Smalltalk Web Host Opens

Alan Kay alan.kay at
Mon Dec 11 17:44:36 UTC 2006

At 09:17 AM 12/11/2006, Chris Cunnington wrote:
>"Possibly, it wasn't simply arrogance, though the PARC researchers did see
>themselves as the Davids who were busy slaying the Goliath of corporate
>time-sharing computing. It was, rather, something deeper, something that was
>probably just a function of human nature. It was a pattern that had already
>been repeated a number of times in computing history and would ultimately be
>repeated many more times. Even with a strong intellectual grasp of the
>consequences of Moore's Law, it has proven almost impossible for the members
>of any given generation of computing technology to accept the fact that it
>will be cannibalized by an upcoming generation. Many of the PARC researchers
>were aware of the computing hobbyist movement, but because the tiny little
>machines could hardly do anything they were easy to ignore or dismiss as
>toys. Later, Alan Kay took pleasure in poking fun at the Homebrewers by
>saying that the hobbyists actually enjoyed their machines more when they
>were broken, because then they could actually do something with them."
>John Markoff   "What The Dormouse Said", (2005), page 251

I don't think it was arrogance (I hope not). What was done at PARC 
used Moore's Law to justify going all out for what was really going 
to happen. The 8-bit micros were not strong enough in any dimension 
except cost in the 70s for "inventing the future". This is why e.g. 
the last few decades looks very much like PARC (bit-mapped screen, 
overlapping window GUI, mouse, Ethernet, Laserprinters, Internet, 
object-oriented programming, etc.) , and not like 8-bit micros.

The hobbyists were partly a wave of pop-culture desire for 
participation in what they correctly sensed was something that was 
going to be big and central. As with many things in pop-cultures, 
they wanted to do something now, whereas the PARC cum ARPA cultures 
wanted to work on what was really going to happen (especially if it 
could be invented early enough). The development of the Internet vs. 
the tinkering approach that was taken with the web (that ignored 
Engelbart, etc.) is a parallel story.

There's nothing wrong with tinkering if the limited results are 
allowed to grow in powerful ways (or can be discarded when not good 
enough). But if the results set bad too-early defacto standards (as 
so many of these have over the last 25 years) then they start to 
create a huge barrier to real progress (as indeed we have today).


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