Smalltalk Metaverse

I’ve just been watching a very interesting presentation (by Julian Lombardi and Preston Austin) on the Croquet Project. From their website,

Croquet is a combination of open source computer software and network architecture that supports deep collaboration and resource sharing among large numbers of users. Such collaboration is carried out within the context of a large-scale distributed information system. The software and architecture define a framework for delivering a scalable, persistent, and extensible interface to network delivered resources.

Have you read Neal Stephenson‘s Snowcrash? If you have, well, Croquet aims to be the Metaverse implemented in Smalltalk (if you haven’t, please do). More concretely, Croquet runs inside Squeak, a, mmm, peculiar Smalltalk implementation. I’ve tried a couple of times to get it, but to no avail. Maybe it’s because i find the environment somewhat childish. But then, i remember i had a hard time at first getting The Little/Seasoned Schemer books for exactly the same reason, and nowadays i’m recommending them to everyone and her brother.

Come to think of it, Squeak (and Smalltalk) is a programmer’s dream come true: it puts under your fingertips a live, integrated environment where you can access and modify in real time the source code running the system. Isn’t it that the reason why we admire Lisp Machines? Or the one that makes living into emacs so pleasant?

On top of that, Croquet builds what could be the future of our interaction with computers. Add to the integrated and life Squeak environment 3D worlds shared via P2P by any number of users, including all kinds of multimedia bells and whistles, without centralised servers. The presentation includes a demo of, ahem, two interacting avatars. It completely escapes me how on Earth the system will scale, but the claim is that the underlying network infrastructure is ready to live up the challenge… using protocols and technologies described in David P. Reeds dissertation, dated (and this is not a typo) October 1978. If that’s true, i wonder what have we been doing all these years.

Precisely that stagnation is one of the main drives of the Croquet people: we’re using the same desktop/document metaphor that the Xerox guys invented in the 70s and Apple (which, by the way, seems to be interested in Croquet) made mainstream during the 80s. They think we need to go beyond that. The problem is, of course, finding the right direction. But know what? The mind behind Squeak and Croquet is Alan Kay (who, as you probably know, besides many other things, invented the overlapping-windows interface and object oriented programming), so maybe you should stop reading my ramblings and go learn some Smalltalk. Afterwards, you can take advantage of this recently published step by step Squeak tutorial, followed by Introduction to Basic Croquet Programming and Basic 3D Programming in Croquet.

I may give it a try a third time one of these days, during my copious free time.

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One Response to “Smalltalk Metaverse”

  1. ozone Says:

    Jao,
    come to think of it, if Croquet ressembles the Metaverse then Squeak is, at least in its intention, the “Illustrated Primer” from “The Diamond Age”, also by Neal Stephenson.
    Keep up the good work!


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