Why the release of VAST Platform 2023 may matter much more than you think

Yesterday Instantiations announced the release of their latest build of VAST Platform 2023 (internal version number 12.0.1). As you can tell from the version number, it is a release that fixes a few problems that were found in their 12.0.0 version released earlier this year.

You can read all details about the release on Instantiations’ website.

But wait, the most interesting thing is this part of the product roadmap which was updated along with this new relase:

Multi-year GTK development begins


Work has begun on the GTK® framework for improving the look/feel and development experience on Linux®. GTK will provide a better path forward for more visual capabilities and eventually enable VAST compatibility on platforms beyond Windows and Linux.  
(Potential feature for VAST 2025)

This is really exciting. I personally use Windows for one single purpose: develop my Smalltalk code. The reason is simple: Instantiations has introduced so many fine improvements to the VAST development environemt since about Version 9, like the wonderful scintilla component for text editor widgets, color syntax and many more. But these improvements couldn’t be ported to the dated motif libraries that lay the foundation of VAST platform on unices like Linux, Solaris, AIX etc. So development on Linux is a bit clumsy compared to Windows.

I’ve been using Windows exclusively for VAST, which means installing and upgrading the host O/S as well as Windows, working with one of the worst operating systems imaginable and wasting about 3 CPU kernels just for running VAST.

Not to mention that we’ll be able to write nice, modern GUIs for Linux again!
And there is another hint in this paragraph, which is not a promise, just a possible option ta look at: there seems to be a bunch of people looking into GTK for Android. VAST has added support for ARM processors on Linux with VAST 11 and on Windows with VAST 12. This was possible due to their migration to a new VM technology with VAST 10, that opens a path to new CPU architectures. So you can do the math on what options this may open, with RISC-V on the horizon and more and more ARM-based machines in the server, iot and handheld markets. I suspect this is also related to another possible long-term tickmark on the roadmap: macOS. Not that I have any insight on this, but since GTK runs on macOS, I think it is worth holding our breath for a successful port to GTK for the fine guys at Instantiations.

Let me put it this way: Instantiations has made some substantial investment in a new VM architecture in order to support 64 bits a few years ago, made a lot of enhancements to many libraries and added new features at an impressive pace sind version 9. These opened interesting new options like ARM support for Servers and gadgets like Raspi.

But all of this can be a foundation to bringing Smalltalk back to some of its core strengths that were the foundation of its initial success in the nineties, when the OOP programming space was more or less en par between C++ and Smalltalk:

  • Effortless portability of your code between operating systems and architectures (think Windows, OS/2, AIX, MVS and AS/400 with one code base)
  • Easy GUI building for fast prototyping and explorative programming
  • Seemless transition between prototyping and “real” programing
  • “Fast enough” execution speed for GUI programs and server application (dramatically improved since the 2000’s)

Let’s imagine VAST one day offers a similar level of portability like flutter or Kotlin Multiplatform…. Back in the days when IBM pushed VisualAge Smalltalk, this was the biggest strength of VAST: you could write code once and run it (almost) anywhere. Somehow, the Smalltalk vendors fell behind on this field after Java took the slogan and market, but it seems we might see a strong comeback here.