Thin Air

Tyranny considered beneficial

Ian Bicking has posted a couple thoughtful comments on this versioning thread. This one in particular caught my attention. In conclusion, he writes:

In the end, it doesn't seem like Smalltalk is an evolving language, and
there's no one to even go to to ask for new features (who would realistically
respond in a positive way). So it's hard to compare; in all of these
languages, you can cope somehow. You can always do code generation, after all.
In evolving languages there are options besides coping; that people respond to
that and ask for changes doesn't indicate a more flawed language.

I wonder if much of the disconnect between Smalltalk and the newer breed of dynamic "scripting" languages stems from this difference in social organization. The Benevolent Dictator is a very common pattern in the open source world - think Linus Torvalds, Miguel de Icaza, Larry Wall, Guido van Rossum, Yukihiro Matsumoto, and many more. In the Smalltalk world, we have icons like Alan Kay and Dan Ingalls, but they've moved away from active leadership roles in the community. That makes it hard to see all the things that are going on in the community.

In fact, the Smalltalk world is evolving quite rapidly, despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of a dictator to set direction and coordinate development. In the last few years there have been several notable language changes in the Smalltalk world:

The thing is, these don't feel like languages changes to people outside the community. For one thing, they only affect one dialect. There's no "offical Smalltalk" that one can refer to for a language definition, and so we end up using either Smalltalk-80 or ANSI Smalltalk when the need arises. Of course, the real meaning of "Smalltalk" is more of a weighted average of all the dialects, a kind of eigenlanguage that you can only absorb though experience.

Ian is absolutely right, there's no one to ask for a change in the language, but neither is there anything to stop you from doing it yourself if you feel the need. And isn't that the spirit of open source?

Posted in community