The Pillars of Squeak

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Disclaimer: These are my own thoughts, posted here for visibility. They have not been discussed with, or endorsed by, the Squeak Oversight Board.

I’ve been trying to come up with a starting point for a strategy discussion to help our community understand better what we are and what we want to do in the future. In thinking through the various aspects (there is nothing like sitting on a porch in North Carolina on a warm summer evening to do that šŸ˜‰ it occurred to me that Squeak is really built around three fundamental pillars:

  • Minimalism.
  • Tools.
  • Education.

Minimalism. I think we all agree that we love minimalistic, simple kernels and systems. I don’t think any of us would disagree with that. Whether it’s an embedded system, a little kernel image, or some self-contained bootstrap magic; we just all love and cherish self-contained little systems.

Tools. It’s what we use daily and it’s one of the things that we’re most proud of. The effectiveness of our tools, the speed with which they allow us to do almost magical things, the ability to simulate even complex interactions are all parts of the environment that I don’t think anyone would give up on.

Education. Smalltalk started as a system simple enough that a single person could understand and making a system that way means building it in an accessible form and that is squarely part of education. Some of us are also interested in educating children using Squeak but I think that we *all* want the system to be easy to learn from and easy to access.

In addition to these fundamental pillars of Squeak I see three more areas that are of very wide interest but not universally shared:

  • Media.
  • Internet.
  • Business.

Media. The media aspects of Squeak are certainly unique. There is no other Smalltalk system that comes even close and for me, the media aspects were always the most interesting. Having the ability to have vector graphics, 3d, sound synthesis, mixing, video, scripting running bit-identical over such a variety of platforms is what makes projects like Plopp, or Etoys, or even Croquet and Qwaq Forums possible.

Internet. This is the Internet age after all, and much of what we do centers around it. Projects like Seaside or Aida are central for much of newly generated interest, entire companies are built around the abilities of Squeak on the ‘net.

Business. Last, but not least, business uses. There is a lot of interest in business use of Squeak which I think we have never very carefully catered too, but the interest (mostly in the form of complaints šŸ˜‰ is certainly there. Since that’s literally where the money is I think it’s worthwhile to take it into account carefully.

Since this is supposed to the the starting point for a strategy discussion, what do people think about the above areas of interest? I’m in particular interested in whether you think you could identify with the three pillars of Squeak since if we can agree on those as the most important values that we *all* share, it seems that there are obvious practical consequences that we can draw from it.

I think that formulating and agreeing on our values as a community is a central part of setting our own direction. It gives us something to look back to when we don’t know what to do next, it gives us something to agree on when we disagree.

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4 Responses to “The Pillars of Squeak”

  1. Howard Stearns Says:

    I think minimalism is an excellent characterization of the intentions and the tastes of the community — but do you feel that Squeak comes across that way today?

    There so many answers to “how do you do {GUI. Web. programmingInTheLarge. distributedSystems. …}?” in Squeak. This is a direct strength, and the variety is testament to Squeak’s power — but I don’t feel this embarrassment of riches is the best example of minimalism.

    If there is, indeed, a discrepancy between the community’s values and today’s artifact, then there is an excellent opportunity for improvement. This leads to a question, however, of whether the organic community is suited in temperament and structure to meet this challenge. It may be, for example, that there are too many talented and independent people to produce a minimalist system at this point.

    By the way, I really like like this approach of defining a platform by the values and interests its community rather than its technology. I recommend Kent Pitman’s essay on this: http://www.nhplace.com/kent/PS/Lambda.html

  2. Michael Says:

    With these priorities, It is obvious why Pharo is doing so well. Education
    more important than Business. Yep, I can see a conflict.

  3. Ken Causey Says:

    Once again this conversation is split into multiple threads. The head on squeak-dev is at

    http://lists.squeakfoundation.org/pipermail/squeak-dev/2009-July/137174.html

    And a couple of messages I personally find compelling:

    http://lists.squeakfoundation.org/pipermail/squeak-dev/2009-July/137183.html

    and the replies to it particularly from Michael Rueger and David Goehrig

    and especially

    http://lists.squeakfoundation.org/pipermail/squeak-dev/2009-July/137186.html

  4. BackOrder Says:

    One thing a business is certainly looking for is to know, with some form of accuracy, the status of certain features in a programming language/environment. This can be broken down in categories, sub-categories, etc. and an overall percentage.

    The idea behind this is to tell companies not to be afraid to invest in Squeak. If most of their required features are covered, they’re likely to invest, complete some that are not yet fully completed, and then share with the community.

    A company is rarely interested to invest in the unknown and risking their very own money on a stake. A clear objective and factual data about Squeak will certainly increase the confidence business can have into Squeak.

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