[Edu-sig] Alan Kay - another one of his ideas

Ian Bicking ianb at colorstudy.com
Wed Jul 12 06:14:35 CEST 2006

Paul D. Fernhout wrote:
> Gregor Lingl wrote:
>> The logowiki can be found here:
>> http://www.logowiki.net
> Just as a general comment, running a current Mozilla under Debian 
> (Unstable), with JavaScript turned on, there are no graphics on those 
> pages for me when I click Run. Nothing happens.

You probably don't have support for the <canvas> tag, which is 
relatively new and the only way to do that style of graphics in a web 
browser at this time.  Only very new Firefox and Safari support it, and 
IE has some hacks to make it work which may or may not be enabled.

Of course, it would be good if the site pointed out this limitation, but 
that's entirely feasible to do.

> I don't mean to complain specifically about these pages, just to point out 
> that while the supposed intent here is to make programming available to 
> the masses by using a dumbed down environment like a web browser, in 
> practice, this fails for me. Whereas, when I install Squeak or Python, it 
> works. So, I think Alan Kay may be going in the wrong direction here in 
> some ways, compared to Squeak. Not to say it might not be useful for 
> certain audiences, just that it fails the "everyone" test, at least for me.

A web browser is not a dumbed down environment at all.  While Alan 
described the browser as barely being up to the capabilities of an Apple 
][ (in the email that was linked previously: 
a browser is also wildly more powerful than that.  For dynamically 
creating graphics it is pitiful, with only this very new tag to make it 
feasible at all, and even then only to a very limited audience.  For 
other features -- the features which demonstrably matter to the larger 
world! -- it is quite capable.

The web browser's constraints are significant, but also the source of 
its power.  It gives substantial power to the client to do the rendering 
and to make choices, and very limited control to the content creator. 
This is in contrast to a more "powerful" medium like PDF or PostScript, 
which allows for fine-grained control.  The result is a high level of 
abstraction, and a substantial number of intermediaries (browsers, 
server-side software of many kinds, etc).  I personally prefer the 
compromises HTML made, because it demands open content and has done well 
to create a democratic medium where the skill required to publish is 
fairly low, and it is not hard to achieve a result that is on par with 
the most professional output you might find.

Using Logo Wiki as a way to encourage people to download a plugin would 
be a mistake IMHO.  Putting all your code into a little dead box 
embedded on a web page is pretty lame, and it shows.  There's only two 
kinds of plugins that matter anymore: video (Quicktime, Windows Media, 
etc) and Flash.  And Flash is taking over video too.  Everything else is 
entirely dead (and good riddance!).  Plugins of various kinds have been 
done many, many times, and failed many, many times.  (There's even a 
Logo/Java plugin: http://turtletracks.sourceforge.net/)

OTOH, if you really want fancy output, you want Flash pure and simple. 
I'm glad Logo Wiki is in Javascript and uses the canvas, but if they 
really want more control and graphical power then Flash is the obvious 
next step.

> And of course, the site was also inaccessible when I first learned about 
> it (from Kirby's post to this list I think) from too much demand most 
> likely, so it also failed the cost test. Presumably, they just could not 
> afford to put enough resources into the project for "everyone".

Probably just a misconfiguration or something minor; the architecture 
they use puts all the processing in the client, and can scale easily to 
a very large number of clients.  It's just dead content as far as the 
server can tell.

> I've fought this battle before in other (commercial) situations. The web 
> is good for many things. But if you want a rich client, forcing everything 
> through a web browser involves making big sacrifices which often just 
> often aren't worth it. 

If they don't embrace the medium, then maybe it won't be worth it.  If 
they embrace the DOM -- which is a lousy bitblt, but a great text layout 
system -- then it might be worth it.  If they embrace the DOM and HTML 
forms and HTTP, then they might just get HyperCard, because I'm pretty 
sure it's living in there somewhere waiting to get out.

Ian Bicking  |  ianb at colorstudy.com  |  http://blog.ianbicking.org

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