Sun Rise or Sun Set?

29 December, 2006


Was Sun deciding between using Smalltalk and writing Java? This question was reciently raised on Squeak-Dev. Eric Clayburg, V.P. of Development at ParcPlace-Digitalk in 1996, recalls discussions from that time.

This discussion raises many questions about what might have been. The real question is where is Smalltalk going. I will be writing a few articles on this subject comming up trying to answer the question: Is the sun rising or setting on Smalltalk?

Ron Teitelbaum
President / Principal Software Engineer
US Medical Record Specialists

2 Responses to “Sun Rise or Sun Set?”

  1. Travis Griggs Says:

    This story has *always* tasted of Urban Legend to me. I’m reasonably sure there is some grains of truth in it. That Sun wanted to use Smalltalk for some project, and the project’s projections were such that it would have to be cheap (wasted up front planning was big in those days) seem plausible. And that ParcPlace stuck to a higher price. Classic story of buyer not meeting seller. Nothing new. It certainly is not the first time that a software project went one way instead of another because of the price of a software component.

    Beyond that though, it just seems naive conjecture. To what degree would Smalltalk have been used? Would Sun have mandated company wide usage? Would the project have been a success? Would it look anything like Smalltalk when they were done? There are just way to many variables to assume that a pivot at this supposed nexus would have made a difference.

  2. Hi Travis,

    I agree with you. Thinking back on the major projects I’ve worked on, one thing is clear. The turning points are never what you thought they would be. Usually the major decisions taken back that would have made a difference were accepted readily and the smaller inconsequential issues were fiercely debated. Even things that we knew we should have fought harder for turned out to be no match for an unforeseen merger.

    Although the deal with SUN may have been a major turning point in Smalltalk and OO languages I wonder if the trail blazed by Java will not help VM based languages in general and Smalltalk specifically. I wonder if Avi Bryant is not correct that the web and the internet is the great leveler since nobody really knows what’s behind the curtain. Could it be possible that the existence of Java is the only thing that could have saved Smalltalk? What will the impact of Open Source be? What is currently missing, or is it already too late?

    I remember a while back when Microsoft announced their intention to support a .net smalltalk client. Now we have Strongtalk moving to OS. There’s Croquet, Seaside and Sophie. With all these developments who can say where we are going? It is possible that the real turning point is yet to come. Sun Rise or Sun Set?

    Ron Teitelbaum

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