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Patterns of Software: Tales from the Software Community 1st Edition

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195102697
ISBN-10: 019510269X
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Editorial Reviews Review

A wide-ranging set of essays by a long-time Silicon Valley insider. Gabriel muses on software development, factors that have led to the success or failure of software companies, the nature of successful programming languages, and more. Evidently, Gabriel is currently writing poetry, and his concern for language and the well-turned phrase shows up in this book as well.


"This is a clear, insightful book that takes an alternative look at some of the broader issues surrounding software development.... The commentary on the work of Christopher Alexander, currently being taken up so fervently by the software architecture community, is particularly appealing."--Sanjiv Gossain, Associate Director, Cambridge Technology Partners

"The essays are both entertaining and insightful.... Gabriel has an outstanding command of English which makes his writing readable and entertaining."--Steve Bilow, Journal of Object-Oriented Programming

"...Gabriel is an illuminating guide, providing fresh and invigorating perspectives guaranteed to stick with you long after you boot up."--San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (August 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019510269X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195102697
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,872,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
There is an excitement in reading what everyone else is afraid to say---and the software world is full of taboos.
I passed up "Patterns of Software" a million times in the stores; because of the title, I thought it was yet another book on software Patterns (capital P) in the vein of "Design Patterns" and other recent missives on high-level design.
Then I read Richard Gabriel's essay "Worse is Better," available on the web. Though the tone can be bitter and depressing at times, I was immediately hooked on this rare find: a hardcore Lisp person making honest criticisms of both the philosophy and practice of the Lisp world (i.e. academe and the AI industry.)
His book is even more rewarding than the essay, because in it Gabriel offers a social theory of software. He explains the overwhelming success and enduring popularity of the C language, but, refreshingly, he does this without taking the easy way out and simply insulting the intelligence of everyone who is not a Lisp user. Gabriel's lessons come from the real world---documented in this semi-autobiographical book---and he didn't always like the answer.
While it does discuss Patterns (more deeply and more critically than almost anything else, in my opinion) it is primarily about some common patterns (lowercase p) in the software industry.
Such as: why does the "best product" often fail miserably in the marketplace? After the enormous success of UNIX in the 70's and 80's (and the failure of almost everything else) this became an important question. Especially for those who wished to succeed UNIX.
Gabriel's answer turns on what has been perhaps been said best by writer Virginia Postrel: "Quality is not one-dimensional.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Andrew T. Wilson on June 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
There are many people who can operate a word processor with sufficient skill to create a book about computers and software that someone will publish; there are only a few published authors in our business who are also truly good writers. Richard Gabriel is one of the latter. In "Performance and Evaluation of Lisp Systems," he showed he could create a lively book on possibly the single most esoteric subject imaginable. In "Patterns of Software," he demonstrates his skill in essays ranging from patterns in Turkish carpets to the hard lessons of software startups, from the joys of riding cross-country in a Corvette at 125 mph to the often demeaning life of a graduate student.
The last essay alone, "Money through Innovation Reconsidered," would justify purchase of the book. Gabriel does a masterful job of analyzing one of the apparent paradoxes of software engineering: that the "best-engineered" software products can be spectacular failures in the market (e.g. Common Lisp, for reasons Gabriel dissects in depth; and, remember Ada?), while the most successful products have a ball-of-mud-that-just-grew quality (yesterday DOS; today Linux).
The more time you have been schooled in "the right way" to build software, the harder this truth is to accept; but it is truth nonetheless, for reasons Gabriel lays out succinctly. The essay deserves a place near Arthur C. Clarke's classic SF short story "Superiority." Read both and you'll see the connection.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 14, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Gabriel has collected a number of his "Journal of Object Oriented Programming" columns into a thoughtful and readable anthology. The columns have been grouped into a few post-facto categories, decided long after the essays were first written. As may be expected, some of the individual columns do more for me than others. The section on his glorious rise and glorious falls into the `others' category, but I didn't read this to improve my understanding of Gabriel himself.

The better parts of this book reflect on software reuse, conceptual compression, subclassing, and abstraction. Nearly ten years old at this writing, the book reflects wisdom sorely won during the era of extravagant subclassing, before a better balance with aggregation was achieved. He also describes, at length, the evils of bad abstractions - the kinds that don't include all they should, and do include much of what they shouldn't. Unfortunately, his sourness on subclassing and abstraction prevents him from detailing their proper uses. "Abstraction is about ignorance," he quotes, but doesn't distinguish helpful from un-helpful forms of knowledge and un-knowledge, at least not in ways I can use.

The most useful of these essays emphasizes the value of writing - I mean prose, intended for human consumption. Perhaps Gabriel is a bit strident in stating the importance of person to person expression, but perhaps neglect of the topic warrants an exaggerated response.

This book includes a special treat, a six-page foreword by Christopher Alexander - the architect who introduced the concept of a Design Pattern. If you don't already know, he's a real building-type architect, not just a lead engineer of some kind.
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