Antony Blakey's Efforts on VisualWorks

The end of LLVM/WebKit VW integration and layout improvements.:

"Over the last 18 months or so I've put a lot of work into enhancing VisualWorks with WebKit integration, GCCXML, and later LLVM integration, as well as improving the GUI layout system. I've stopped development on these projects, primarily because there seems to be no external interest in these projects."

I am really sad that Antony Blakey is going to stop work on the GUI layout improvements for VisualWorks. His work actually made the VisualWorks UI pleasant and usable. Here's a screenshot to illustrate what I mean.

VisualWorks 7.6 on Mac
On the left is the version enhanced with Antony's packages. And on the right is the original UI look of VisualWorks for the Mac. Notice how the tabs, find menu bar and the fonts look so out-of-place for the version on the right. And notice how they look more native for the version on the left. If you just glanced at this you might not find them to be much different but if you had to use the layout everyday, which would you actually prefer?

I am glad that he has pushed his GUI layout work onto the Cincom public repository so we could actually look at it and modify them as necessary. A cursory glance reviews that all of the code is written in Smalltalk without the need for calling C code. So there is the possibility that I can actually decipher the code and make changes if necessary. I am not an expert on VisualWorks so this might still prove to be rather challenging.

On the other hand, while I am definitely impressed by his work on LLVM/WebKit integration, I am not sure if I have the right level of knowledge to hop on board and contribute. I definitely would like to and perhaps after a year of using VisualWorks I would be able to. But right now, I wouldn't be of much help. Moreover, if I read his blog entries on these subjects correctly, the LLVM/WebKit integration involves diving into the VM source code and actually changing the internals of the system. I think it even requires a custom version of the VM. Also, he hasn't pushed all of his work on LLVM/WebKit integration onto the store (he has an interesting article on why the Cincom public store is not really suitable for collaborative development)

Most people might argue that the VisualWorks UI is actually much better than the one for Squeak with all its colorful windows and non-standard layout. But here's a quote that exemplifies what UI design (taken literally as a quote like I would from Shakespeare with none of all the mumbo jumbo of religion):

"So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. – Revelation 3:16"

So the Squeak UI isn't all that bad. It's different enough that your mind just accepts it as being different. On the other hand, the standard VisualWorks UI for OS X tries to blend in but does it in a way that is just lukewarm... This isn't to say that the Squeak UI or the VisualWorks UI can't be improved on....

In short, I am really impressed by Antony Blakey's efforts. He definitely has some radical ideas for improving (modernizing?) Smalltalk, hence, the title of his blog: "The creation of a new order of things". I will definitely continue to monitor his future work on Smalltalk.

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