A Visual Approach to Programming

A Visual Approach to Programming

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A Visual Approach to Programming

In 1984, researchers at Hiroshima University started developing the layout for what would be called visual programming languages. Currently, many programmers use textual languages, which make the user produce text (one-dimensional) which is translated into one long stream of information. The goal for visual languages was to "...bridge the chasm between high level programming and the human level" (Levialdi). The researchers wanted to create languages that could display data and programs two dimensionally and have the graphical interface look much like what would soon be a web page (McIntyre). These languages are designed to be simpler while being able to construct more complicated programs than its predecessors.

Some critics of visual languages state that so far no visual languages have been standardized or utilized to serve more general purposes. Some programmers believe "...most visual languages that have been used outside the research community have been targeted to very specific domains" (Citrin, para.1). Most visual languages are in fact used for specific purposes in the development industry. As compared to spoken or written languages, visual computer languages are extremely new. Spoken languages have been around for thousands of years, while visual computer languages are not even twenty years old. However, there are some upcoming conferences being devoted to developing standards for the next generation of visual computing environments. Even though these computer languages are relatively new, companies still decide to utilize them. IBM created a visual language called OpenDX, which is "...designed to allow users to visualize both observed and simulated data...and developers to quickly create programs along with interactive controls" (Thompson). Although this software is not meant for a wide audience, the visual programming community is already making usable visual languages and just needs time to grow and progress to further the reach of the language.

The other major criticism of using visual languages was from the advanced programmers. Many said that it would be difficult to relearn different programming strategies two-dimensionally. While learning most programming techniques require hard work, using two-dimensional programs can work a lot better for the company or group of programmers as a whole.

For many companies, the motto "time is money" is very accurate. Development time for programs is usually slim. An objective of visual programming environments is to help companies conserve money by cutting production time.

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This objective can be completed through the visual standardization of programming languages. For many advanced programmers, documenting hundreds of lines of code can be tedious. In addition, explaining many lines of code to other programmers can be very time consuming. These icons and pictures show the actual links between functions or other programs so "...he [the expert] is now better able to communicate his designs and leverage the personnel around him" (Bristol 256). The production time is decreased so companies can profit even more from visual languages.

After the 1984 conference at Hiroshima, scientists determined that one important aspect for visual computing languages was standardization. In order for a computer language to be human-centric, a standard must be made, so that people of different cultures can easily communicate. The vision of visual environment programmers is to focus more on the computer language serving the common man, rather than select programmers figuring out differences in spoken or textual language due to differences in culture. This way, people from every culture and intellect could learn the same underlying methods of visually putting objects together, thus making cultural differences a minor problem in the program development process.

One of the goals of developers is the ease of use when dealing with visual environments. For many current textual languages such as C++, programmers need to be able to recognize various lists of command words and syntax to efficiently design programs. The goal of visual languages would be less focused on syntax and words. These visual languages are designed to be more user friendly. Currently, most computer users do not design their own programs due to the complexity of current languages. Visual languages take a different approach to designing programs. Since these languages process data two dimensionally, it will be possible to design programs like putting together a web page. Users will be able to click and drag various parts to assemble a program, instead of types hundreds of lines of code.

Providing an intricate yet easy to use visual interface is a very difficult task. Developers must form and complete statements by selecting appropriate icons. The visual environment should be able to adjust to different cultural formats quite easily. Another task is to port the environment to other cultures across the world. Since these programming languages are ported, designers have to figure out what certain icons mean what to different cultures. One of the hardest tasks however, is making programming accessible to all kinds of people, not just the current computer scientists. The designers must make a visual language that makes sense visually and logically. This way computer users of all types can truly customize their computer environments and get the computer to perform the tasks the way the user wants it to.

With advances in current technology, the idea of true visual languages becomes a great possibility. Using visual environments, computers can be specially customized to suit individual needs. In the future, programmers will find that using visual environments to be the easiest and best solution to customization and creation of computer programs. After all, "a picture is worth a thousand words".


Bristol, E.H. "Redesigned State Logic For An Easier To Use Control Language To Be Presented at the Word Batch Forum." ISA Transactions. V.35 no.3. 1986: p256. Applied Science & Technologies Abstracts.

Citrin, Wayne. "Strategic Directions in Visual Languages Research." ACM Computing Surveys. Vol. 28. Issue 4es. Dec. 1996: p1. ACM.

Levialdi, Stefano. "Visual Languages: Concepts, Constructs and Claims." ITI . Jun. 2001: para. 1. IEEE.

McIntyre, David. Visual Languages . 30 Dec. 1994. 27 Nov. 2001. <http://www.hypernews.org/~liberte/computing/visual.html> Web Site.

Thompson, David, Braun, Jeff and Ford, Ray. OpenDX: Paths to Visualization. Missoula, TN. Visualization and Imagery Solutions Inc. 2001: p18-19. Book.
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