VAST Summit 2009 – my personal summary


The VAST Summit 2009 is over. Two days of presentations on topics related to VA Smalltalk, especially of course VA Smalltalk Version 8 which was also announced and made available on tuesday.

All in all it was a great event, even though it was sometimes hard to follow. Sometimes the sound simply broke down (at least for me) and the nature of online demonstrations makes for laggy switches between slides or even between applications. So sometimes the sound was out of sync from the slides, especially in the first presentation by Mark Taylor, CEO of Instantiations. There will be recordings of the session available for download, so maybe that was only a problem with my connection and the videos will be of much better quality.

There was so much information and for someone here in Europe the sessions were partly late at night, so that I may not remember everything, but I’ll share some of my impressions with you.

Mike Taylor and Eric Clayberg on Instantiations’ plans for VA Smalltalk

Mike first presented the results of a customer survey from march 2009. This was quite insightful as we learned that most projects (I think it was a number above 60 %), especially here in Europe, are in a stable and ongoing state and have  no plans to give up on Smalltalk any time soon. The estimated remaining time for the use of Smalltalk in these projects waseither above 3 years or even longer.

Also very interesting was the fact that in UK the percentage of projects with new developments going on in VA Smalltalk and not yet being productive was quite high, while the rest of the VA Smalltalk world is dominated by projects in production, partly long-running projects started back in the early nineties.

They had also asked THE QUESTION: Is your porject going to be rewritten in another technology, and if so, which technology do you plan to use. It seems the wave for such projects has lost it’s power. The dominant technology for rewrites unsurprisingly was Java, but the percentage of projects planning or currently attempting a rewrite was quite low.

One last thing I remember form the presentation is that Instantiations’ Smalltalk related revenues have grown over 20% in 2008. Mike also added in the final Q&A session that this business has grown ever since Instantiations took over VA Smalltalk from IBM.

John O’Keefe on VA Smalltalk Version 8

This talk was mainly a refresh on the talks on the new Version 8 that he’d been giving at Smalltalk Solutions, ESUG and the VA Smalltalk Forum Europe last year. There were more details on the planned agenda for releases after 8.0. Currently there is a plan for two followup releases which is somewhat driven by the availability of Seaside Version 2.9. One important change in one of these two releases is the support of Unicode throughout the system. Sounds like this is quite a piece of work. While I was expecting to just be confronted with another “V8 will be available real soon now” announcement, John surprised us with the announcement of immediate availability of V8. And indeed it was available for download only a few hours later.

Ernest Micklei and Soemirno Kartosoewito on their first VAST/Seaside-Application

The guys at Nationaal Spaarfonds didn’t want to wait any longer and used V8 Beta 1 to implement their first production application in Seaside. It’s a pet claims project that will go into production in the next few weeks. They showed the application and some of the nice jQuery tricks to provide instant input validation feedback in the browser. A very nice implementation because the validation code is only implemented once on the server, and not twice, like in many AJAX applications. While the applicatiohn itself doesn’t look spectacular I find it impressive because it’s not an internal application but it will be accessible for customers. Not really a heavy-load application, but going into the wild….
Their experiences with Seaside on VAST were good enough to make them consider the use of it for more applications in the future. Good news!

Adriaan van Os on VASTGoodies.com

Adriaan has been the very first to put a Seaside/VAST application live. His idea was to provide a place where open source code for VA Smalltalk can be exchanged and made available. The hope here is that we’ll see more open source code appear for VAST and that a lot of the already existing code that’s currently spread widely over the web will gather in one place. This is a very helpful and important initiative, in my opinion. And there already are quite a few submissions available at vastgoodies.

Sebastian Heidbrink on Integrating VAST via Web Services and MQSeries

Sebastian gave an overview of a project his company is doing for a Bank in Germany. It’s a long-standing Smalltalk Application that had started as a fat client application implemented in Enfin, and is now a so-called Process-Server implemented in VA Smalltalk, serving all kinds of specialised clients all over the bank.
Their Integration vehicle is a set of Web Services, including some generic services for retrieval and update of generic datasets, allowing for new applications to be built very fast.
Overall it seems the system works very well and will be alive for quite a while into the future.

Joachim Tuchel on RESTful Web Services in VA Smalltalk

I had the honor to open day two with a presentatuion on RESTful Web Services, their lightweight nature and clean design based on existing HTTP standards. I tried to show that RESTful Web Services can be a very straightforward technology for a lot of typical integration or scaling scenarios within a corporate IT environment. RESTful Web Services are everywhere on the web, and VA Smalltalk can be used to access all these “Web 2.0” Services very easily. I finished with a little demo of a RESTful Web Services Client which was used in a little fat client application and insidea Seaside-based Web Application. I wanted to show that this combination can be used to provide mashups of existing services in Smalltalk pretty easily.
The last demo was a RESTful Server which serves todo-lists of users.
The demo went quite well, and I was surprised to see that I had 47 registered listeners. Unfortunately, not everything went perfect: the server demo crashed on the last thing I wanted to show (so I had luck here), and Tina told me afterwards that the recording started somewhere in the middle of the presentation. So we’ll see whether I’ll record it again… oh well…
The slides of my presentation are available at http://www.objektfabrik.de/Downloads/VASTSummit2009/VAST_RESTful_WS.html (The landing page is in german, but the slides are in english – just click on the slide picture to download the pdf)

I was distracted by some stuff in real life so that I didn’t listen to most of the next two sessions

Diane Engles on Web Services Improvements in VA Smalltalk 8

Diane gave an overview of all the improvements and extensions to the Web Services Feature of VAST 8. She showed samples of the new WSDL styles supported and gave tips for debugging and diagnosing web services. In the middle of this presentation I had to do something else…

Bob Whitefield on genetic algorhithms

Unfortunately, I missed this one almost completely, although I was logged on and saw some slides on the screen while I was hacking on something else.

Martin McClure on Gemstone

Martin gave a brief introduction into Gemstone/S and the Gembuilder for VA Smalltalk. It’s cool to see what the guys at Gemstone have built there. It’s really easy to write an application without caring for persistence and having the ability to simple “send” performance-critical lookups onto the object server. I liked the presentation because it answered some questions for me in a very short time. Martin did a great job of demonstrating the benefits of Gemstone/S.

Q&A Session with all Instantiations presenters

There was way too much discussed in this session to summarize it here. The most important things for me were:

  • Instantiations is making a significant percentage of their revenues with VA Smalltalk. This means the product has its future at Instantiations
  • The Composition Editor will not be forgotten when new developments for new widgets etc. are implemented. This is important for customers herein europe where WindowBuilder is not very widespread…
  • WindowBuilder (the Smalltalk one) is a profitable product in itself and will very likely remain a separate product (Which I consider a good thing, although I like WindowBuilder)
  • Lots of more stuff

My summary

I liked the Summit and I’ve learned a lot. I hope we’ll have such an event again. I’d like to thank the guys at Instantiations for making this happen, and a special thanks goes to Tina for her support in preparation of the talks and of course for her assistance during all the event. I know such events give you sleepless nights and influence your blood-pressure in odd ways.

If you missed one or even all of the presentations, don’t worry: Instantiations will put them on their website soon, so that you can listen to and watch them.