Temporary exile

If Smalltalk Can Squeak, Why Can't Ruby Rumble?

Amongst all my dabbling with Ruby, I have taken some time to compare the Ruby on Rails MVC stuff with the original Smalltalk implementation found in the Squeak VM. Now, I’m really not familiar enough with the Squeak MVC stuff to comment, but I did stumble across this well-though-out blog post entitled, ”My Full-Circle Journey Back to Smalltalk”. In this post, the author (Ken Treis) tells the story of his experimentation with the many languages of web development and (as the title implies) his eventual return to the world of Smalltalk. He goes on to identify eights places where he feels that Ruby missed the boat. While all of these are really interesting points for consideration and discussion, the sixth point talks about how, in terms of live interaction, nothing beats Smalltalk workspaces. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, I agree with that. I learned early-on with Python that it’s nice to have an interactive interpreter, but irb doesn’t provide anything near the features of workspaces. With a workspace, you can highlight any code fragment, snippet or statement and have it evaluated. Also, because the entire environment is Smalltalk-powered the code can meaningfully interact with anything and everything. Want details on a given object? Pop up a menu and the “inspect” option pulls up an object inspection windowthat lets you take a direct peek at the object’s internals. Need a different perspective? A browser offers an ideal way to take a more structured look at the environment and it’s contents (notice the similarity to RDoc generated documentation). Workspaces even integrate with the Refactoring Browser to help clean up your code! In fact, I can’t think of any editing environment that offers the same level of flexibility as workspaces save for one editor: Emacs. Now, before I get flamed, I am a pretty big Emacs fan. Except for when I’m hacking with KDevelop, it’s really my default editor. That being said, I want to make a point by drawing a parallel: While the base of Emacs is written in C, eveything about the editing environment is written in Emacs Lisp. As a result Emacs is the best editor for Lisp and Lisp-like languages. The similarity I’m trying to point out is that the best development environments are those which are expressly aware of the language being developed within them. The easiest and best way to achieve such integration is to implement the environment in the language itself (i.e. Squeak in Smalltalk and Emacs in Lisp). I imagine a new development environment, which I will refer to as “Rumble”. Rumble should be written entirely in Ruby and it should borrow the best elements in both design and features from Smalltalk workspaces. I imagine that the Rumble environment provide both the educational and exploratory opportunities that exist within the Squeak world. This way, just like extensions to Emacs are written in elisp, extensions and improvements to Rumble could be written in Ruby. If we had such a development environment, I feel that it would add tremendously to the appeal of Ruby as it makes it an even more compelling platform. Who’s with me?

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