better or worse (was: YASoB)

Jecel Assumpcao Jr jecel at
Thu May 18 18:44:27 UTC 2006

> Jecel ,
> >
> > My comment on this is that Smalltalk-80 was indeed wonderful by relative
> > standards, but it shouldn't become a religion that keeps us from
> > inventing something better. Though this isn't nearly as sad as people
> > who keep insisting on creating things that are worse while the public
> > assumes it is automatically better than something "old" like Smalltalk
> > (what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery").
> >
>     I have a feeling that to many Smalltakers, in general, there have been
>     no advances in software engineering and computer language design
>     since Smalltalk was invented.

Lispers feel the same way. We have to be careful not to make the
opposite mistake ("only the old stuff was good") which is just another
form of chronological snobbery.

>     When was Smalltalk really invented?
>     Was it in 1972 or 1976 or 1980?

In 1972 we got the seed (objects and messages) and in 1976 the current
form (vm, classes as objects, inheritance).

>     Did Squeak Central insist on creating things that are worse than
>     Smalltalk-72 and the crowd assumed that it is automatically better
>     than something "old" like Smalltalk-72? 

"Better" and "worse" don't always apply - I can't compare Smalltalk with
Prolog, for example. But I can compare Smalltalk with Java or Ruby even
though it is still complicated even in these cases.

As far as I know the goal of Squeak Central was to create the eToys
system and they needed a universal platform to build it on. They had no
wish to spend their time on such a platform so given the hype around
Java back then they considered using that. The shocking part was that
even though it was much newer and borrowed some aspects from Smalltalk
it was in general "worse". In part this was on purpose ("oh.... the
average programmer can't understand or handle that...") and in part it
was ignorance (Guy Steele was brought in late in the project to help
with the documentation and ended up fixing some minor technical problems
but had to leave the major ones alone) but it was felt at the time that
doing eToys in Java would be a larger effort than cleaning up the old
Apple Smalltalk and using that. If my impressions of Squeak and Java
history are wrong I hope someone will correct me.

Note that John Maloney came to Squeak Central from the Self project.
Some people (including me) feel that Self is better than Smalltalk-80
but John said in an interview that going back to the older system made
him more comfortable (I understood him to mean specially the "whole
system" view that the browser gives you compared to the more piecemeal
views that you get with Self's outliners). And there are tradeoffs: when
Logo was created from Lisp it dropped closures (making it worse) because
they got in the way of the language's goals.

What I am saying is: imagine that someone is creating a new language
today. And then you look at what they are doing and give them a good
demo of APL. They might say "I considered that, but in this part of my
language...." or (which is far more common) they might say "Wow! I never
imagined there could be something like that!"

Certainly the latter never was the case for Squeak Central.
>     For that matter, did the commercial Smalltalk vendors insist 
>     likewise?

Vendors are by their very nature conservative (their customers value
stability). David Simmons (SmalltalkAgents, S#) seems to me to be the
only one from that part of the world who is willing to explore new

-- Jecel

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