of tools not the only tool. A compiler should not be used in isolation. Tool sets and other support are not covered in the text. As it happens I know there is a great variation in the standrards used in the compilers for “language B” so the example was flawed anyway.

Having been less than enthusiastic about this book for practical language choice I find myself dipping into it and becoming absorbed by the discussions. The argument that C has not got a proper “if” construct I found suprising. This is where academic theory and industrial reality diverge.

CONCLUSION: A fascinating book that will tell you much about the teaching of programming in the higher education establishments of the UK rather than modern industrial or commercial language choice. It will tell you about many fascinating languages that you will are unlikely to meet in “the real world”. I leave the academics to argue if the real world applies to them. There are many better books on this topic that would benefit engineers, students and academics a lot more than this one.