Largest Provider of Commercial Smalltalk
Cincom is the largest commercial provider of Smalltalk in the world, with twice as many partners and customers than all other commercial providers combined.

Tom Nies

Celebrating the Birth of Cincom Smalltalk, Part 1

Posted on in Categories Cincom, Smalltalk

Do you remember 1999? Were you still in grade school?  College?  As you reflect back to your personal journey in 1999, let us take you on a journey of two products that eventually found their way to the doorstep of Cincom Systems, Inc.

Later this year, we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Cincom Smalltalk here at Cincom. Although our beloved object-oriented programming language has been around since before 1970, it wasn’t until late 1999 that Cincom brought ObjectStudio and VisualWorks together under the umbrella of Cincom Smalltalk. Beginning this month, we would like to take you on that journey as we lead up to the anniversary.

The Early Years of Smalltalk

The year 1970 brought us memorable events in world and US history. That year, US troops invaded Cambodia, prompting four students at Kent State University in Ohio to be slain by National Guardsmen at a demonstration protesting the incursion. The People’s Republic of China also entered the United Nations. That year also brought about the Beatles breaking upJimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both dying at the age of 27 and James Taylor winning a Grammy. In the sports world, Pele played in his last World CupMonday Night Football debuted on ABC with Howard Cosell, while Ohio State shared a football National Title with Texas and Nebraska and the Cincinnati Reds were defeated by the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Meanwhile momentum at Cincom continued as several “firsts” happened for the company. Cincom became the first to integrate database and data communications through ENVIRON/1®, a control system for teleprocessing networks. With this innovation, Cincom introduced the virtual paging technique to the IBM marketplace—three years ahead of IBM. TOTAL® and ENVIRON/1 were the first and only database/data communications systems available for IBM’s 360/370 series computers. Cincom also set up a technical support office for TOTAL in the tiny basement of the Alms Hotel, near the Victory Parkway office, creating what was probably the first customer service department in the software industry and also formally initiated technical support centers, still nearly five years ahead of IBM.

Cincom also became the first company to sponsor user group meetings, called Knock-Abouts, which gave Cincomers and the actual users of the company’s products a chance to “knock about” ideas for new products and technologies. 

In the middle of 1970, the Xerox Corporation opened the door of its brand new research center in Palo Alto, California. The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center—or PARC, as it came to be known—was established as a research lab for a computer subsidiary that Xerox had acquired. What PARC became was no less than the birthplace of the personal computer, among other innovations of modern computing.

Most of the elements of the now-ubiquitous personal computer were included in the Smalltalk-powered Alto, which introduced and unified most aspects that we now take for granted:

  • The mouse
  • Computer-generated color graphics
  • A graphical user interface (GUI) featuring windows and icons
  • The WYSIWYG text editor
  • InterPress (a resolution-independent graphical page description language and the precursor to PostScript)
  • Ethernet
  • Fully formed, object-oriented programming in the Smalltalk programming language and integrated development environment (Smalltalk-71)

After significant revisions, Smalltalk-76 was created. This system had a development environment that featured things that are familiar with the current tools, including a class library code browser/editor. A few years later, Smalltalk-80 added metaclasses that would help maintain the “everything is an object” paradigm by associating properties and behavior with individual classes, and even primitives such as integer and boolean values. Smalltalk-80 was the first version of the language to be made available outside of PARC.

In 1983, a general availability implementation, known as Smalltalk-80 Version 2, was released as an image (platform-independent file with object definitions) and a virtual machine specification. When Smalltalk-80 upgraded to Version 2.5, this would eventually lead to the creation of what would be later called, VisualWorks

Be watching next month, as we develop the history of Cincom VisualWorks further and introduce the creation of Cincom ObjectStudio.