JavaScript is the new Smalltalk

Joe Gregorio

Regular readers are quite tired of me pointing to this video, Alan Kay: The Computer Revolution hasn't happend yet. Keynote OOPSLA 1997, but I think it's quite fundamental to understand that Alan Kay had a vision for the web, and though his understanding of the role of HTML in the world of 1996 was flawed, it seems the collective web has spent the last ten years building exactly what he described, with HTML/SVG being the display substrate and JavaScript being the code to drive that display. Ten years later we have the Lively Kernel:

The Sun Labs Lively Kernel is a new web programming environment developed at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. The Lively Kernel supports desktop-style applications with rich graphics and direct manipulation capabilities, but without the installation or upgrade hassles that conventional desktop applications have. The system is written entirely in the JavaScript programming language, a language supported by all the web browsers, with the intent that the system can run in commercial web browsers without installation or any plug-in components. The system leverages the dynamic characteristics of the JavaScript language to make it possible to create, modify and deploy applications on the fly, using tools built into the system itself. In addition to its application execution capabilities, the Lively Kernel can also function as an integrated development environment (IDE), making the whole system self-sufficient and able to improve and extend itself dynamically.

Lively will seem vaguely familiar to you if you've ever run Smalltalk. That's not an accident:

The idea of the Lively Kernel was inspired in part by the success of the Squeak Smalltalk programming environment. In this regard, we owe a debt to all the people who designed that system. The specific choice of a Morphic-style graphics architecture was inspired by the simplicity of such an architecture manifested originally in the Self system and later in the Squeak system.

The irony of this being developed at Sun (Sun! Those Java people!) will not be lost on the former-bitter-ibm-smalltalker contingent.

JavaScript, it's the new Smalltalk.

Not to mention the fact that one of the lead developers of Lively is Dan Ingalls.

Posted by Giovanni on 2008-01-29

I've been thinking about this myself, and wrote this post with that in mind: -- but I think HTML/SVG/Javascript is substantially different than the world of live networked objects that I think Alan Kay suggests.

Posted by Ian Bicking on 2008-01-29

"JavaScript is the new Smalltalk" I must admit, I read that title as an insult to JavaScript.

Posted by GuruJ on 2008-01-29

the smalltalk crowd didn't get angry they got even... well they did get angry for a while. but just look at Eclipse- its the smalltalk alumnus club. conversational application development, with message passing, was partly hamstrung by network speeds. local and semi/remote objects couldn't deliver a seamless experience. this time around the network context is different. and messaging is the new black.

Posted by James Governor on 2008-01-29

Realize that SUN contains most of the old Self people, so it's not as strange as it seems.

Posted by Ola Bini on 2008-01-29


the smalltalk crowd didn't get angry they got even... well they did get angry for a while.

Not quite over it :) What amazed me most is that in 2007 when I worked at IBM it was going on ten years later and Smalltalk vs Java was still a strong undercurrent in the company.

Posted by Joe on 2008-01-29

Dan Ingalls gave a talk in the Stanford EE Computer Systems Colloquium on the Lively Kernel 1/16/2008. The talk can be viewed over the web using Windows Media Player by clicking on the video camera icon at The talk is also available in the Stanford section of iTunes.

Posted by Dennis on 2008-01-30

Hi Joe, Take a look at the WSO2 Mashup Server .. its an environment to execute server-side Javascript code basically. We have an online hosted version you can try out at Sanjiva.

Posted by Sanjiva Weerawarana on 2008-01-31

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