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Saturday, March 26, 2005


Eliot Miranda has a great rant on comp.lang.smalltalk.dolphin about the history of Smalltalk and how to capture the hearts of future developers:
    First VS was killed by ObjectShare, not by Cincom; Cincom has done their
    best to make VS available, including maintennance releases, e.g. for
    WinXP; i.e. the VW team puts effort into keeping VS alive, even if in a
    coma. Further, note that some of those behind the "killing" of VS at
    ObjectShare were senior figures at Digitalk. VisualWorks did not kill
    VS, people in control of PPD/ObjectShare who were interested in making
    money killed it, and they ended up loosing the company a lot of money,
    and a lot of engineering talent in the process.

    One major mistake ParcPlace and Digitalk management made was assuming
    they were each other's competition and hence a merger eliminated each
    other's major competitor. Java was just a few months away...

    Second, Dolphin is not VW's competition, it is our ally. .Net and Java
    are our competition (and to a lesser extent python, perl et al). It is
    to compete against MS, IBM, Sun et al that we've provided a lower
    entry-point for the single programmer, not to steal market share away
    from Dolphin.

    In fact the situation is quite the reverse. VW wants Dolphin to succeed
    and we're worried whenever any dialect seems to be suffering. If one
    looks at Smalltalk from an MIS perspective it can be perceived to be a
    tiny niche with very few stable players. Market analysts denigrate
    Smalltalk as a dead language that is going away and one that management
    should leave in favour of typically Java and .Net. [But these analysts
    are playing to the choir, not providing objective advice].

    The more healthy vendors and active open source dialects there are in
    the Smalltalk community the more the above misperception can be
    countered and the more confident MIS types can be in choosing Smalltalk.

    If one looks at market share as available dollars to be spent on
    development and deployment technology then the choice is obvious. One
    can wear blinkers and go after 100% of the few millions of dollars being
    spent on SMalltalk development projects, attempt to eliminate the very
    people that help bolster your own sales, and have a larger slice of a
    rapidly shrinking pie. Alternatively, one can look at the total market
    and attempt to gain a share of billions of dollars being spent on
    development and deployment technology across the industry, and gain a
    growing share of a growing pie. For the Smalltalk sector to to do the
    latter it helps if it attempts to be a community and recognizes its
    members can be of enormous help to each other. Being fearful of each
    other is not the answer.

    One important aspect of this is the evolution of Smalltalk. When
    Smalltalk was developed it was funded by the most rapidly growing
    technology company the world had seen and it was developed by a
    relatively small team. Certainly the number of people working on Java
    at IBM and Sun dwarf the amount of people working on hardware and
    software at PARC in the 70's. i.e. it was relatively cheap for Xerox to
    fund in the 70's, but funding a successor now would be much more costly
    if Java and .Net are at all representative (which they may not be).

    Now, if Smalltalk is to evolve, or a successor invented to obsolete it,
    I think it extremely unlikely that this will happen in the context of a
    corporate funder. i.e. I doubt that Alan Kay will be able to get HP to
    provide sufficient commitment to do this.

    Where else might it happen? The two obvious candidates are in
    universities and in the "open source community". But since it is
    universities that populate the open source community anyway we should
    concentrate on universities. That is a place where people get exposed
    to new ideas, fall in love with them, and often come up with good new
    ideas. Companies like MS recognize this, which is why they are
    targeting universities with technologies like Rotor (the open source
    .Net platform) and funding for research. They are fighting for hearts
    and minds.

    Over the past two decades the university sector has become more
    vocational in its teaching. Alan Kay lambastes no less than Stanford
    university in his Croquet presentation for using Java for teaching.
    When I was teaching in London University in the early 90's much debate
    was between those that wanted to teach concepts and those that wanted to
    "provide marketable skills". Government, with pressure from industry
    (almost always short-sighted), sided with the vocationalists and good
    computer science teaching suffered.

    So if universities are to be places where people get exposed to the good
    stuff like Smalltalk, Lisp and Prolog, one thing that will definitely
    help is if the commercial members of these communities can demonstrate
    that in fact their technology is not dead, is not esoteric, but in fact
    in widespread and extremely demanding use in industry. [side note:
    VisualWorks and VW/GemStone combinations are used in sectors such as cpu
    manufacture, container shipping and derivatives trading on a world scale
    (i.e. they handle a substantial fraction of the world's activities in
    these sectors). But for nearly two decades the corporations who have
    built these applications have viewed their use of Smalltalk as a
    strategic advantage, and hence prevented the vendors from using the
    applications in marketing material.]

    The more the Smalltalk community can demonstrate commercial viability
    and relevance the more widely it will be adopted by the universities
    and the more minds will follow the arc of falling in love with
    smalltalk, finding its limitations and dreaming of something better.


  • The most (imho) significant barrier to the adoption of Dolphin is the almost total lack of documentation.

    It may be that their interop with COM and other useful Windows components is good - but try figuring out what to do.

    By Considered Opinion, at 7:47 PM   

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