REVIEW - Squeak - A Quick Trip to ObjectLand



A Quick Trip to ObjectLand


Gene Korienek, Tom Wrensch, Doug Dechow



Addison-Wesley Professional (2002)




Francis Glassborow


June 2002



If you have never heard of Squeak have a look at To put it briefly Squeak is an implementation of Smalltalk-80 that is available for most common platforms and comes with a lot of underpinning to provide a rich learning environment. These include both sound and graphics. The aim of the book is to introduce the reader to the dynamically bound version of object-orientation for which Smalltalk is the premier example. The book includes a CD with all the requisite material for common systems. However you can easily fetch the most recent version for your hardware from the site quoted above.

The book is fairly short, the page format of a dialogue between a newcomer to object-orientation, Jim and the instructor, Objective Wizard, is in asymmetric columns with Jim on the left and Objective Wizard on the right. The text snakes form side to side with the result that about 45% of each page is whitespace. I confess that I do not like this mechanism and suspect that it is a simple device to substantially increase the page count with little general benefit to the reader. I am also less than enthusiastic about the conversational style. However both of these things are matters of personal taste.

However the book very definitely has to be studied interactively. There is no point in even considering reading it other than in front of your computer with the relevant version of Squeak installed and running. That makes it rather unfortunate that the binding does not allow the book to lie flat, open at the page you are reading. You find yourself having to weight the pages down. Those who hate my reviews will beleaping up and down pointing out that once again I am highlighting things that are not relevant to the content of the book. Well, I make no apology, books need to be judged as a whole and in the context of the way they are designed for use. Addison Wesley have short changed the reader by not providing an appropriate binding.

Now this book is aimed at someone who is pretty much in the novice to intermediate range. Its intent is to give the reader a good experience and some feel for what OO is about along with a powerful environment that will allow them to get interesting results early on. That makes it particularly damning that despite my best efforts, the second 'programme' towards the end of chapter 1 (of course the book starts with chapter 0) will not execute. I have tried every variation I can think of but all I get is a window of error messages. It really does not matter why, the fact is that I wanted to work through this book and found right early on, that despite (perhaps because of) my wealth of programming expertise I could not get this example to work. This is exactly what must never happen for a book aimed at this kind of readership. Eventually I skipped the recalcitrant example and moved on with a degree of trepidation because the thing that did not work seemed fairly important (the ability to write code in one window and get results in another) I found that largely the rest worked satisfactorily.

However I am not convinced that the book succeeds in its objective unless that is greatly watered down. If the non-functioning example is corrected this book would make a fair introduction to programming and OO for someone who was not going to be a programmer. I am not sure if that is desirable because we all know that the real skill in programming comes afterwards when you have to apply programming skills to real problems. The manager who has successfully worked through this book may have had programming demystified but I think s/he will have a simplistic view of our trade.

This book could be a fun way to add some understanding of Smalltalk and dynamically bound OO to your background but look carefully before you leap and it will not turn you into any kind of programmer if you are not one already, and if you are and need to be able to use Smalltalk then there arte better alternatives. I think this book is only suited to those who need a passing understanding but not for those who need working skills.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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