ESUG 2013: My Personal Reprise


I’m back from the 2013 European Smalltalk User’s Conference in Annecy, France. I’m still tired and in the middle of recreation, but I must say it once again was well worth travelling there.

esug2013-logoFirst of all, I’d like to say a special thank you to the organizers of the event: We’ve had a great time in Annecy, the conference went smoothly, food was good, there were rooms to spend some time with your laptop, friends or just some coffee as well as electric outlets all over the place. The student volunteers were very helpful and the whole thing went just great. If anything is to be criticized, I’d have wished for more detailed travel information ahead of the event. It seems quite a few people had problems finding the right web site to search for bus connections from Geneva or Lyon Airport to Annecy etc. The social event on the lakeshore was great, we’ve had good wine, beer, and some good music. The weather gods were at least friendly enough to keep us dry, although by 10pm sitting outside required some iron man attitude.

The conference was well attended with 111 attendees, around 25 of which were there for the first time.

There were lots of good talks, and I couldn’t attend all of them. I’ll mention a few of my favourites here:

GemTalk Systems gave about the same presentation they gave at STIC earlier this year, but it was extremely impressive to hear them talk about some of their customer projects. They seem to be the first Smalltalk vendor who can really share their most interesting success stories, like a chip manufacturer whose software is only allowed to be down for 30 minutes a year for maintenance on christmas. They made very clear that Gemstone/S is here to stay and runs the very core of quite a few very big businesses. James Foster’s presentation of his cloudFoundry stuff to get Smalltalk into the cloud with very little effort was impressive as well. I couldn’t see Dale’s presentation of tODE, but I heard lots of good stuff about it and also had the chance to chat with Dale over a cup of coffee one day.

One of the talks I had been looking forward to was Niall’s tutorial on Glorp and less obvious ways to use it for complex jobs. He had prepared much more material than we could handle, but I had some enlightening moments on what you can do in a Glorp Query to put much more work out of the Smalltalk Image and have the DB do the heavy lifting for more complex queries. Niall was so kind to help me with a query afterwards that seemed easy in SQL but I couldn’t figure out how to do that in Glorp. Did you know you can nest Glorp Queries? What a cool feature…

Instantiations announced the immediate availability of VA Smalltalk 8.6 and presented the new features as well as their roadmap for upcoming versions. It seems they’re coming to the end of some of the less impressive yet so important features like an improved installation procedure on Windows and Unix, so that this area will finally stop using developer cycles that could be used for so much of other stuff. The most impressive thing JOhn O’Keefe demoed was the new scintilla-based editor support they’ve added to the Windows version. This enables cool new stuff like code folding, tooltips with the contents of variables in the debugger and lots of more good things. I took the opportunity to discuss with John about a few ideas of what could be done to use scintilla for things other than Smalltalk code. So let’s see what comes out of that.

Speaking of improved text editors in Smalltalk IDEs: it seems this is a common topic on all platforms. We’ve seen Cincom’s Text2, Bernard Piebers improved text widget for Cuis/Squeak and some more work being done on the Pharo text panes. So it seems the day of arguments like “a Smalltalk method shouldn’t be longer than 6 lines, so who cares?” are finally over. Good news. It never was true and never will be, and Smalltalk is not self-contained any more. We interface a lot to things that require us to read and edit files in all kinds of formats.

Cincom’s new GUI framework looks like a great means of writing GUIs on Windows. IN general, this ESUG conference gave me the impression that Cincom has finally understood the value of ObjectStudio for their customers. A few years ago, it seemed like Cincom was planning to get rid of it by trying to pursuade customers to move to VisualWorks. I didn’t have this impression any more. And I guess ObjectStudio is going to have its chance for a good time in the light of Windows coming to tablets and stuff ( I am not talking about RT here) real soon now. The building blocks therefor are in place.

What else? In the “Show us your project” sessions, we’ve seen that there is a lot of interesting stuff going on in Smalltalk, both in terms of improved tools and frameworks that developers will soon love, but also in end-user oriented products. For me the most interesting was Sabine’s project called Spesenfuchs.de, a new web site for managing travel expenses. This was so interesting for me because I am in about the same stage in the development of kontolino.de, a web based accounting system for small business in Germany. We talked about some interesting ways to connect our systems for our users’ benefits. Did I mention I also showed a glimpse of kontolino for the first time in public at the conference?

One thing that became very obvious at this year’s ESUG was that the Pharo project is running on full steam. We’ve seen so many projects that either provide new improvements to Pharo or use the environment for new tools and products. The team is really caring about the infrastructure for builds of Pharo itself as well as integration of projects into the product. There is a lot of research in europe that uses Pharo and I’ve talked to a few people who use Pharo for commercial work. So Pharo has moved fast and it is not slowing down. The group around the Pharo board also makes sure the reach into academia in europe and on other continents rises. Speaking to people from the U.S., I got the impression the epicenter of Smalltalk (and dynamic languages) has long moved to Europe.

A tool that I plan to take a closer look at real soon is BeachParasol. The demo looked great! I’m a big fan of unit testing and build automation and stuff, but the web browser side of things was always a missing piece in the mosaic. Selenium was always promising, but it adds to the complexity of a project’s technology stack. BeachParasol seems to close a big gap here.

Exclusive ESUG-Beer from a local brewery
Sometimes, even Boolean decisions are hard😉

ESUG can be hard work, but it is always fun!

There was so much good stuff that I didn’t mention here, but the very best thing of ESUG was once again the chance to get in touch with people. Stef said in it’s opening presentations: “If you come to ESUG and only talk to old friends: you FAIL!”. He’s so right. It is so incredibly inspiring to speak to people and learn what they do and how they do it. It can be so enlightening to find out somebody has just solved the very same problem you gave up on. It’s so great to shake hands with the guy who just showed you the right direction to search for a solution on the mailing list – even though you’d never met in person. I met so many nice people and shared some insight, ignorance, anecdotes and lots more with them.

I could also start talking about the great food and french wine, both of which I enjoyed more than I probably should.
But hey, you better come next year and see for yourself!

So here is a list of interesting links if you want to see what you’ve missed or make sure you’ll be part of it next year: