Darren Hobbes has just started re-examining Smalltalk, and is looking at VisualWorks. He was worried about threading, so I figured I'd point a few things out:
- VisualWorks is single threaded (in general; the VM runs a few threads for housekeeping purposes, and you can use native threads for external API calls)
- In VW, Smalltalk processes are "green" - i.e., they run within the context of the single heavyweight process
- In ObjectStudio, Smalltalk processes map directly to Windows threads
Interestingly enough, you get far, far better control and predictability with the green threads - and a VisualWorks app (like this blog, for instance) scales quite nicely. Our engineering group just ported Opentalk from VW to ObjectStudio, giving the two products better interoperability - and the single biggest problem was with the native threading. If a native thread dies, you lose the entire application - as opposed to a VW thread, where you log the problem and move on. Earlier today, I introduced a bug into the server with comment handling (I was putting a throttling system in place). I forgot to update the form page, and - as a consequence - every process trying to add a comment threw an exception. These simply got logged by the server, whic kept humming.
Here's another example of process usage - BottomFeeder. With the default settings, Bf spawns a new process for each http query done during the update cycle. I subscribe to 296 feeds now, so that can be a lot of processes. If those mapped to Windows threads, my machine would be brought to its knees - instead, I still have UI responsiveness.
Sometimes, you have to look beyond the conventional wisdom to see how scaling works - native threads are not the be-all, end-all that people think they are.