Saturday, September 25, 2004

Smalltalk-80: Bits of History, Words of Advice

This classic, out-of-print book is now availabe online (via Lambda).

The Software Concepts Group of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) has been working on the problem of how to give users access to large amounts of computing power. We have concentrated our efforts on the study of software systems, rather than on the creation of specific hardware packages. Our method has been to develop a software system called Smalltalk, to create applications in that system, and then, based on our experiences developing the applications, to design the next system. We have developed and used three major Smalltalk systems over the last 10 years, as well as a few minor variations.

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I remember learning about OOP using of Smalltalk via The Open University over the course of a year and I was amazed at how well thought out it was. The follow on course was OO development using Java, but at that stage I had decided the world had enough code jockeys and moved onto something else.

Reports from classmates let me know how badly thought out and unfinished and unimpressive they believed Java to be. It just goes to show that sometimes when you re-invent the wheel you end up with a poor quality knock off, not a vast improvement or even a reasonable copy.

Perhaps Sun should have hired Alan Kay before Disney & HP did.

Well considering Guy Steele works for Sun on Java I think they have someone who knows how Lisp/Scheme works.

Yes, Guy Steele clearly had influence early on. The question, though, is: why hasn't he done anything recently? The syntax for the latest language additions is awful; why not just add first-class closures ala Ruby and be done with it?

OTOH, Lisp doesn't have syntax, so who knows what he's thinking.

As I recall, Guy didn't have influence early on. I think he was brought in to work on the Java Language Specification after the initial design was frozen (except for the corner cases that he discovered while writing the JLS).

It sounded to me like Guy did have influence on the newer features, like generics.

I think it's pretty clear that Gosling doesn't want blocks/lambdas in Java.

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