Can a low-level programmer learn OOP?

Bruno Desthuilliers bdesth.quelquechose at
Sat Jul 14 06:01:56 CEST 2007

Chris Carlen a écrit :
> Hi:
>  From what I've read of OOP, I don't get it.  I have also found some 
> articles profoundly critical of OOP.  I tend to relate to these articles.
> However, those articles were no more objective than the descriptions of 
> OOP I've read in making a case.  Ie., what objective 
> data/studies/research indicates that a particular problem can be solved 
> more quickly by the programmer, or that the solution is more efficient 
> in execution time/memory usage when implemented via OOP vs. procedural 
> programming?

None. Definitively. wrt/ developper time and memory, it's mostly a 
matter of fit-your-brains. If it does, you'll find it easier, else 
choose another programming style. wrt/ cpu time and memory, and using 
'low-level' languages (C/C++/Pascal etc) OO is usually worse than 
procedural for simple programs. For more complex ones, I'd say it tends 
to converge since these programs, when written procedurally, usually 
rely on many abstraction/indirection layers.

> The problem for me is that I've programmed extensively in C and .asm on 
> PC DOS way back in 1988.  Then didn't program for nearly 10 years during 
> which time OOP was popularized.  Starting in 1999 I got back into 
> programming, but the high-level-ness of PC programming and the 
> completely foreign language of OOP repelled me.  My work was in analog 
> and digital electronics hardware design, so naturally I started working 
> with microcontrollers in .asm and C.  Most of my work involves low-level 
> signal conditioning and real-time control algorithms, so C is about as 
> high-level as one can go without seriously loosing efficiency.

You may still want to have a look on some more functional languages like 
Haskell, OCaml or Erlang. But if you find OO alien, I doubt you'll have 
a strong feeling for functional programming.

>  The 
> close-to-the-machine-ness of C is ideal here.  This is a realm that I 
> truly enjoy and am comfortable with.
> Hence, being a hardware designer rather than a computer scientist, I am 
> conditioned to think like a machine.  I think this is the main reason 
> why OOP has always repelled me.

OTOH, OO is about machines - at least as conceveid by Alan Key, who 
invented the term and most of the concept. According to him, each object 
is a (simulation of) a small machine.

> Perhaps the only thing that may have clicked regarding OOP is that in 
> certain cases I might prefer a higher-level approach to tasks which 
> involve dynamic memory allocation.

While OO without automatic memory management can quickly become a major 
PITA, OO and GC are two orthogonal concepts - some languages have 
builtin support for OO but nothing specific for memory management 
(ObjectPascal, C++, ObjectiveC), and some non-OO languages do have 
builtin memory management (mostly but not only in the functional camp).

>  If I don't need the execution 
> efficiency of C, then OOP might produce working results faster by not 
> having to worry about the details of memory management, pointers, etc.

It's not of feature of OO per se. But it's clear that not having (too 
much) to worry about memory management greatly enhance productivity.

> But I wonder if the OOP programmers spend as much time creating classes 
> and trying to organize everything into the OOP paradigm as the C 
> programmer spends just writing the code?

Don't you design your programs ? AFAICT, correct design is not easier 
with procedural programming.

Now to answer your question, I'd say it depends on your experience of 
OO, and of course of the kind of OO language you're using. With 
declaratively statically typed languages - like C++, Java etc - you are 
forced into a lot of upfront design (way too much IMHO). Dynamic 
languages like Smalltalk, Python or Ruby are much more lightweight in 
this area, and tend to favor a much more exploratory style - sketch a 
quick draft on a napkin, start coding, and evolve the design while 
you're coding.

And FWIW, Python doesn't *force* you into OO - while you'll be *using* 
objects, you can write most of your code in a procedural way, and only 
"fall down" into OO for some very advanced stuff.

> Ultimately I don't care what the *name* is for how I program.  I just 
> need to produce results.

Indeed !-)

>  So that leads back to objectivity.  I have a 
> problem to solve, and I want to find a solution that is as quick as 
> possible to learn and implement.
> Problem:
> 1.  How to most easily learn to write simple PC GUI programs 

GUI are one of the best (and more successfull) application of OO - and 
as a matter of fact, even GUI toolkits implemented in plain C tend to 
take an OO approach (GTK+ being a clear example, but even the old 
Pascal/C Mac GUI API does have a somewhat "object based" feeling).

> that will 
> send data to remote embedded devices via serial comms, and perhaps 
> incorporate some basic (x,y) type graphics display and manipulation 
> (simple drawing program).  Data may result from user GUI input, or from 
> parsing a text config file.  Solution need not be efficient in machine 
> resource utilization.  Emphasis is on quickness with which programmer 
> can learn and implement solution.

So what you want is an hi-level, easy to learn language with a rich 
collection of libraries. The Goodnews(tm) is that Python is one of the 
possible answers.

> 2.  Must be cross-platform: Linux + Windows. 

Idem. You can even add most unices and MacOS X to the list.

> This factor can have a big 
> impact on whether it is necessary to learn a new language, or stick with 
> C.  If my platform was only Linux I could just learn GTK and be done 
> with it.  I wouldn't be here in that case.
> Possible solutions:
> Form 1:  Use C and choose a library that will enable cross-platform GUI 
> development.
> Pro:  Don't have to learn new language.
> Con:  Probably will have difficulty with cross-platform implementation 
> of serial comms.  This will probably need to be done twice.  This will 
> waste time.

Con: C is a low-level language (not a criticism - it has been designed 
so), which greatly impact productivity.
Con: the only serious C (not++) cross-platform GUI toolkit I know is 
GTK+, which is less cross-platform than wxWidgets, and *is* OO.

> Form 2:  Use Python and PySerial and TkInter or wxWidgets.

I'd probably go for wxWidgets.

> Pro:  Cross-platform goal will likely be achieved fully. 

Very likely. There are a couple of things to take care of, but nothing 
close to what you'd have to do in C.

> Have a 
> programmer nearby with extensive experience who can help.
> Con:  Must learn new language and library.

Yes, obviously. The (other) GoodNews(tm) is that, according to most 
estimations, an experimented programmer can become productive in Python 
in a matter of weeks at worst (some manage to become productive in a few 
days). This won't mean you'll master the language and use it at its 
best, but don't worry, you'll get things done, and perhaps in less time 
than with C.

>  Must possibly learn a 
> completely new way of thinking (OOP)

Not necessarly. While Python is OO all the way down - meaning that 
everything you'll work with will be an object (functions included) -, it 
doesn't *force* you into OO (IOW : you don't have to define classes to 
write a Python program). You can as well use a procedural - or even 
somewhat functional - approach, and most Python programs I've seen so 
far are usually a mix of the three.

> not just a new language syntax. 

You forgot one of the most important part of a language : idioms. And 
it's definitively *not* idiomatic in Python to use classes when a 
simpler solution (using plain functions and modules) is enough.

> This might be difficult.

Not necessarily that much.

> Form 3:  Use LabVIEW
> Pro:  I think that the cross-platform goal can be met.
> Con:  Expensive.  I would prefer to use an Open Source solution.  But 
> that isn't as important as the $$$.  I have also generally found the 2D 
> diagrammatical programming language of "G" as repelling as OOP.  I 
> suspect that it may take as much time to learn LabVIEW as Python.

I don't have much knowledge of LabVIEW so I can't comment on this. But I 
remember a thread here about G, and I guess you'll find Python much more 
familiar - even if you'll need some 'thinking adjustment' to grok it.

>  In 
> that case the time spent on Python might be better spent since I would 
> be learning something foundational as opposed to basically just learning 
> how to negotiate someone's proprietary environment and drivers.

IMHO, the biggest gain (in learning Python vs LabVIEW) is that you'll 
add a very valuable tool to your toolbox - the missing link between C 
and shell scripts.

> Comments appreciated.

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