Enabling program comprehension through a visual object-focused development environment
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Integrated development environments (IDEs) include many tools that provide the means to construct programs. Coincidentally, the very same IDEs are a primary vehicle for program comprehension. We claim that IDEs may be an impediment for program comprehension because they treat software elements as text, which may be counterproductive in the context of program understanding-where abstracting from the source text to the level of structural entities and relationships is the key. We are currently building Gaucho, a visual object-focused environment that allows developers to write programs by creating and manipulating lightweight and intuitive depictions of object-oriented constructs. The research question we investigate here is how such an environment compares with traditional IDEs when it comes to performing program comprehension tasks. To answer our question, we conducted a preliminary controlled experiment with eight subjects, comparing Gaucho against a traditional IDE. We found that Gaucho outperforms the IDE regarding the correctness of the tasks, while it is slower with respect to the completion time. Our preliminary results suggest that alternative-visual-IDEs may be superior to traditional IDEs as program comprehension aids.