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Why Apple and Microsoft can’t touch Squeak Smalltalk

Life in Mac / Windows

Software is hard… and buggy.  We all know that.  Unfortunately, in mainstream systems, there’s very little we can do about it, except maybe file a bug that disappears into the bureaucracy of a major corporation, probably never to be heard from again.

The Squeak Life

I’m using an application called ScriptManager to keep some simple notes.  Here’s a little screenshot:

Now as software is wont to do, as soon as I went to save a profound (and long) note, an error occurred:

“What the heck is that!?” you say.  “I can get cryptic error messages quite easily in Windows, thank you very much.”  Except, this is no ordinary error message – it’s a debugger opened on the application’s code, so I can see exactly what went wrong.  I can do this because all code – from the lowest level graphics and file libraries, to whole applications – is available to me to change as I please.  And it’s all in the same simple, revolutionary (old) language – Smalltalk.  I don’t have to chase the application’s C++ to the libraries’ C to… well what difference does it make – I would’ve given up already.

But in Squeak, within 2 minutes, I had fixed the error and recovered my note.

You see, by flipping through the call stack, the debugger showed me exactly which object had gone south.  I was able to open and inspect this object in another tool:

It was immediately obvious that a nil entry had been stored in a set, which is not allowed.  Right in the tool, I was able to delete the key:

And I was back on track – no work lost!  How does that compare to your last error in OS X or Windows?

n.b. I was using a variant of Squeak called Pharo.  All this info applies to all versions of Squeak.

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