Monday, September 18, 2006

StrongTalk and the Blue Book

Once upon a while Alan Kay said that, although the Blue Book had a complete reference implementation of the virtual machine, to his knowledge nobody other than the initial four had attempted to make a new virtual machine from scratch.

In addition, he also commented on Al Gore saying that with the Internet in the hands of the public, it would be possible to have a much more educated population. Alan's wife snapped back: the knowledge is already in libraries, and very few people take advantage of it. Why should the Internet make a difference?

And this brings me to StrongTalk. Now the source code is out there. Should I expect, in the view of how other things have happened, that in the next year or so we will have amazing virtual machines, just because a reference implementation is available? The answer must be, again, no.

The SELF thesis, the foundation of StrongTalk's compiler, has been available for more than 10 years. The SELF system is proof that it works. StrongTalk itself, as proof that it can be done in Smalltalk as well, has been out there for another decade. And what happened since then? Nothing. Why should a bunch of .cpp files make a difference now?

No, my friend. For this to happen, what is necessary is action. I hope this is the time though, and that StrongTalk's release spurs us into making it a reality. As with everything: it is now, or never.

Go Smalltalk Go!


Anonymous said...

The actual C++ sources for the whole Self VM have been available for 14 years and nobody has bothered to look at them (even though they were documented through two very nice thesis), so you are absolutely right.

I didn't understand Alan's comment, however. By the time the blue book came out there were at least two from scratch VMs (Rossetta Smalltalk and Smalltalk PC for the Apple II), with Little Smalltalk and Digitalk Smalltalk V soon to follow. And there were plenty more after that. So it would make more sense for him to complain about everyone doing it from scratch instead of starting from the blue book (like Squeak did).

-- Jecel Assumpção Jr

Andres said...


I wasn't aware that the Self VM sources have been available for 14 years. Shameful that we have not done anything with them yet!

Regarding Alan's comment, I think I remember that he meant it for the "rest of us", not just companies, in the sense that no individual seemed to have been drawn enough to make their own virtual machine as a way to understand Smalltalk better. But I could be wrong :).


Andres said...

Grr! I messed up the book colors in the original post! It is fixed now.