Minding Your Business With Smalltalk (part 2 of 4)

13 March, 2007

Smalltalk window

In our last article we spoke with Michael Rueger.

Today we talk with Steve Hunter. Steve started with OO languages way back in 1985 at General Electric. He used Eiffel, C++, and Objective-C which were the “hot” OO languages at the time. Steve says that he was strongly influenced by Bertrand Meyer’s OO Software Construction Book. His educational background in software/systems analysis and design techniques lead Steve to contribute to the work Object Modeling Technique by GE, and have continued to inspire Steve throughout his career.

Steve’s joined ParcPlace and was impressed by the ease of use and powerful development environment of Smalltalk. Particularly impressive was the VisualWorks debugger, and the cross platform nature of the VM and the dynamic prototyping nature which showed such great potential in market growth.

Steve believed strongly in the benefits of business modeling and saw the merger between Digitalk and ParcPlace as a mismatch of intention between R&D and commercial engineering. In 1995 Steve started Hunter Object Systems and then in 2000 created Agilense. He created EA WebModeler which is a metadata driven modeling solution for Enterprise Architecture and took it to market. Agilense has many very large customers including Sun Microsystems. The most notable component of EA WebModeler for our community is the Squeak based graphical modeler.

I spoke with Steve about EA WebModeler, what it is like depending on Open Source software like Squeak, and more.

Ron: There are a number of people that would prefer to use Smalltalk for application development. When java became the rage investors and business consultants began pushing Java. The reasons they gave were corporate acceptance and large software vendor support and contributions. The wave of new software programmers learning Java also made it easier for development companies to find talent. How were you able to select Smalltalk to use for your company?

Steve: We started with Smalltalk and around early 2000 we started looking into switching to Java. At the time we looked into and talked to some business consultants about it and even then they were saying Java was on its way to becoming an old language. They suggested that if we were going to port to Java it wouldn’t be worth it. If we were going to port to something then maybe Ruby or some other currently popular language would be a better choice.

Ron: With all the components like web servers and vendor add-ons like Oracle and business objects available did you ever regret not having that level of support for Smalltalk?

Steve: It would have been nice to have a those things available for Smalltalk. We are using some of the components developed by IBM for Visual Age like the web connect feature. We still have a lot to accomplish including support for Solaris for our Sun Contract but we’ve been focusing mostly on Windows and Linux platforms. I’m not sure we would have benefited technologically from a port to Java but in the future our choice of Smalltalk over Java could have other ramifications, we’ll see.

Ron: Were you able to select Smalltalk because you are the company.

Steve: Yes basically.

Ron: Can you tell us a bit about your company and products.

Steve: Yes we are an Enterprise Architecture Connection Modeling Repository software supplier. We operate at a higher level then just a simple case tool or content management. Our focus is in business service modeling and change management. With our product businesses can successfully visualize and manage change, properly model and track services, and completely monitor business activity.

Ron: I noticed that your company is focused on Service Oriented Architecture; can you tell me how you integrated the concepts of SOA?

Steve: Our focus is business management modeling. We focus on modeling services, not just services like web services but business services. A web service is a software application programming interfaces (API) accessible via the web, but they are not significantly different than the “old days” of distributed api calls, they are now just web accessible. Can a web service make a real difference in your business? Yes it can, but so can all the other services you model. By decomposing your service profile and then reconstructing your business the way you want to see it, you begin to address the needs of how to efficiently run your operation. Our tools help you do that. With our products you can really see how service connections will effect your operation and may even help you see how services you currently offer applied in a slightly different way can improve what you offer your customers.

The question of SOA being just a new programming paradigm (web service) or a more fundamental shift in focus is similar to what happened in object oriented programming in that the question was asked then; “Is OO just a different way of programming or a fundamental shift in the way we design the business?” The answer is yes, decomposition and reorganization, like object modeling and refactoring, significantly improve our ability to visualize processes and enhance their performance. This is the power of both OOAD and SOA.

Our concept takes this a step further and shows how business modeling on a repository allows companies to really focus on what they have. Companies that can model all their assets can dramatically affect their processes by having the information they really needed when they need it.

I believe in the philosophy of services modeled after Bertrand Meyer’s design by contract. By well defining a service, its prerequisites, assertions, and limitations it is much easier to see the impact that reconstruction will have on your business process.

Ron: How did you feel about selecting open source for your application? What was your experience?

Steve: I was terrified by it. When we first started we found a major bug in the VM. There was a reread error that just hung the application plug-in. We found the buffer size wasn’t large enough to send our xml information. In short it was horrible. When you stop to think about it there are only a few people that can help you solve your problems, and it’s difficult to get their interest. I think that open source works better when there are commercial organizations available to provide support for people wanting to adopt open source software like Squeak for professional applications. There are a few people you can turn to that do consulting and a few companies out there doing commercial Squeak work like Impara, but there is nowhere for someone to go when they are really stuck.

Ron: Do you think that squeak needs to have a commercial support organization?

Steve: I’m not sure there is much that is going to help encourage more people to use Squeak. There are some interesting developments like Croquet and OLPC. I think that OLPC is very interesting and may help to encourage more developments when these kids grow up some, but chances are right now people will pick languages like Ruby. I guess we will see. For those people that want to use Open Source Squeak, having a commercial support company would be helpful.

Ron: What made you select Squeak with all the problems that you had? Why did you stick it out instead of just staying with Visual Age?

Steve: Well Squeak is really cool. All the graphic support we needed was there. And there’s Morphic. With all the cool stuff that is in Squeak we figured we could just get there faster. Once we figured out how to isolate our problems, and found the right people we were able to get the fixes we needed in about 3 days. The scary part was not knowing how and if the errors were going to get fixed, and what might be lurking around the corner.

Ron: Steve eventually found the help that he needed. He worked with Michael Rueger and Impara, Bert Freudenberg, and Ian Piumarta. In our next two parts we will be speaking with Bert and Ian.

Stephen K. Hunter (USA) is the founder and Chief Technology Officer for Agilense, Inc. Mr. Hunter leads the vision for Agilense, blending years of EA consulting experience with his technical expertise to define effective EA tool solutions for the corporate and EA consulting provider market.

Ron Teitelbaum is a long time Smalltalk Programmer, and is President / Principal Software Engineer at US Medical Record Specialists

One Response to “Minding Your Business With Smalltalk (part 2 of 4)”

  1. […] we spoke with Michael Rueger and Steve Hunter. From Michael we found out about the perspective of writing and supporting open source software. […]

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