Common obstacles for Smalltalk newbies


We’ve just finished an interview with Prof. Johannes Brauer of the University of Applied Sciences (FH Nordakademie) in Elmshorn for our next Episode of Smalltalk Inspect, which we hope to release the coming weekend or the one after that (It’s going to be in German, btw.).

Our main topics were  the use of Smalltalk in IT education, the usefulness of the idea of teaching object technologies as a first paradigm and such.

All in all it was a very interesting insight into why and how students start with objects and Smalltalk, how they profit from Smalltalk as a first language and why students might not like using Smalltalk if it’s not used in their company (students of Nordakademie are employees).
I’ve never thought about the didactic importance of the choice of a not-so-well-known programming language in order to avoid  heterogenity in a group, but it’s quite logical …😉

One interesting point we discussed was the question of what makes Smalltalk hard to work with for beginners. Mr. Brauer’s observation was that the (sometimes massive) multi-window setting of a Smalltalk IDE combined with the fact that you cannot leave an unsaved modified method to look at another method in the same class or in the hierarchy and come back to the method later make Smalltalk a beast that’s hard to handle for students.

Both Marten and I immediately had a smile on our face: we think the same.  Both topics have provided the Smalltalk world with long, emotional discussions. Remember James’ idea of displaying multiple methods in a browser?

But let’s face it: other environments are equally complex if not even more complex than Smalltalk and have found not too bad solutions for this.
Look at the latest XCode: There’s a setting that lets you choose between an all-in-one-window and a classical multi-window mode. Take Eclipse: With its Perspectives and Views, it is a good example of what a Smalltalk IDE could (and in my opinion should) look like.

We also briefly discussed how much long-time Smalltalkers might dislike such a new IDE layout, but in the end this could simply be a question of setting a check mark or not.

The same goes for the modality of Smalltalk Browsers. There is an add-on for VisualWorks called DontModeMeIn, written by Vassily Bykov, that lets you leave an open editor and come back later to save your changes. It’s feasible, and it could be a setting in your IDE.

BTW: The podcast Episode will be in German and will be announced here and on its blog.

One thought on “Common obstacles for Smalltalk newbies

  1. Number of windows can be significantly reduced by having “holder” window that can host number of browsers under the tabs. I think that ST/X was first one to introduce them for Smalltalk IDE, and Dolphin Smalltalk Idea Space has made it a very polished and smooth.

    Besides reducing visual clutter, this also helps with unsaved method problem: just open 2 browsers in tabs next to each one and switch between them.

    Looking at the Dolphin IDE (professional) in another areas might also be a good idea, since it still feels to me like pink Cadillac when compared to other Smalltalk IDEs. Ah do I miss Dolphin CHB!

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