Largest Provider of Commercial Smalltalk
Cincom is one of the largest commercial providers of Smalltalk, with twice as many customers and partners as other commercial providers.

Tom Nies

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How the Smalltalk User Experience Has Changed at Cincom

From its inception in the 1970s, using the Smalltalk programming language has come a long way. Today, it continues to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing needs of the user. Cincom, the leading provider of commercial Smalltalk, has played a significant role in shaping the user experience of this dynamic language.

With its focus on simplicity and object-oriented programming, Smalltalk has gained a loyal following among developers and enthusiasts alike. By examining the progression of the Smalltalk user experience, we can better understand how this influential language has evolved to meet the demands of a rapidly advancing technological landscape.

The Smalltalk User Experience at Xerox PARC

Xerox PARC, the birthplace of many groundbreaking innovations, laid the foundation for the Smalltalk user experience. Smalltalk was designed to be a highly interactive and visually appealing programming language that provides a seamless development environment for users. The user interface was unlike anything seen before, with bitmapped graphics and icons that made it easier for programmers to understand and navigate their codes.

  • One of the key features of Smalltalk was its object-oriented nature. Instead of working with traditional procedural programming languages, where functions and procedures are the building blocks, Smalltalk allowed programmers to think in terms of objects. This shift in mindset revolutionized the way software was developed, making it more modular, reusable, and easier to maintain.
  • Another significant aspect of the Smalltalk user experience was its live programming capability. This meant that programmers could make changes to their code in real time and see the immediate results. It eliminated the need for lengthy compile and run cycles, allowing developers to iterate quickly and experiment with different solutions.

The early user experience set the stage for the future of Smalltalk, with its emphasis on simplicity, interactivity, and object-oriented programming.

Key Features and Innovations in Smalltalk

Smalltalk introduced several key features and innovations that shaped the user experience:

  • One of the most notable advancements was the concept of a “windowing system,” which allowed multiple windows to be open simultaneously, each containing different parts of the code or application. This made it easier for programmers to multitask and work on different aspects of their projects at the same time.
  • Smalltalk also introduced the concept of “message passing,” where objects communicate with each other by sending messages. This allowed for a more dynamic and flexible programming model, where objects could collaborate and exchange information seamlessly.
  • Smalltalk introduced the concept of “reflection,” which enabled programmers to examine and modify the structure of objects at runtime. This powerful feature opened up new possibilities for dynamic code generation debugging.

These key features and innovations laid the groundwork for the evolution of the Smalltalk user experience, as it transitioned to the hands of other organizations and ultimately brought together by Cincom.

The Evolution of Smalltalk User Experience

As Smalltalk made its way from Xerox PARC to other organizations, it continued to evolve and improve its user experience. The focus shifted towards making Smalltalk more accessible to a wider audience, with improvements in usability, documentation, and community support.

Smalltalk is known for being arguably the most productive programming language available. The reason for this is not only the carefully developed syntax, designed to be highly expressive yet simple and elegant at the same time, but also the interactive tools.
Smalltalk continued to improve and evolve by adding capabilities like:

  • Dynamic compilation, pioneering JIT (just-in-time) compilation.
  • The Refactoring browser, which includes tools that allow a developer to refactor code, including refactoring in the class hierarchy.
  • Parcels that allow fast loading of code, but more importantly, partial and order tolerant loading that makes the code system far more robust.
  • Database integration with APIs and frameworks.

One company developed advanced visual modeling tools that are UML-type tools to assist in system application architecture and integrated code development.  This allows domain experts to work productively with developers on software projects. (Now part of Cincom’s Smalltalk suite.)

The evolution of the Smalltalk user experience paved the way for Cincom to take the language to new heights. 

Smalltalk User Experience at Cincom

Cincom has been at the forefront of Smalltalk development, pushing the boundaries of the user experience and introducing innovative solutions. Their commitment to enhancing Smalltalk’s usability and performance has made it a popular choice among commercial developers and organizations worldwide.

One of the key differences in Smalltalk user experience at Cincom is the focus on productivity. Cincom has invested heavily in developing tools and frameworks that streamline the development process and boost efficiency. The Cincom Smalltalk IDEs provide advanced code navigation, refactoring capabilities, and code generation, enabling developers to write clean, high-quality code with ease.

Cincom embraced and enhanced the productivity aspect of Smalltalk by:

  • Continued improvement of the team code repository system that allows a team to store, develop, and share version and document code, applications, and systems.
  • Developing a robust tabbing system that is used in the tools and can be used in applications.  It allows better organization of multiple windows in tools like the Refactoring browser.  This addresses one of the criticisms of Smalltalk—having too many windows open.
  • Advanced code editors that include auto-complete, and themes that allow coloring and sizing of different elements to improve code comprehension.
  • Search tools that allow classes, methods, symbols, etc. to be quickly found and accessed.

The Smalltalk user experience at Cincom is a testament to our dedication to continuous improvement and innovation, ensuring that Smalltalk remains a versatile and powerful language in the ever-evolving world of programming.