Squeak: toy or instrument?

18 October, 2006

A message by Giuseppe Luigi Punzi sparked an interesting “philosophical” discussion on the nature of Squeak.

Giuseppe remarks that for many developers who work with other languages, Squeak looks like a children toy with no serious applications built with it.

To this Matthew Fulmer replied:

Squeak is a toy. That is a good thing.

Squeak is a toy, and therefore it looks like a toy. Aversion to
toys is (in my not-so-humble opinion) the worst thing that is
taught to programmers (adults?) today. Playing is the only way
to make new ideas. One must enjoy playing before they can
understand the purpose of Squeak. Until they realize “Squeak is
a Toy, and I am OK with that”, they are missing the point. A
clean object memory, simple syntax, and easy debugging are just
implementation issues. The point of Squeak is to have fun
building; after that, everything else falls into place.


This caused a follow up by Alan Kay, that wrote:

The “other” kind of thing that “can be played with” is an
“instrument” (musical, wood or metal shaping, etc.). Instruments are
partly “mess around toys” and partly “serious toys”. And Art enters
in when one starts to play on an instrument and around with an
instrument. Dan and I had this in mind when we designed and built Smalltalk.

Other Squeakers, both old and new, gave their contribution to the discussion.

So, what do you think?

10 Responses to “Squeak: toy or instrument?”

  1. Gal Zsolt Says:

    Yes, Squeak ( OpenCroquet ) is a “toy” for serious people.


    — Gal Zsolt ( ~ CalmoSoft ~ )

    My Blog:

  2. Martial Says:

    Squeak is a toy and we are chidren who plays with it. But think about the computer history and the home computer marketing… think about it when you see a child on squeak who builds a thing more easily than a engineer with an awful collection of commercial closed IDE… A thing I said. A world…


  3. Bruce Haugland Says:

    Great new software is coming from Squeak (i.e. Seaside) Even though I make a living writing Java Web Applications I have not seen any new ideas come from Java the way I have seen new Ideas come from squeak.

    Allow Squeak to maintain its toy like nature. True innovators will make something from it.

  4. bevqns Says:

    Why does the squeak have to be one or the either, I believe it is a toy and an instrument. Let’s have the both worlds!

  5. pse2005 Says:

    Wish I know what a squeak is.

  6. nachux Says:

    Squeak is a computer programing language like python or Ruby based on smalltalk…

  7. Squeak is actually a Virtual Machine that provides, basically, an operating system for programming in the Smalltalk language. It provides an integrated IDE, documentation, as well as APIs for sound, video, networking, etc. Again, all this is inside a virtual machine which is typically saved into a disk image within a host operating system.

    I’ve played with it but not had time to implement a “serious” project with it. But I agree with the above statements about the fact that it should be both a Toy and and Instrument. A sort of “fun to use instrument”!

  8. […] This question was asked recently on The Weekly Squeak blog. They asked, “Is it a toy or an instrument?” This was inspired by a discussion on the Squeak developers mailing list. The discussion got started when someone posted their concern that Squeak is perceived too much us a toy, in a derogatory fashion. People take one look at it, and it looks like something a kid could play with, but no serious developer would consider. […]

  9. CruxOP Says:

    I think there should be a distinction made here.

    Squeak looks like a toy for children, thus it is not fun for many adults to use.

    Adults have different interests and athestics than children. Toys for adults there for focus and optimize different things.

    I think the biggest thing holding Squeak back is that its interface feels like a child’s toy: rounded ill defined edges, non-native gui. If it felt more like an adults toy: standard OS gui, sleek edges, ‘power-toy’ style features then it would be much easier to use.

  10. […] I should add that whenever the nature of Squeak is brought up in discussion, Alan Kay says that it’s more like an instrument, one you can “mess around” and “play”, or produce serious art with. I wrote […]

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