what is smalltalk today?

January 26th, 2009

So Smalltalk is one of those languages that gets thrown around a lot in discussions about languages. After all, it is where the object oriented paradigm pretty much originated (although I suppose Simula sort of had a version of that without that explicit name), and so many languages have drawn on it for inspiration, even if most have gone a completely different way in realizing the OO idea.

As historical reference, Smalltalk is big, no doubt about that. And as a language it is pretty clever. Dynamic and self reflective, it just runs the whole time, objects are live and can be altered on-the-fly with a change to the code.

But what is Smalltalk today? Is it worth learning? From what I can see, and I should say I haven't really spent that much time looking, it seems pretty dead. There is Squeak, where you get the whole image and you do everything inside the virtual machine. From what I understand this is the way you're supposed to use Smalltalk. But frankly I'm not interested in an application that only runs inside a VM. For the same reason that noone really wants to run apps in VirtualBox or VMware.

Most of the Squeak tutorials seem to be 404. And I have yet to see anything that's really interesting. In the end, programming is about programs, and without shiny programs to show off, what is left for us? The Smalltalk website, sporting a 1997 kind of look, has a list of apps on show. Based on that it's hard to get excited about the language.

Okay, so there is something called Seaside, a web framework. And I can kind of see how it's cool to have a web application that has to run 24/7, and meanwhile you can do live updates to the objects. But I'm not shopping for a web framework anyway, and there's a ton of them already.

So is Smalltalk merely a historical curiosity at this point?

:: random entries in this category ::

7 Responses to "what is smalltalk today?"

  1. James Robertson says:

    Umm, I'd have to say that you seriously underestimate how many people run things inside of VMs. First, there's the many, many Java and .NET apps. Second, I (and many others) use Parallels happily on our Macs - I access our corporate VPN that way, and I also play Civ IV Beyond the Sword (it runs nicely there).

    Second, smalltalk.org is not really a mainline Smalltalk website - it just happens to be the easiest url that's in use. Try:


    to get an idea as to what's happening in Smalltalk. Also, see the vibrant blogger community around Smalltalk -


  2. Regarding "most squeak tutorials being 404s", I suspect you aren't looking at http://squeak.org/Documentation/ which has many good tutorials and free books linked there. I'd be surprised if any of those are 404s, and if they are, I'll be happy to have the web team fix or remove them.

  3. Companies are still looking for Smalltalk programmers and even some startups like Qwaq are actually looking for people with Squeak Smalltalk programming experience.

    I know this in part because I’m one of the volunteers on the Smalltalk jobs database. We provide a free Smalltalk jobs aggregation service for our community.


    The database is hosted on a commercial web based service called Dabble db. They are a startup which is also powered by Squeak Smalltalk. (And also in part, by Seaside.)

    Is Smalltalk worth learning? I make my living because of the language, and those that decide to learn it can as well. So I’d say yes.

    More info about the Smalltalk job market can be found via the Employment postings on my blog:


  4. Joachim says:

    Seems like you've got a very wrong impression. There's a lot going on in Smalltalk, and many of the initiatives are very interesting. Seaside is just the tip of the iceberg.
    Your argument against VMs is - sorry to say this - ridiculous. What about the trillions of Java programs and .net executables out there? Isn't VisualBasic running on top of a VM for something around 15 years or even longer?
    There are many commercial apps out there built in Powerbuilder and Filemaker or Access. All of these require a runtime executable and consist of code running on top of that. So please take a second look at your personal computer: how many apps you use do not run on a VM? Not sure if you understand the concept here - I wouldn't say a VMWare appliance and a Smalltalk or Java VM are the same thing.

    As starting points to the world of Smalltalk, I'd suggest:

    The world of Smalltalk is much more active today than it has been 8 or ten years ago, and there are more active vendors today than there were back then. All three major vendors are making money selling their licences and services. So Smalltalk is far from being dead today. I'd have signed your post 8 years ago, but I'd stand corrected today...

  5. Chris says:

    Come on, Smalltalk may still be alive in some niches and swim among other deep sea fish, but it's on its way down, not up. Look at any language popularity ranking (like the one at http://www.tiobe.com/index.php/content/paperinfo/tpci/) or, if you don't believe in any rankings that don't rate Smalltalk high enough, look at any site with job offers for programmers. The numbers speak (squeak?) for themselves.

  6. srini says:

    Though Smalltalk is not that popular these days, there is a new renaissance in Smalltalk development, thanks to Squeak.I went through many sites of the Smalltalk and agree with all the supporters of Smalltalk. The more I learn about Smalltalk and Squeak the more I’m impressed. In the process of my learning I have collected some good sites (more than 200) related to Smalltalk and Squeak (lessons, tutorials and programming). If you are interested take a look at the below link.
    200 sites to know about smalltalk programming http://bit.ly/g3iow

  7. slava says:

    Can i Use your thought cited like this
    “ Smalltalk is big, no doubt about that. And as a language it is pretty clever. Dynamic and self reflective, it just runs the whole time, objects are live and can be altered on-the-fly with a change to the code” as an introduction to an article on small talk for language learning
    although you used it for a programme it summrizes my thought about dialogue Small Talk
    Looking forward to getting your permission
    Slava Tcherpokova
    i would appreciate if i get aprompt reply