Python and Smalltalk (Was: Re: Comparison between Python and "Ruby")

Doug Way dway at
Thu Nov 4 01:43:06 CET 1999

In article <slrn81ve6m.l1c.neelk at>,
  neelk at wrote:
> Python (and Ruby, for that matter) remind me more of Smalltalk than
> anything else -- ie, they have extensive libraries, a community with a
> love of elegance but not of purity[*], and a greater focus on
> applications than on academic research.
> The differences are that there's less of a closed-world attitude in
> Python than in the ST world, though -- Python can be used for sysadmin
> work where ST (even Squeak) wouldn't be a natural fit. But on the flip
> side Smalltalk has always had a stronger focus on UI and dev
> environments.  This is changing, though -- the ST culture is beginning
> to value the ability to deal with the world outside the system image,
> and Guido's latest enthusiasm is "computer programming for everybody"
> (which is a very ST-ish sort of idea).
> Neel

Smalltalk is sort of on the "other side" of Python from Perl in a lot of
ways.  Smalltalk's syntax is considerably pared down from even Python's
not-too-complex syntax.  In other words, if you hate Perl, you might
really like Smalltalk. :-)  (Randal Schwartz might disagree with me
here, 'cause I know he's on the Squeak list...)

I agree with Neel about the differences that exist.  Python does
interact with the outside world better, but Smalltalk's dev tools really
are great, and are easy to tweak to suit your own needs, since
everything's written in Smalltalk and the source is right there.

>From a historical point of view, Smalltalk is a little like Lisp, in
that it's a little outside of the mainstream, but it has enough new
ideas in it that will give it a very long lifespan.  Smalltalk will
still be relevant 20 years from now, just as Lisp-based languages are
still reasonably relevant today, after 40 years.  I suppose "having a
lot of new ideas" and "being a little outside of the mainstream" go hand
in hand.  (Smalltalk isn't *that* obscure, though... there are more
Smalltalk programming jobs available than, say, Python or Lisp jobs.)

Contrast this with a mainstream language like Java, which will have a
huge spike in popularity for a few years, but since it's mostly just a
cleaned-up version of another language (C++), it won't be cutting-edge
for very long.  Which isn't to say that it will dissappear, just that it
will be easier to replace with something better as the new "King of the
Mainstream Programming Languages" in a few years.

In any case, Smalltalk is definitely worth exploring if you're looking
at programming languages similar to Python.  See,, etc.

- Doug Way
  EAI/Transom Technologies, Ann Arbor, MI
  dway at,

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