Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Potential for Smalltalk on the Web

I remember when Smalltalk was popular.

My introduction to Smalltalk was in 1987 when I purchased Smalltalk/V from Digitalk.

By 1989, I had won a contract to build a graphical flight planning system running on an HP/9000 Unix machine with Parcplace VisualWorks and “The Analyst” package from Xerox (XSIS).

In the early 1990’s, Smalltalk was very popular with high-tech companies.

Of course, there was the high productivity and ease of prototyping.

But also a very important reason was the cross-platform capability. Companies often had many different kinds of computers:

  • HP/9000 Unix
  • IBM Unix
  • Sun Solaris Unix
  • Silicon Graphics Unix
  • Apple MacIntosh
  • Microsoft Windows (several versions)
  • And Smalltalk ran on all of them with no changes (almost) to the image.

Then the Smalltalk “dark ages” started around 1995/96.

There are lots of reasons, of course, but one of the main causes that I saw was that companies exchanged their expensive Unix machines for increasingly capable (and much cheaper) Windows NT machines and/or Apple Macintosh after Steve Jobs converted it to Unix.

The new cross-platform wonder-kid was Java which was free. And Smalltalk pretty much went into free-fall after that with a few bright spots like Dolphin, Squeak and Pharo.

So, what about today.

Like many developers, I earn my living building web applications.

Today, there is now a mish-mash of different technologies on the web, just like desktop workstations 20 years ago.

  • multiple browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, IE)
  • multiple mobile technologies (Android, Ios, Windows phone)
  • multiple desktop systems (Mac, Linux, Windows)

Of course, you can build apps using a cross-platform technology such as HTML5. Which means that you must be proficient in three different client-side languages:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript

And a some server-side technologies as well:

  • PHP/Laravel/CodeIgniter/etc
  • Ruby/Rails/Sinatra/etc
  • Python/Django/etc
  • NodeJs/Express/etc

Nothing like the simplicity of building and deploying Smalltalk applications.

MySmalltalk is my attempt to bring back simplicity for application development in today’s hybrid environment (desktop/mobile/website/server).

A huge development in the past few years has been the explosion of “Smart Phone” use.

There are projected to be 2 billion (2,000,000,000) smartphone users worldwide by next year.

http://www.emarketer.com/Article/2-Billion-Consumers-Worldwide-Smartphones-by-2016/1011694

Amazing!

Steve Jobs said that the iPhone would change everything and he was right.

So where does MySmalltalk fit it.

  • runs on any desktop (Mac, Linux, Windows)
  • runs in any website
  • runs in any mobile device
  • runs in any Node.js server

MySmalltalk is an interpreter, so it can run (and compile new code) even in environments where security prohibits the use of JavaScript “eval” and “new Function(<code>)”.

Chrome desktop applications have these kind of restrictions. Possibly MySmalltak is the only Chrome desktop development environment where code can be compiled completely within the environment – as opposed to writing out files and then compiling them externally.

And Myst apps can be developed on the desktop and deployed to any other desktop, website, or mobile device.

The framework is still very young (I started on March 3, 2015), but it is progressing very quickly and I believe that it will prove to be a very productive new environment.

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Developing and Deploying Applications

myst-applications

The image above shows the Myst application launcher.

No language or framework will become popular unless it can produce applications that people want to use and are willing to purchase.

My focus in developing MySmalltalk is to create non-trivial applications as early as possible. This tests the limits of the language and builds the foundation libraries needed to compete with existing frameworks such as Angular.js, Bootstrap, Backbone.js, and so on.

MySmalltalk is built using the Qooxdoo.org framework which is amazingly good.

As I build tools and applications, I add the Smalltalk bindings to Qooxdoo needed to perform certain tasks.

An example would be the StyleManager and HtmlWriter classes which were created yesterday and are being used today to create the Applications window and the Welcome window on the site.

Today, I also added a new tool called ImageManager which helps me with deploying the Myst image to a local server or to the MySmalltalk.com site.

myst-image-manager

Development and deployment with MySmalltalk is incredibly quick.

Just create a new Smalltalk class using the desktop version, test it on the local server, and then deploy to the main server.

All of this is done while remaining totally in the Smalltalk environment,

The class library is very, very limited at the moment. This will improve as I add better refactoring capabilities to the class browser and add various tools such as inspectors.

The download for the desktop version will be updated about once per day. When everything is a bit more stable, I will upload it to the Google Play store as a Chrome application. That should make installation a lot easier.


MySmalltalk Classes for HTML and CSS

HTML and CSS classes

HTML and CSS classes

Two new classes have been added to the MySmalltalk image:

  • HmtlWriter generates structured HTML tags
  • StyleManager dynamically inserts/modifies CSS rules into the web page

Together, these new classes allow me to create documentation pages for the mysmaltalk.com website.

I work with the desktop version of MySmalltalk to create the new content and then I deploy the image to the remote server.

In the classic Smalltalk tradition, MySmalltalk is being used to develop its own tools needed for deployment and maintenance.

MySmalltalk is not just a language – it is a complete development and deployment ecosystem which works across multiple desktop, website, mobile, and server environments.


The Qooxdoo Framework is Fantastic!

Originally, I had intended to base MySmalltalk on the ExtJS framework.

But the marketing experts at Sencha decided to set licensing conditions that make it impossible for developers like me to use their product.

So, I started searching for an alternative framework and discovered Qooxdoo which is fantastic!

MySmalltalk is 100% based on Qooxdoo.

The main modification that I made to the framework was to add a new property called “klass” at the qx.core.Object level. The purpose of “klass” is to hold a reference to a Smalltalk class – so any Qx object can also act as a Smalltalk object if the “klass” property is set.

Also, I made some changes at other parts of the framework to replace all “eval(…)” and “new Function(…)” expressions with alternative functions. This was required to meet the security requirements for Chrome desktop apps.

I will contribute these changes to the Qooxdoo community after some cleanup and documentation.


Desktop Version Available for Download

I have made the desktop version of MySmalltalk available for download.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/mysmalltalk/desktop/myst-latest.zip

It should work on any Macintosh, Linux, or Windows platform.

MySmalltalk is a Google Chrome desktop application.

1) Make sure that Google Chrome is installed.

2) Unzip the download into a directory

3) In the Chrome browser, open chrome://extensions/

4) On the extensions page, load Myst with the “Load Unpacked Extensions” button at the top.

5) You will need to select the image manually the first time the app runs. After that it should load and save the image without prompting.

I expect that almost all development with Myst will be done on the desktop with applications being deployed to other desktops, websites, mobile devices, and servers.

It is possible to develop online or even on mobile devices, but it is much more convenient using the desktop app.


Yes, It runs in Smartphones also

You can open the MySmalltalk environment in any SmartPhone or tablet.

http://mysmalltalk.com/

And you can run Smalltalk commands in the Workspaces and open the ClassBrowser.

I will be adding a series of widgets for mobile devices in the coming weeks.

Normally, application development will be done in either the desktop or browser window environments.

Applications deployed to mobile devices can should use only mobile widgets.


Running on the Desktop

desktop

Above is an image of a Mac desktop showing the MySmalltalk environment running as a Chrome application.

There is no URL at the top of the window and the application can be started simply by clicking the Smalltalk balloon at the bottom of the screen.

As an application, MySmalltalk has access to the computer filesystem, so it can be run without being connected to the Internet.

When MySmalltalk is started from a server, the Transcript window will show the size of the image that was loaded from the server.

As a desktop application, it loads its image from the local filesystem. In this case, the Transcript is showing “Image (87475 bytes) loaded from file”.

Also, as a desktop application, the browser window has a couple of extra buttons: “Save file” and “Load file”. This allows loading and saving images across different environments (eg, load from a server and save to a file or vice-versa).