Author: Diomidis Spinellis & Georgios Gousios
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2009
Aimed at: Anyone with professional interest in programming
Pros: A thought provoking collection that includes a few gems
Cons: Discursive - short on practicalities and generally too wordy
Reviewed by: Mike James
There is a current vogue for books, mostly with "beautiful" in the title, that examine the more thoughtful aspects of programming. This is not bad thing as being able to engage in a certain amount of "navel gazing" is a mark of maturity but publishers have a habit of overdoing any good idea and producing books that weaken the whole genre. In this case "beautiful architecture" is still a good idea but it's an inherently difficult one to pull off. The reason is, of course, that architecture, and indeed even what is meant by the term, is vague in the extreme. One programmer's architecture is another's implementation and in a volume of contributed essays you are bound to have a range of interpretations and topics that really don't fit particularly well together. Also any given reader, or reviewer for that matter, is going to find a particular subset of articles either good or bad depending on their interests and inclinations. Let's look at what the book contains by contribution.
The first part of the book sets out to examine the idea of software architecture in its most general terms.
"What Is Architecture?" is a rambling exploration of what the term means. It's the sort of essay that you can find in any book on the subject and this one is no worse and no better.
"A Tale of Two Systems: A Modern-Day Software Fable" Is a description of what good architecture is. It's another long winded explanation of what should already be obvious to you. If it isn't then you need to read something like this.
The second section concentrates on particular problems in implementing "enterprise" systems.
"Architecting for Scale" describes the implementation of an online game server. Interesting but not many general usable ideas unless you are implementing some thing very similar.
"Making Memories" considerations in implementing a photo processing workflow system.
"Resource-Oriented Architectures: Being "In the Web"" is mostly about REST and the wider idea of organising systems using resource oriented approach.
"Data Grows Up: The Architecture of the Facebook Platform" For once the title tells you what the chapter is all about.
The third part of the book deals with systems architecture and this is an area where what might be included is most diverse and what you might find interesting really does depend on what you are working on.
"Xen and the Beauty of Virtualization" explains, in the most general terms the architecture of a machine virtualization system.
"Guardian: A Fault-Tolerant Operating System Environment" describes both the hardware and the software aspects of building fault tolerance into systems.
"JPC: An x86 PC Emulator in Pure Java" is about another approach to virtualization but in this case the design of a machine emulator.
"The Strength of Metacircular Virtual Machines: Jikes RVM" is a fairly straightforward account of building a yet another type of virtual machine.
The fourth part of the book concentrates on end user applications.
"GNU Emacs: Creeping Featurism Is a Strength" is partly a homage to the Emacs editor and partly a consideration of where it might have gone wrong.
"When the Bazaar Sets Out to Build Cathedrals" is an account of the KDE desktop GUI project.
The fifth and final part of the book is about languages and architecture
"Software Architecture: Object-Oriented Versus Functional" is an interesting comparison of functional and object oriented methods.
"Rereading the Classics" is a very strange essay that starts off by reminiscing about computer science books that have made an impact, then it goes on to consider the SmallTalk language and finally it presents some milestones in modern architecture i.e. it presents photos and critics of real concrete and steel buildings.
My personal favourites were the systems architecture contributions which were interesting if only because they provided a glimpse of world that most of us never get to work with and the essay "Software Architecture: Object-Oriented Versus Functional" because it tackled some difficult topics.
Overall the quality of the contributions is high but very, very over length. Most of the essays ramble at first before getting to the meat of their idea and then finish rapidly. The book could be much shorter and no less interesting with some creative and effective editing.
If enough of the contributions interest you then buy the book, if not then give it a miss.