By: J.D. Hildebrand
Abstract: Have you checked out Squeak? It's a new implementation of Smalltalk from the language's creators. By J.D. Hildebrand.
By J.D. Hildebrand
Today is the first day of The
Bazaar, the Linux and Open Source conference in New York. Look for daily
coverage of this event at Linux
I was the editor of Computer Language -- now Software
Development -- during the rough-and-ready 1980s. The programming world
was different then. Once we devoted an entire issue to an in-depth comparison of
a dozen C compilers for DOS. Professional programmers used Turbo Pascal and
QuickBasic. IDEs were primitive then; real programmers used add-on editors and
Object-oriented programming was a branch of artificial intelligence in those
days. No one expected to use OOP in real-world business systems.
But somewhere along the way OOP escaped from the lab. Studies established the
benefits of objects, especially in large, complex development projects.
Object-oriented programming tools proliferated and matured. The last straw was
Windows programming, which required programmers to handle a much higher level of
complexity. OOP was suddenly the right medicine. People began talking about Objective-C
and Complete C, Actor
and Eiffel, Loops
C++ and Object Pascal were gaining converts, but OOP purists dismissed them
as "hybrid" languages. Unlike Actor and Eiffel -- "pure" OOP
languages -- C++ and Object Pascal were plain old functional languages with OOP
features grafted on. Like all the other pundits of the day, I voiced misgivings
about the hybrid languages. Yes, they allowed developers to use the emerging
object-oriented methods to improve their code...but they also allowed us to
continue writing regular structured code. That, we said, was a bad thing.
You have to remember, OOP washed through the PC programming industry like a
new religion. "Object-oriented" was essentially a synonym for
"good," and "procedural" meant "bad." The fact
that a C++ compiler would accept existing C code without requiring that the
entire project be rewritten from scratch...well, somehow we thought that was a
bad thing. We had bad hair then too -- check out the pictures. The 1980s
basically defy explanation.
(As it turns out, the hybrid OOP languages are the ones that are still around
and widely used. I think there are three reasons. First, they allowed developers
to leverage their existing skills without starting from scratch with a new
language and a new paradigm. Second, the hybrid languages were supported by
mature tools that let developers use OOP without paying a big performance
penalty. Third, the compiler vendors of the day had a big investment in existing
technology, so they put their support behind products they could bring to market
As the editor of one of the industry's leading journals, I felt I needed to
explore OOP more thoroughly by learning to use an OOP language. I opted for
Born at Xerox PARC, Smalltalk was the prestige OOP language in those days. It
was 100 percent pure OOP and it was supported by elegant, mature, browser-based
environments. It worked great in GUI environments. Yes, it was a bit of a
resource hog, and yes, performance was a problem...but for learning OOP
principles, Smalltalk was the right choice. I started with Digitalk's Smalltalk/V for
Windows and eventually got a copy of ParcPlace's VisualWorks.
Looking back on it, I can't help but be struck by the similarities between
Smalltalk and Java. They both rely on virtual machines that let them run on any
supported platform with no code changes. They both support OOP with single
inheritance. There are even similarities in the development environments.
I conducted an Internet search for Digitalk and ParcPlace the other day, and
was saddened when HotBot came up empty. These companies -- pioneers of the OOP
world -- slipped away while I wasn't watching. VisualWorks, which came to
encompass Smalltalk/V after ParcPlace and Digital merged, is now sold by Cincom.
The leading Smalltalk currently on the market seems to be IBM's VisualAge
I was reminded of the early days of OOP when I happened to blunder into the
online home of the Squeak
project. Squeak is a new, open implementation of Smalltalk written by Smalltalk
authors Dan Ingalls and Alan Kay. They did the work while they were at Apple
(they are now at Disney); Squeak code and binaries are available under a liberal
Squeak is written
in Smalltalk, which means it is easy to extend and modify the environment.
(For efficiency's sake, Squeak emits C code so you can create a fully compiled
version of your app once it's complete.) It runs on a huge selection of
I haven't touched Smalltalk in a decade, but I am sorely tempted by Squeak.
It's open, it's available for Linux and Windows, it's free of the controversy
surrounding Java...and coolest of all, it's Smalltalk. I guess it's true: Old
programmers never fade away, they just misplace their pointers...or however that old joke goes.
An award-winning writer and editor, J.D. Hildebrand is the content
director and editor-in-chief of Inprise's developer community.
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