As most of you know, Cincom embarked on the creation of a new user interface framework for VisualWorks in 2001. It is now 2007, and this framework, Widgetry, has been in development (but not formally released) for six years. At this point in time, our customers have many questions:
- When will UI building tools appear?
- When will Cincom start migrating the development tools to Widgetry?
- How will we migrate our applications to Widgetry?
In looking at those questions, we stepped back and took a look at Widgetry and its goals. Widgetry was built as an entirely new framework, without concern for backward compatibility. Unfortunately, in making that decision, we had not adequately thought through the issues of migration (both on our part and that of our customers), tool support, and maintaining two large frameworks simultaneously for a lengthy period. As is clear from the length of time it has taken to bring Widgetry to this initial release status, still without tools or documentation, we also underestimated the effort involved in the task. When we began looking at migrating our own tools forwards, it became clear that we would have had to commit a large percentage of the total development effort to this task alone, sacrificing numerous other areas that are also important to our customers.
We have come to the conclusion that the leap to Widgetry is simply too large for most of our customers, and have decided not to make it. Widgetry does offer improvements over the existing VisualWorks UI framework, and we have invested a lot of time and effort into Widgetry - but that time and effort is not nearly as large as what would be required of our customers in a migration effort. We understand that many of our customers have been patiently waiting for the improvements promised in Widgetry, and we will be using Widgetry as a base from which to incorporate improvements for the UI in VisualWorks in a more incremental fashion.
What does this mean for you, as a user of VisualWorks? It means that your existing UI tools and applications will continue to work, and will not need to be migrated. However, it does not mean that there will be no improvements. In the next release (scheduled for January, 2008), improvements to existing tools (the Refactoring Browser in particular) will appear. Incremental improvements to the UI will start to appear after that, including:
- New and better widgets, incorporating some of the enhancements made in Widgetry
- Improved UI building tools - the painter tools will get updated and improved incrementally
- Improvements to the framework itself - many of the known issues in the underlying UI libraries will be incrementally addressed
We think that incremental improvements will serve our customers - both existing and new - better than a large leap into a new and incompatible framework. Widgetry will stay in the “preview” directory on the installation media, and will remain available for anyone who is interested in using it. It will not be supported by Cincom, however, and will not be a direct part of our future plans for the product.
In the future, we will be avoiding long term projects that require lengthy lead times before customers can examine and explore them. We are committed to working more closely with our user and customer community, and we apologize for the pain and confusion caused by this decision - but we think it’s the best one for our customers
If you have feedback on this, please feel free to send it directly to me, James Robertson, the Cincom Smalltalk Product Evangelist.