[Newbies] [semi-OT] (fwd) Re: What Killed Smalltalk?

Ralph Johnson johnson at cs.uiuc.edu
Tue Nov 17 14:18:28 UTC 2009

Smalltalk didn't die.  It's growth was killed.  The dream of taking
over the world was killed.  But there are still people making their
living with Smalltalk.  It is hard to find good Smalltalk jobs, but
they exist.

I've always thought the main problem with Smalltalk was lack of
marketing, in the broader sense.  In 1995, when Java came out, there
was no free Smalltalk that schools could use.  I paid something like
$3K per year for a site license for VisuaalWorks so I could teach with
it, and few schools would do that.  It was hard to find Smalltalk
programmers, and their salaries were very high, and few schools taught
it so companies would train their Cobol programmers in Smalltalk only
to find them leaving for higher salaries.  Smalltalk did not seem very
well supported at all, and when the main Smalltalk company (ParcPlace)
seemed to be taken over by dysfunctional pointy-haired managers,
companies started to look for other alternatives.  Java was their main
choice, even though it was five years before it was good enough to
build the same systems that they had been building in Smalltalk for a
long time.

Things like non-C-like syntax and difficulty of calling C libraries
were a part of the problem, but a minor part.  I think the bigger
issues were business ones.  As usual.  Technical people think that
technology wins or loses because of technical reasons, but they are
usually wrong.  if you want your technology to win, study marketing
and business.

I've been programming in Smalltalk since 1985.  I remember 1995 as if
it were yesterday.

-Ralph Johnson

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