What Made OO Be Successful


To foresee what will work in times to come, it is well to understand why what has worked, did work. Within software engineering, I cannot think of a technology that has had a greater impact on mass consciousness than object-orientation.

OO is successful based on how it works psychologically. Theoretically, people can solve the same problems with other technologies; we can imagine an alternate universe with some other paradigm being dominant. In practice, for various reasons, people do not use other technologies to nearly the same degree as OO.

OO is successful because many people use it. These people use OO concepts and language to intuitively factor the world and describe a future. They form intentions to make software and communicate their thinking with other people by using OO terms. There is more to making software than typing on a keyboard; that is why OO is successful.


Say we see this guy sitting at a computer, reading and writing code. Someone comes over and they speak. The guy goes back to work for a bit. He stops and goes to a meeting where he sits around a table and discusses things; he gets up at a white board and draws pictures and labels things. This is making software.

Nowhere here does OO appear to be necessary, so how can we account for its success? What difference does it make using OO?

First, the code on the screen means what it says; the program reflects a model that reflects the world. When two people talk, they talk along the lines of responsibilities and interfaces. In a meeting, people who better know what the software needs to do can communicate it in a language very close to the one used to write the code. This matters.

These are consequences of people using OO but they are not a good enough reason as to why. What are people doing different with OO versus other techs? They are tapping into the simple and common wetware they already have.

An object is both code and data, but also neither. This means people can talk about objects and yet not have to talk about either data or code. Ghost first, then machine; that is how people like to think. If something happened then that means someone did it; if work has to get done then someone has to do it. OO fits with that thinking very well: Think up an object that will do the thing and figure out the rest later. This is very important for forming intentions. People form intentions in order to do things.

People use OO because they are already able; and because they are able, it works.


  • ? What can be the next major technology to get as many people using it as use OO?


Lately, I have not used much OO and was going to write a piece about the shortcomings of OO; I wound up writing this instead. Maybe it is like this: say why so before why not.

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