Smalltalk about croquet in the multiverse

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POSTED: November 14, 2006

Over the last few weeks, at some point, I had a conversation with somebody about the programming language smalltalk. I think I was in a car, although for the life of me I cannot remember who or where I was with. Could I have been in Hamburg? Could I have been talking to Greg in North Carolina?

Whoever it was, we talked about HyperCard, which was powered by HyperTalk, a smalltalk derivative. HyperTalk was the first object oriented programming language I ever got to grips with, and it led me back to smalltalk. I read the official book, and thus learned it in theory, but never found any practical use for it. I assumed that, like HyperTalk, it was a great idea whose time had come and gone, leaving it to fade away in memories like mine, and whoever I had the conversation with.

Yesterday the recent instability inside Second Life (rule of thumb: anything not crashing will crash in the next two minutes) led me to look around at its possible competitors. I already knew about Multiverse, which will become a category-killer if it gains a layer that allows for HyperCard-like ease of use, and it attracts enough developers making enough worlds. Their aim, as I understand it, is to become the de facto web standard for immersive worlds; a kind of pdf for virtuality.

If their program scales properly and programs easily, then Linden Lab will have a progressively harder time keeping ahead of the game. At the moment Second Life’s main advantage is that it is the only thing quite like that. Activeworlds is not flexible enough, and There has not gained anything like critical mass. Last time I looked at Moove it was still lying on its back at the starting gate. (Moove has a different conceptual model that positions it somewhere between Habbo Hotel and a “real” synthetic world. Cleverly, it seems to combine the disadvantages of both while passing on any of the possible advantages.) If Second Life gets real competition then its weaknesses, which are many, will start to come to the fore.

I then looked at Croquet, a heavy-duty open source 3D platform being written by Alan Kay, among others. This has a simliar ambition to Multiverse, with an additional factor. It is also intended to replace the desktop GUI with an open source 3D GUI.

Guess what powers Croquet? SMALLTALK!

According to the website, “Squeak is an open, highly-portable Smalltalk-80 implementation whose virtual machine is written entirely in Smalltalk…The Squeak virtual machine is software that acts as an interface between Squeak code and the microprocessor. The Squeak virtual machine is written in Slang, a functional subset of Smalltalk that can be translated into standard C.”

Their computer to computer interaction is run by something called TeaTime. So, whether this comes out of beta or not, we can be sure that, deep in the heart of programmers who once worked at Apple, whimsy lives on.