What Is End-User Programming?

Most people experience computers as "end-users" of packaged programs.  Unfortunately the writers of these programs can't know the details of the job you are trying to do.  Trying to meet the needs of diverse users, they bloat their programs with hundreds of features most people never use.  Life (and programs) would be much simpler if each user could add the functions she wanted.

Providing this capability in a program is not trivial. The programs must be designed to to accept user-written components in appropriate places. There must be a way to store and manage them. Most important, since most users do not have the time or inclination to learn the tools and skills of a professional programmer, reasonable compromises are required.  The expressiveness and generality of full-fledged programming languages are traded for usability by a variety of metaphors and tricks.  Programming can be done much more easily within the metaphor -- a desktop with file cabinets and wastebaskets; a formula of spreadsheet locations or mathematical symbols; a sequence of GUI actions; a circuit diagram; an application-specific language -- than with conventional programming.

Because the appropriate metaphors, with their capabilities and limitations, differ widely depending on the users and their purposes, there is no one method of end-user programming.  Instead there is a variety of techniques, such as Programming by Demonstration, visual programming, and many domain-specific languages and formalisms. Ideally there is a smooth progression from simple but limited metaphors, to more complex and powerful techniques as the user-programmer advances.


EUD-NET, the European Network of Excellence on End-User Development
Psychology of Programming Interest Group
Yahoo Directory entry

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Howie Goodell