The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence.Would anyone say the same about Java with a strait face?
The Perils of Java Schools offers some of the harshest criticism of Java to receive widespread attention. What's the chief complaint? Java is too easy! I'm serious. Joel actually asserts that Java is not difficult enough for a college curriculum. He argues that C++, with its pointer-juggling headaches, is much better at weeding out lesser minds.
This is such a bizarre thing to say that I hardly know where to start.
First off, I went to MST (formerly UMR) where our CS department uses C++ and we're damn proud of it. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I admit the following: Yes, Java is easier, but that's not a bug, it's a feature! Making programming easier is a Good Thing.
Second, there actually exist C++ programmers who don't understand recursion. Sad but true. It's even possible (albeit rare) to make it through my school's pointer minefield without being able to recurs your way out of a wet paper bag. Joel is just plain wrong to assume that there is a single "part of the brain" whose purpose is to grok pointers and recursion. Pointers and recursion are not the same. At all.
I'll grant that someone who only knows Java is unlikely to understand pointers, but how bad is that really? Pointers don't help you think in higher levels of abstraction. They exist for the sole purpose of getting in your way. Other respectable languages without pointers include: Lisp, Python, Haskell, Ocaml, and Scala.
Recursion is a completely different matter. Java and C++ both support recursion equally well (or equally poorly). If you don't understand recursion, you don't really understand functions/methods. Period.
Let's assume for the moment that I'm done picking on Joel Spolsky. His real point is that schools should not water down their curriculum, and I absolutely agree. Self-respecting CS departments should fight to keep data structures, operating systems, language design, and graph theory. They should also continue to require calculus. This all has nothing to do with our petty programming language feuds. Despite what we C++ elitists would have you believe, C++ is not an academic language. It is a vocational one. Universities teach C++ because employers want that skill, not because they think it builds character.
Still, in all of his anti-Java rhetoric, Joel never (AFAIK) compared Java to COBOL. That would be hitting below the belt.
What makes me rush to Java's defense all of the sudden? Mostly it's because I'm at home sick with a cold... but here is an equally good reason.
IDENTIFICATION DIVISION.I can not and will not compare Java to that. Let's look at another example, just to drive it home.
DISPLAY 'Hello World'.
x = y * 2; // C, C++, JavaThese are all fairly reasonable ways to multiply y by 2 and store the result in x. How does it look in COBOL?
$x = $y * 2; # Perl
X = Y * 2 ! Fortran
(set! x (* y 2)) ; Scheme
(= x (* y 2)) ; Arc
MULTIPLY 2 BY Y GIVING X.I can't even look at that without cringing. COBOL was a horrifically misguided attempt to blend pseudo-code with pseudo-English. Being a "business-oriented language", COBOL had syntax designed to appeal to the managers of 1960. Java was an effort to simplify and enhance C++, designed to appeal to the programmers of 1995.
So remember: Java just kinda sucks. COBOL really really really really sucks. If COBOL were an ice cream flavor, it would be pralines and arsenic. If COBOL were the only programming language I could use, I would leave the field.