Pharo and a new Smalltalk

On Quora, I’m often ranting about Smalltalk. And how I’d like to see a “clean-slate” reinvention. Much as Clojure is a clean-slate reinvention of Common Lisp.

Over on this answer I was asked what I think of Pharo.

My response veered off somewhat :

I’ve had a quick look at Pharo. And it’s certainly quite nice. An improvement on Squeak.

But I have a more radical / somewhat idiosyncratic desire. Which I know is probably not something that actual Smalltalk people relate to. But I think it would be a winner.

What I think is, that part of the “cruft” I’d like to see a “blank slate” Smalltalk get rid of, is the “desktop metaphor” and all those silly little overlapping windows, icons, pull out menus etc. Morphic and whatever else.

That doesn’t mean go to something like GNU Smalltalk. No, I still want a live environment that’s Smalltalk all the way down.

I just don’t think anyone wants a desktop metaphor in 2018.

If I’m going to write a “desktop” app, then I don’t want it stuck inside another non-standard app. And if I’m not going to write a “desktop app” I don’t want the overhead of having to think about and implement that kind of interface.

What I think Smalltalk should look like in 2018 is something like Jupyter / iPython notebook. Or, at a pinch, Hypercard.

I open “Smalltalk” (whether that’s a browser-based version equivalent to Amber, LivelyKernel or Peter Fisk ‘s Smalltalk Express, or a desktop version like Pharo or Squeak), and what I see is a “smart notebook” type metaphor :

A single page that takes up the whole window. To which I can start adding “cells” or “cards” containing either code or “literate” styled documentation, or output produced by the code.

You’d still have tools like the Class Browser etc. But they’d be integrated within the same UI. Ie. the class browser is just more “pages” in the notebook. There’s no workspace or transcript because every page can have live code on it.

This UI is immediate. And focused on “do something”. You don’t have to learn how to navigate around a non-standard UI because it’s the conventions we’re already used to from the web and our mobile devices. Navigation between pages, appending “cells” or “cards in the stream” the kind we’re used to in chat apps.

Other UI conventions would be services that look like bots in Slack or Telegram eg. services at a name which can be invoked in a cell on any page through a little dialogue. And there would be notification streams too. “RecentChanges”, recently generated output. Messages from other users (it should be easy to share individual pages with other users)

I think if you took the underlying Smalltalk engine / VM / image. Stripped out all the legacy “desktop UI” stuff, and replaced with a simpler “multi-page notebook” metaphor, then it could be massively more compelling to people. It then becomes a “personal notebook” for doing little sketches / experiments.

If it’s also “social” ie. has chat streams. Or is like the Smallest Federated Wiki. Or has other ways to sync sketches and pages etc. then this would be spectacular.

And the Smalltalk VM / infrastructure is perfect for it.

But right now, anyone who looks into Smalltalk to see what all the fuss is about is confronted with an alien / non-standard ugly desktop, full of unfamiliar tools. Sure, that “Welcome to Pharo” window with all the tabs is an improvement on other systems. But it’s still not good enough.

I open Pharo, and I don’t know what to “do”. How to start playing around and doing something useful and fun.

Microsoft adds Python to Excel

Several years late, it seems M$ is considering making Python native to Excel.

I wrote a … you guessed it … Quora answer as to why this makes sense for Microsoft.

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Python has become massively popular with the data and machine learning communities in the last few years.

Tools like JuPyter are increasingly popular and serious interfaces for data-modellers who previously would have used Excel.

It absolutely makes sense for Microsoft try to embed Excel and itself into that emerging Python data ecosystem by making Python a first-class citizen (ie. default, guaranteed to be there) of Excel.

Not just a third-party add on for those who know about it and can make the effort to install it.

Not only does Python need to be standard within Excel, but access to pip and all the Python libraries needs to be there too. So that Excel becomes the equivalent of Anaconda

That’s the way that M$ can keep Excel relevant in the new data age.

This is not only a good idea for Microsoft. It’s the difference between Excel remaining a major player in data modelling and analysis tools, vs. declining into obscurity.