On TRON and Steve Jobs and the Software Internet


Recently, Alan Kay led me to watch this:

I found it illuminating. I didn’t know that there were two degrees of separation between the movie TRON and Smalltalk. Bonnie MacBird was the original author of the science fiction story in TRON, and she became the wife of Alan Kay, who as we all know is the father of Smalltalk. Together, they worked on the film. Why is this significant? Read the Smalltalk article I published on December 14, 2015: Who uses Smalltalk?

Some while back, they recovered a rare file from an E-Dump at Xerox containing one of the earlier versions of Smalltalk. This was the version that Steve Jobs saw in his famous visit to PARC in 1979. Such a discovery is rather like an archaeologist uncovering the ancient tomb of Pharaoh. A vital piece of history, indeed.

But I wanted to draw attention to Alan Kay’s explanation of the philosophy behind Smalltalk and how it portends the future of computing…


Smalltalk is a Software Internet

A parallel to the ARPA Internet ideas: virtual computers universally connected through virtual networks.

There are only objects (objects are made from objects, the network is made from objects, etc.).

(No applications, no file system, just synergies of the virtual computers.)

The language is the language of messages between objects.

Some objects act as places for making combinations of objects.

Objects may be viewed at a place and be integrated with each other.


This is a beautiful way to view computing, and its application to modern software development is amazingly powerful. And scalable! (The proof is in the JWARS battle simulation software that was written in a million lines of Smalltalk code by the U.S. military in the early 2000s.)

What a great tragedy if this view of computing were ignored or overlooked just because the world is so inured to files and folders, to endless reams of source code residing in text files, to GitHub and Emacs and Visual Studio, and to C-style syntax and brace brackets!