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One thing I forgot to put in was a reference to Smalltalk having traditionally supplied full source code to the language. Should be added.
The week of March 14, in San Diego, a group of 50 very dedicated people are locking themselves in motel rooms with laptops to see if open source can help boost a pioneering technology that they believe in: the object-oriented language called Smalltalk. They're laying the foundations for some ambitious work to take Smalltalk into the Internet millennium.
Smalltalk is an example of good technology that has not seen mainstream acceptance. However all computer users and programmer feel Smalltalk's impact on the modern computer. Smalltalk inspired Steve Jobs to create the Macintosh. Java borrows much from Smalltalk: the binary portability of applications, virtual machines, just-in-time compilation, garbage collection and transparent distributed programming. Smalltalk is the language for which the term object-oriented was coined. Ideas and practices now becoming popular in the industry came out of the Smalltalk community, including iterative development, patterns, refactoring and most recently "extreme programming". Advocates claim, and have numbers to back it up, that Smalltalk development is consistently higher-productivity and lower-defect than most languages and development environments in use today, including industry favorites like Java and Visual Basic. Despite a reputation for applications that are slow and heavyweight, today's Smalltalks are lean and mean, and in production use for everything from telephone switches to handheld computers to automobile assembly lines and mainframe insurance systems. Smalltalk's high productivity makes it the ideal language for developing software on Internet time.
The week of March 14, in San Diego, a small group of very dedicated people are locking themselves in motel rooms with laptops to see if open source can help rescue a pioneering technology that they believe in: the object-oriented language called Smalltalk. Tired of vendors that are unable or unwilling to do justice to the technology, they're trying to do it themselves, laying the foundations for some ambitious work that will take Smalltalk into the next millenium.
Smalltalk today is an outstanding example of good technology gone horribly wrong in the market. Smalltalk is the language for which the term object-oriented was coined, and has for many years embodied concepts that are only now widely accepted, including the now-standard windowing interface, GUI frameworks, binary portability of applications, virtual machines, just-in-time compilation, rapid development environments, garbage collection and transparent distributed programming. Ideas and practices now becoming popular in the industry came out of the Smalltalk community, including iterative development, patterns, refactoring and most recently "extreme programming". Advocates claim, and have numbers to back it up, that Smalltalk development is consistently higher-productivity and lower-defect than most languages and development environments in use today, including industry favourites like Java and Visual Basic. Despite a reputation for applications that are slow and heavyweight, today's Smalltalks are lean and mean, and in production use for everything from telephone switches to handheld computers to automobile assembly lines and mainframe insurance systems.
With all this going for it, why isn't everyone programming in Smalltalk. Simply put, marketing. Smalltalk came out of the research labs in the 1980's and while it was C++ that dominated the market, Smalltalk made steady headway in corporate applications as the language for corporate programmers who weren't prepared to deal with C++. Unfortunately, this was a niche where high-end consulting and higher-produced products dominated, and the Smalltalk vendors followed suit in their pricing, led by IBM's VisualAge. This was lucrative, but shortsighted, since it prevented any kind of mainstream following from building up. With the lure of the web, massive marketing from Sun, and positioning as a strategic weapon against the Microsoft monolith, Java swept across the computing landscape. IBM, as part of the anti-Microsoft alliance, put most of their efforts behind Java, leaving Smalltalk in a minor role. The two other major vendors: ParcPlace and Digitalk, tried to merge, with disastrous results.
Today, the market is smaller, but richer. Smaller, more innovative vendors, with affordable solutions, have moved in to fill in the gaps, and existing technologies have been taken over by new owners with a better idea how to sell them. The most new interest, though, has been generated by Squeak, a completely open-source environment from Disney that takes Smalltalk to a new level with amazing multimedia capabilities.
Inspired by the recent successes of open source with Linux, Apache, Squeak, and others, these Smalltalk advocates are gathering, on their own time and their own money, to organize a basis for open source Smalltalk software. This isn't just an academic conference, these guys are here to code. Splitting into smaller groups, they plan to explore many different avenues. A first step is a common framework for interoperability and network services so that their work can be leveraged across all the different Smalltalk dialects.
In the end, their efforts may determine if Smalltalk will go the way of the betamax, or if open source really gives a chance for the best technology to win out against the well-funded technologies that are "good enough" and currently on the corporate agenda.
The original Byte article
10 years later follow-on
"Horribly wrong"? Isn't that a bit extreme?
Well, if I were a journalist, my question would be if ST is so great, why is it in such a dismal state commercially. This tries to confront that directly. -- Alan Knight.
Don't forget that while refactoring is 8 years old in the Smalltalk world, it is now just staring to be known in the general programming world (and will not be known at all in the general press.) Just having a project use Extreme Programming would be a news worth event (at least to the technical people in San Diego. People at UCSD - Univ. of Cal. at San Diego and SDSC - San Diego Super Computer Center probably would be interested a talk about extreme programming.) --Roger Whitney
First, I want to say I have the highest respect for Alan Knight. My comments here are not aimed specifically at you Alan, but are just my feelings about the direction media coverage on Smalltalk should go.
There is a rash of ignorance about Smalltalk and object-technology out there. We need to work that ignorance for us by giving positive stories about really great and cool things being done with Smalltalk. By reporting to the ignorant masses, "Smalltalk is dead. But it really really is (was) the best because of this and because of that..", we are certainly not going to be encouraging the new and budding Smalltalkers out there.
There are new people every day, *young people*, who are discovering Smalltalk for the very first time, especially thanks to Squeak. There are two new startup companies in NYC that have chosen VW as their development platform, Soliloquoy and one other (can't remember the name). These people need to see Smalltalk as a "growing" technology, not a dying one. They need to hear positive messages about Smalltalk that reassures them that they are on the cutting edge. When people hear something is dead, they don't care at all if it is the best.
And for the people who do know Smalltalk's history, we want them to begin to wonder if Smalltalk has made a comeback. They already know it was dead for goodness sake, because that's what all the crappy media coverage has been telling them for the last few years. That has got to be put behind us.
Finally, if we want the press release to be about Camp Smalltalk then it should be about Camp Smalltalk. When I read this article, it seems there is about 35% Camp Smalltalk and about 65%, "Smalltalk is almost dead, but it really really really is the best..."
I think we focus on telling them about some fantastically talented engineers getting together to do some really cool things with the best OO language ever created. That should get people excited. I know it gets me excited.
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