C++: Is It Really a Cruel Joke?

I can no longer remember where or when I found this while mousing around on the internet, but it is clearly something anyone seriously considering the choice between C and C++ should read before investing their future in one or the other.

I personally am lucky in that I originally learned C and do indeed like to use pointers and do systems programming. When C++ became "the rage" I dutifully invested a fortune in compilers (I was still using DOS or one of the early versions of WinXX at the time and the compiler was Borland, if I recall) and tried to learn it, reasoning that since it was a superset of C it would be easy.

Hah! True, it WAS a superset of C, sort of, so one could often get C source to compile with only a bit of hair pulling and cursing, but they'd introduced all kinds of, well, crap! cin, cout, an elaborate ritual for the creation process of the simplest subroutine, constructors, destructors -- suddenly instead of simply sitting down and ripping out code for a simple project, one was forced at gunpoint to spend days working out elaborate data structures that (ultimately) hid ALL THE DETAIL of how the code worked so that the resulting code was basically unreadable even to the person that wrote it six weeks later! One had to spend ANOTHER day or two just rereading header files and tracking down just what your variables WERE for doing this or that.

Well, out of laziness or ignorance or common sense (you pick:-), I dropped C++ like a hot tamale and went back to curmudgeonly coding in straight C, with good old printf and scanf, with pointers and malloc/free used to manage data allocations under my control instead of the compiler's, with my "objects" being good old C structs, or linked lists, or whatever. For sure, lots of code DOES work better if writting in an object oriented style where it makes sense to do so, a point usually clearly revealed around the second full rewrite of the project (assuming it has any complexity at all). Why, sometimes it even makes sense to have constructors or destructors (linked lists in particular). Other times your data, structs and all, are either predetermined at compile time or dynamically allocated ONCE during a program execution and just plain dropped at the end, and constructors and destructors are a cosmic PITA.

Anyway, I also had the joy of trying to code in e.g. Windows with C++ while conducting my grand experiment, and all I can say is that it made coding in raw naked X (which yes, I've done) look like a vacation at the beach in comparison. Remember all the CreateLightBulbReplacementFunction() jokes (how many Windows programmers does it take to screw in a lightbulb)? Yeah, like that...

Still, until I ran across the following fragment out there on the Internet, although I truthfully felt like C++ was some sort of cruel joke, I also felt vaguely guilty at my dinosaur-like revisionistic clinging to straight C and thought that there must be SOMETHING really good about C++ if only I had the patience to find out.

Now, however, the truth is revealed. C++ really is a cruel joke. Well, more properly, it is the result of a fiendish plot to preserve the livelihood of a whole generation of programmers by making the process of code design, implementation, and maintenance three or four times more expensive than it needs to be, sort of like Pascal was in its day. The programming world caught on to Pascal early, though, and nobody sane would be caught dead writing Pascal any more as it was directly responsible for the failure of just about every company that ever released a product written in it. C++ is more insidious -- because it IS a superset of C, it sucks you in, and (like Pascal) it has been embraced by computer science departments everywhere because:

Anyway, enjoy the accompanying link. I have no idea who wrote it, but it is a brilliant satire of Stroustrup's actual interview. And, IMO, correct in its satirically implied criticisms. Note well that it is NOT copyrighted by me and hence is not regulated by the OPL as indicated below.

I would like to find the proper credit for the material below.
Please mail me if you know the author. 

Note that the article deals with older C++ without templates,
in other words, with programs 100 times less obfuscated than in 2001.

On the 1st of January, 1998, Bjarne Stroustrup gave an interview
to the IEEE's 'Computer' magazine.

Naturally, the editors thought he would be giving a retrospective
view of seven years of object-oriented design, using the language
he created.

By the end of the interview, the interviewer got more than he had
bargained for and, subsequently, the editor decided to suppress its
contents, 'for the good of the industry' but, as with many of these
things, there was a leak.

Here is a complete transcript of what was was said, unedited, and
unrehearsed, so it isn't as neat as planned interviews.

You will find it interesting...


Interviewer:  Well, it's been a few years since you changed the
        world of software design, how does it feel, looking back?

Stroustrup:  Actually, I was thinking about those days, just before
        you arrived. Do you remember?  Everyone was writing 'C'
        and, the trouble was, they were pretty damn good at it.
        Universities got pretty good at teaching it, too. They were
        turning out competent - I stress the word 'competent' -
        graduates at a phenomenal rate. That's what caused the

Interviewer:  Problem?

Stroustrup:  Yes, problem. Remember when everyone wrote Cobol?

Interviewer:  Of course, I did too

Stroustrup:  Well, in the beginning, these guys were like demi-gods.
        Their salaries were high, and they were treated like royalty.

Interviewer:  Those were the days, eh?

Stroustrup:  Right. So what happened?  IBM got sick of it, and
        invested millions in training programmers, till they were a
        dime a dozen.

Interviewer:  That's why I got out. Salaries dropped within a year,
        to the point where being a journalist actually paid better.

Stroustrup:  Exactly. Well, the same happened with 'C' programmers.

Interviewer:  I see, but what's the point?

Stroustrup:  Well, one day, when I was sitting in my office, I
        thought of this little scheme, which would redress the
        balance a little. I thought 'I wonder what would happen, if
        there were a language so complicated, so difficult to learn,
        that nobody would ever be able to swamp the market with
        programmers?  Actually, I got some of the ideas from X10,
        you know, X windows. That was such a bitch of a graphics
        system, that it only just ran on those Sun 3/60 things.
        They had all the ingredients for what I wanted. A really
        ridiculously complex syntax, obscure functions, and
        pseudo-OO structure. Even now, nobody writes raw X-windows
        code. Motif is the only way to go if you want to retain
        your sanity.

Interviewer:  You're kidding...?

Stroustrup:  Not a bit of it. In fact, there was another problem.
        Unix was written in 'C', which meant that any 'C' programmer
        could very easily become a systems programmer. Remember
        what a mainframe systems programmer used to earn?

Interviewer:  You bet I do, that's what I used to do.

Stroustrup:  OK, so this new language had to divorce itself from
        Unix, by hiding all the system calls that bound the two
        together so nicely. This would enable guys who only knew
        about DOS to earn a decent living too.

Interviewer:  I don't believe you said that...

Stroustrup:  Well, it's been long enough, now, and I believe most
        people have figured out for themselves that C++ is a waste
        of time but, I must say, it's taken them a lot longer than I
        thought it would.

Interviewer:  So how exactly did you do it?

Stroustrup:  It was only supposed to be a joke, I never thought
        people would take the book seriously. Anyone with half a
        brain can see that object-oriented programming is
        counter-intuitive, illogical and inefficient.

Interviewer:  What?

Stroustrup:  And as for 're-useable code' - when did you ever hear
        of a company re-using its code?

Interviewer:  Well, never, actually, but...

Stroustrup:  There you are then. Mind you, a few tried, in the
        early days. There was this Oregon company - Mentor
        Graphics, I think they were called - really caught a cold
        trying to rewrite everything in C++ in about '90 or '91. I
        felt sorry for them really, but I thought people would learn
        from their mistakes.

Interviewer:  Obviously, they didn't?

Stroustrup:  Not in the slightest. Trouble is, most companies
        hush-up all their major blunders, and explaining a $30
        million loss to the shareholders would have been difficult.
        Give them their due, though, they made it work in the end.

Interviewer:  They did?  Well, there you are then, it proves O-O works.

Stroustrup:  Well, almost. The executable was so huge, it took
        five minutes to load, on an HP workstation, with 128MB of
        RAM. Then it ran like treacle. Actually, I thought this
        would be a major stumbling-block, and I'd get found out
        within a week, but nobody cared. Sun and HP were only too
        glad to sell enormously powerful boxes, with huge resources
        just to run trivial programs. You know, when we had our
        first C++ compiler, at AT&T, I compiled 'Hello World', and
        couldn't believe the size of the executable. 2.1MB

Interviewer:  What?  Well, compilers have come a long way, since then.

Stroustrup:  They have?  Try it on the latest version of g++ - you
        won't get much change out of half a megabyte. Also, there
        are several quite recent examples for you, from all over the
        world. British Telecom had a major disaster on their hands
        but, luckily, managed to scrap the whole thing and start
        again. They were luckier than Australian Telecom. Now I
        hear that Siemens is building a dinosaur, and getting more
        and more worried as the size of the hardware gets bigger, to
        accommodate the executables. Isn't multiple inheritance a joy?

Interviewer:  Yes, but C++ is basically a sound language.

Stroustrup:  You really believe that, don't you?  Have you ever sat
        down and worked on a C++ project?  Here's what happens:
        First, I've put in enough pitfalls to make sure that only
        the most trivial projects will work first time. Take
        operator overloading. At the end of the project, almost
        every module has it, usually, because guys feel they really
        should do it, as it was in their training course. The same
        operator then means something totally different in every
        module. Try pulling that lot together, when you have a
        hundred or so modules. And as for data hiding. God, I
        sometimes can't help laughing when I hear about the problems
        companies have making their modules talk to each other. I
        think the word 'synergistic' was specially invented to twist
        the knife in a project manager's ribs.

Interviewer:  I have to say, I'm beginning to be quite appalled at
        all this. You say you did it to raise programmers'
        salaries?  That's obscene.

Stroustrup:  Not really. Everyone has a choice. I didn't expect
        the thing to get so much out of hand. Anyway, I basically
        succeeded. C++ is dying off now, but programmers still get
        high salaries - especially those poor devils who have to
        maintain all this crap. You do realise, it's impossible to
        maintain a large C++ software module if you didn't actually
        write it?

Interviewer:  How come?

Stroustrup:  You are out of touch, aren't you?  Remember the typedef?

Interviewer:  Yes, of course.

Stroustrup:  Remember how long it took to grope through the header
        files only to find that 'RoofRaised' was a double precision
        number?  Well, imagine how long it takes to find all the
        implicit typedefs in all the Classes in a major project.

Interviewer:  So how do you reckon you've succeeded?

Stroustrup:  Remember the length of the average-sized 'C' project?
        About 6 months. Not nearly long enough for a guy with a
        wife and kids to earn enough to have a decent standard of
        living. Take the same project, design it in C++ and what do
        you get?  I'll tell you. One to two years. Isn't that
        great?  All that job security, just through one mistake of
        judgement. And another thing. The universities haven't
        been teaching 'C' for such a long time, there's now a
        shortage of decent 'C' programmers. Especially those who
        know anything about Unix systems programming. How many guys
        would know what to do with 'malloc', when they've used 'new'
        all these years - and never bothered to check the return
        code. In fact, most C++ programmers throw away their return
        codes. Whatever happened to good ol' '-1'?  At least you
        knew you had an error, without bogging the thing down in all
        that 'throw' 'catch' 'try' stuff.

Interviewer:  But, surely, inheritance does save a lot of time?

Stroustrup:  Does it?  Have you ever noticed the difference between
        a 'C' project plan, and a C++ project plan?  The planning
        stage for a C++ project is three times as long. Precisely
        to make sure that everything which should be inherited is,
        and what shouldn't isn't. Then, they still get it wrong.
        Whoever heard of memory leaks in a 'C' program?  Now finding
        them is a major industry. Most companies give up, and send
        the product out, knowing it leaks like a sieve, simply to
        avoid the expense of tracking them all down.

Interviewer:  There are tools...

Stroustrup:  Most of which were written in C++.

Interviewer:  If we publish this, you'll probably get lynched, you
        do realise that?

Stroustrup:  I doubt it. As I said, C++ is way past its peak now,
        and no company in its right mind would start a C++ project
        without a pilot trial. That should convince them that it's
        the road to disaster. If not, they deserve all they get. You
        know, I tried to convince Dennis Ritchie to rewrite Unix in C++.

Interviewer:  Oh my God. What did he say?

Stroustrup:  Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor. I think
        both he and Brian figured out what I was doing, in the early
        days, but never let on. He said he'd help me write a C++
        version of DOS, if I was interested.

Interviewer:  Were you?

Stroustrup:  Actually, I did write DOS in C++, I'll give you a demo
        when we're through. I have it running on a Sparc 20 in the
        computer room. Goes like a rocket on 4 CPU's, and only
        takes up 70 megs of disk.

Interviewer:  What's it like on a PC?

Stroustrup:  Now you're kidding. Haven't you ever seen Windows '95?
        I think of that as my biggest success. Nearly blew the game
        before I was ready, though.

Interviewer:  You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got me
        thinking. Somewhere out there, there's a guy going to try it.

Stroustrup:  Not after they read this interview.

Interviewer:  I'm sorry, but I don't see us being able to publish
        any of this.

Stroustrup:  But it's the story of the century. I only want to be
        remembered by my fellow programmers, for what I've done for
        them. You know how much a C++ guy can get these days?

Interviewer:  Last I heard, a really top guy is worth $70 - $80 an

Stroustrup:  See?  And I bet he earns it. Keeping track of all the
        gotchas I put into C++ is no easy job. And, as I said
        before, every C++ programmer feels bound by some mystic
        promise to use every damn element of the language on every
        project. Actually, that really annoys me sometimes, even
        though it serves my original purpose. I almost like the
        language after all this time.

Interviewer:  You mean you didn't before?

Stroustrup:  Hated it. It even looks clumsy, don't you agree?  But
        when the book royalties started to come in... well, you get
        the picture.

Interviewer:  Just a minute. What about references?  You must
        admit, you improved on 'C' pointers.

Stroustrup:  Hmm. I've always wondered about that. Originally, I
        thought I had. Then, one day I was discussing this with a
        guy who'd written C++ from the beginning. He said he could
        never remember whether his variables were referenced or
        dereferenced, so he always used pointers. He said the
        little asterisk always reminded him.

Interviewer:  Well, at this point, I usually say 'thank you very
        much' but it hardly seems adequate.

Stroustrup:  Promise me you'll publish this. My conscience is
        getting the better of me these days.

Interviewer:  I'll let you know, but I think I know what my editor
        will say.

Stroustrup:  Who'd believe it anyway?  Although, can you send me a
        copy of that tape?

Interviewer:  I can do that.