Smalltalk: Requiem or Resurgence? {Dr. Dobb's Journal (05/06/06) Chan, Jeremy}

Hernan Wilkinson hernan.wilkinson at
Fri May 12 15:12:53 UTC 2006

    I could not read the whole thread, but I will give my opinion on 
this topic. Sorry if I say something somebody already said.
    I think the problem with Smalltalk is not technical, nor a problem 
of education either. We all now that Smalltalk has nothing to envy from 
Java, C++, .Net and the like, but the other way around. We all know that 
Smalltalk has a great VM, has a great environment and tools and no other 
main stream language can compete with Smalltalk on this features.
    Smalltalk can be use in large project (it is not true that only 
scale in small projects, we have a project with 7155 classes and works 
great!... I can not image a Java project of 7155 files...) and I see 
that Smalltalk is not difficult to learn. Every time we contract a 
junior programmer, they feel fine with the language in a period of two 
weeks... so, the syntax is not a problem, not the class library or the 
debugger, etc.
    The problem with Smalltalk is a MARKETING problem, no technical. We, 
people of the computer field, like to have new things all the time... we 
like to have new widgets like mp3 players, palms, cell phones, smaller 
and faster laptops, etc. "New" it is almost a synonym of "Better", but 
more important, "new" means "cool".... Because of this, most programmer 
think that  new languages are better, just because they are new they are 
"more cool". So, the problem with Smalltalk is that it is OLD.
    Let's take Ruby as example, is it better than Smalltalk? We all now 
that it is not.... Perl? no... Phyton?, no... What's the difference? 
They are newer... Now Ruby seems to be getting a great attention... why? 
just because Ruby On Rails?. I believe Ruby On Rails is helping to get 
the attention, but Ruby is a "new" language (at least, it does not have 
a long history), and that helps, and compared with Smalltalk, it is younger.
    The word Smalltalk has a history, and almost everybody relates that 
word to not sucessful histories (I believe, they do it wrongly). Every 
time you say "we use Smalltalk", people ask "Isn't that a language for 
university only?", "Isn't that language old? how does it integrate to 
databases? can you do web apps with Smalltalk?", etc.... So, I have came 
to a sadly conclusion, Smalltalk will never be a main stream language 
because it is OLD.
    Therefore, my CRAZY suggestion is to create a NEW language, a new 
language that we can name it "COOL" (because it is cool ;-) ), but this 
new language is, at the end, Smalltalk... but nobody has to know it! 
nobody has to relate it to Smalltalk because if they do it, it will 
loose all its "momentum"... With a NEW language, that it is COOL at the 
same time, and of course, with a little bit of help from one big 
company, COOL will be widely accepted... and nobody will care about its 
technical aspects as  most people don't do with the current main-stream 

    Anyway, just an opinion...
    Bye, Hernan.


Ralph Johnson wrote:

> People keep mentioning technical aspects of Smalltalk as being the
> ones that will make people want to use it.  Technologists are
> interested in technology, so this is not surprising.  However, people
> are more important than technology.  If Smalltalk is going to have a
> resurgence, the people who know and love Smalltalk will have to make
> it happen.  It isn't going to happen automatically.  Jeremy Chan is
> right to emphasize people problems like "no big company is pushing
> it".
> Every tool has its stengths and weaknesses.  To make Small prosper,
> people should use it where it works and not use it where it doesn't
> work.  Smalltalk is fantastic in small groups of motivated
> programmers.  It is not so good in large groups with high turnover.
> People seem to get excited about large Smalltalk projects, and to long
> for the days of ten years ago when there were 100 person projects.  In
> my opinion, those projects were never run well, and were probably all
> a mistake.  Many of them were successful in the sense of bringing a
> product to market, but all the ones I saw could have been done faster
> and cheaper with a smaller team.
> Smalltalk fans ought to go start companies.  Smalltalk has lots of
> advantages in a startup, where it is important to get something
> running quickly and where compatibility with existing systems is not
> so important.  It doesn't work as well in a big company, where it is
> iimportant to play it safe and there are existing standards and lots
> of  existing systems.
> Smalltalk is a wonderful language both for teaching and for research.
> I've always wondered why it did so poorly in universities.  I think
> that one of the reasons is that it is hard to learn.  There are too
> many things about Smalltalk that are new.  The language is easy, but
> the class libraries are large, and the programming environment is
> different from what people are used to.  People are not used to "live
> objects" and do not know how to take advantage of them.  The class
> library is not modularized, so it is hard for newcomers to see what to
> learn first.
> Smalltalk is pretty easy to learn if you are pair programming with an
> expert whose main goal is for you to learn, not to build a system.  It
> is hard to learn from a book and from experimentation.  I taught
> myself Smalltalk 20 years ago and have since taught it to a thousand
> or so students.  I tell my students that they all will learn Smalltalk
> faster than I did, because they will have a teacher.  This is not 100%
> true, since some students didn't try very hard.  But it is pretty easy
> to learn when you have a teacher who knows Smalltalk well.  One of the
> problems with getting it used in schools is that somebody has to teach
> the teachers.
> So, if you want to help Smalltalk spread, sit down and program with a 
> newbie!
> -Ralph Johnson

Lic. Hernán A. Wilkinson
Gerente de Desarrollo y Tecnología
Mercap S.R.L.
Tacuari 202 - 7mo Piso - Tel: 54-11-4878-1118
Buenos Aires - Argentina
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