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Changes to the Smalltalk User Interface at Cincom

Overview of the Smalltalk User Interface

The Smalltalk user interface, developed at Xerox PARC in the 1970s, revolutionized the way programmers interact with their codes. At its core, the Smalltalk user interface aimed to provide a visual representation of objects and their relationships, making it easier for developers to understand and manipulate their codes.

“… We were the first out with this type of an environment … The market that [we] went after was the standard US industries, you know whether it’s financial, transportation and shipping, or manufacturing or telecommunications, automotive people who really rely on their systems. They understand their business models … and they’re missing something and one of the things they were missing was a graphical user interface.”
 – Adele Goldberg

Smalltalk user interface introduced several groundbreaking concepts that are now considered fundamental in modern programming environments.

  • One such innovation was the use of windows, icons, menus, and a pointing device that became the foundation for the graphical user interfaces we use today.
  • The user interface was designed to be highly interactive, allowing developers to manipulate objects directly on the screen. This approach greatly enhanced the programmer’s ability to experiment and iterate, leading to faster development cycles and improved software quality.
  • Smalltalk user interface also introduced the concept of “live programming,” where changes made to the code were immediately reflected in the running program. This real-time feedback enabled developers to quickly test and debug their codes, reducing the time spent on traditional compile-run-debug cycles.

Overall, the Smalltalk user interface laid the groundwork for modern programming environments, emphasizing visual representations, interactivity, and live programming.

Key Features and Innovations in the Smalltalk User Interface

 Smalltalk user interface was packed with innovative features that set it apart from other programming environments of the time.

  • One notable feature was the use of direct manipulation, where developers could interact with objects on the screen using a pointing device. This intuitive approach made it easier for programmers to understand and modify their codes.
  • Another key innovation was the concept of “model-view-controller” (MVC), which separated the code responsible for data manipulation (the model), the visual representation of the data (the view), and the user interactions (the controller). This architectural pattern allowed for greater code reusability and maintainability, as changes made to one component did not affect the others.
  • Smalltalk user interface introduced the concept of “drag and drop,” which allows developers to easily move and rearrange objects on the screen. This feature provided a more visual and tangible way of manipulating code, enhancing productivity, and reducing errors.
  • The user interface also incorporated a powerful text editor that supported syntax highlighting, code completion, and refactoring capabilities. These features made it easier for developers to write and modify their codes, improving overall productivity.

Evolution of Smalltalk User Interface at Cincom

With the transition of Smalltalk to Cincom, the user interface underwent significant changes to adapt to the evolving needs of developers. Cincom aimed to build upon the foundations laid by its predecessors and further enhance the usability and efficiency of Smalltalk.

  • One notable change introduced by Cincom was the addition of a more modern and visually appealing look and feel to the user interface. The interface was given a fresh coat of paint, with updated icons, colors, and fonts, making it more aesthetically pleasing and in line with contemporary design trends.
  • Cincom also focused on improving the performance and responsiveness of the Smalltalk user interface. We optimized the underlying code to ensure a smooth and lag-free experience, even when working with large code bases or complex visualizations. These performance enhancements greatly improved the developer’s productivity and overall experience.
  • Cincom also introduced new features and tools to the Smalltalk user interface, expanding its functionality and making it more versatile. They added support for version control systems, integrated development environments (IDEs), and advanced debugging tools, empowering developers with a comprehensive set of tools for software development.

Major Changes and Improvements in the Cincom Smalltalk User Interface

The Cincom Smalltalk user interface and environment brought about several major changes and improvements compared to its predecessors. A few of the many notable changes include:

  • A powerful code editor with advanced features such as syntax highlighting, code navigation and auto-complete. These enhancements made it easier for developers to navigate and understand complex codebases, improving their productivity and reducing the time spent on manual code analysis.
  • Enhancements to the powerful debugger in the Smalltalk user interface, allowing developers to set non-invasive breakpoints and more, that make it easier to identify and fix issues in their applications.
  • Enhancement to the comprehensive set of libraries and frameworks, expanding the capabilities of the language and making it easier for developers to build complex applications.
  • The Next-Generation-User-Interface (NGUI) using Windows native widgets and GDI+.
  • Skins:
    • allowing natively rendered widgets, while still customizable (Windows, MacOS).
    • allowing colored skins (red, green) to easily identify windows with multiple images open.
    • allowing DarkMode support.
  • MatriX, allowing easy coarse grain concurrency and greatly enhanced throughput.