A Brief History of Smalltalk and the Personal Computer

By A.P.P.L.E. Staff
MacTech Quarterly
Summer 1989 — Page 95

Most of the personal computer community recognizes Smalltalk as the brainchild of the enormously creative Learning Research Group led by Alan Kay at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Computer science historians will recognize Smalltalk characteristics with roots in Simula, LISP, and SketchPad. Smalltalk has followed the powerful LISP strategy of treating different types of data (text, graphics, symbols, and numbers) in a uniform manner. It bundles the behavior of each data type with the actual data allowing disparate types of programs to share a variety of information components without conflict. 

In programming flavor, Smalltalk has borrowed heavily from the artificial intelligence community’s interest in exploratory worlds. The human being using Smalltalk generally creates a program or application by writing very small pieces of code. Smalltalk incrementally compiles them into the total operating environment, and you watch the effect on the behavior of the whole environment. This concept of eliminating such distinctions as operating system, programming language, and application provides the user with a marvelously exploratory style of interaction. As the Smalltalk environment learns from the experimentation, so does the human user.

Smalltalk concepts appeared in the Xerox Star series and Apple’s Lisa. Both machines broke new ground in user-friendly, exciting software, but suffered from inadequate hardware power and poor marketing. Smalltalk’s contributions first achieved wide-spread attention when its concepts played a major role in the development of our Macintosh environment of bit-mapped graphics, windows, and pull-down menus. Strangely though, Smalltalk has until now appeared in the general Macintosh community as Smalltalk-80, an implementation completely outside the rest of the Macintosh environment.

In a more limited circle of development sites, a commercial (read expensive) version of Smalltalk from Parc Place has achieved some excellent press as a rapid prototyping environment for the Mac II series. Meanwhile, in the relatively alien operating system of the MS-DOS world, Digitalk, Inc. of Los Angeles, introduced their Smalltalk/V for IBM PC compatibles as early as July of 1986. Their announcement of Smalltalk/V 286 for the AT in 1988 and International Meta Systems introduction of an accelerator board specifically for Smalltalk/V 286 has given the MS-DOS pc community new interest in OOP and Smalltalk. Now Digitalk has moved into the Macintosh world with Smalltalk/V for the Mac, a full Smalltalk language that conforms rigorously to the Macintosh environment, and costs $199 retail.

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