Saturday, April 14, 2007

Delusions of skill and of grandeur

Industry pundits like Guy Kawasaki, Michael Arrington, and other respected, successful people who have achieved fame and fortune dismissed Smalltalk in the 70s and 80s. Virtual machines? Garbage collection? Integrated development environments? Clearly, this had no place in business computing. You know why? Too slow. Too weird. And, actually, too innovative for their pea-brains to recognize the significance of. Respected industry pundits knew that serious business computing had to be done using serious systems programming languages like C, assembly language, or C++. Now no one would think of developing a business application that has to be rapidly brought to market in a language that wasn’t garbage-collected, and, if at all possible, dynamically typed. What was useless academic research is now common sense. Now Ruby, an interesting rehash of Smalltalk ideas into a form more palatable to people used to C-style syntax, is the shit for creating web applications and enterprise integration.

Arrington and the rest of the Web 2.0 echo chamber nitwits think they know what’s innovative and where things are going. They don’t and they never have. They have no appreciation of the fact that they owe their entire careers to the work of people in academic and industry labs. The TCP/IP stack and the Internet; GUIs, the WIMP interface, and pointing devices; IDEs; garbage collection; virtual machines; relational databases; dynamic typing (Michael Arrington doesn’t know what many of those things actually are, of course); all of this comes from people with PhDs at places like Berkeley, MIT, IBM, and Xerox. When they create it, it is useless and worthless. Twenty years later, navel-gazing pundits like Michael Arrington are confronted by the fact that they have become essential in creating computer software. It then becomes common sense and it’s perfectly OK to take credit for the things done in labs by forgotten names long ago.

Where is the praise for the real innovators like Alan Kay? Kay’s work with Smalltalk and human factors strongly influenced nearly everything we consider essential today. But Michael Arrington doesn’t care about Alan Kay or any of the other people responsible for the stuff that is now his livelihood. Does Alan Kay work at Google? Does he have a me-too startup with a faux-reflecty logo and an Ajax chat application in beta? No? Then forget him.

1 comment:

wpbarr said...

And Alan owes everything to Doug Engelbart and Dahl & Nygaard.