05/12/2021

032 – Object-oriented programming – 1970

Forward to PC Moments 033
Back to PC Moments 031 – Back to PC Moments Index
Back to Anecdotes

Simple things should be simple; complex things should be possible.  Alan Kay

Alan Kay graduated from Colorado in mathematics and molecular biology.  He acquired his master’s and PhD at Utah, where he was inspired by Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad drawing program.

Kay worked on ARPA research and developed FLEX software, flexible extendable language, and the FLEX Machine, an early desktop computer.  FLEX drew upon Engelbart’s graphics user interface, pointing device and multiple screen windows, and on Sutherland’s work to add high-resolution graphics and animation.  It was an early object-oriented operating programming system.

During the project Kay encountered both LOGO and LISP when he met Seymour Papert.  This helped him define Dynabook which was a computer designed for children – of all ages!  He presented it at one of Taylor’s ARPA conferences but it was not well received.  Yet its description was a pretty accurate definition of today’s laptops, tablet PCs and eBooks.

Projects on Dynabook would each be considered as a piece of paper which would be piled on a desk with only the topmost fully visible.  This of course became the ‘desktop’ metaphor that we use today.

Kay joined PARC in 1970, still hoping to develop the Dynabook, but first he produced Smalltalk to use the graphical environments, that PARC developed, to the full.

Smalltalk was the first software language to be fully object-oriented and first to include overlapping windows.  Object-oriented programming designs programs and applications by referring to objects, which are coherent functions or procedures.  The program needs only reference the ‘object’ and then its discrete functions are useable.

This first manifestation of the language was referred to as Smalltalk-71; after several changes it became Smalltalk-80.  This was the first version to be released outside PARC and supplied to Apple, DEC, HP and others for evaluation.  It shaped the Apple Lisa and Macintosh computers.  In 1998 ANSI Smalltalk became the de facto standard for the language.

At PARC Butler Lampson and Chuck Thacker produced a mid 1972 report ‘A Personal Computer with Micro-parallel Processing’ and then approached Alan Kay offering to build the Dynabook.  The project actually led to the launch of the Xerox Alto, not the Dynabook; Kay described it as an interim Dynabook.

1976 Still searching for a route to create his Dynabook, Kay inspired Larry Tesler, Adele Goldberg and Douglas Fairbairn to look at the concept afresh.  The outcome was NoteTaker, a direct descendant of Alto with a subset of its capabilities.  It was planned to be portable and laptop-sized.  The project also utilised MPUs rather than Alto’s TTL circuitry.

Goldberg and Douglas Fairbairn to look at the concept afresh.  The outcome was NoteTaker, a direct descendant of Alto with a subset of its capabilities.  It was planned to be portable and laptop-sized.  The project also utilised MPUs rather than Alto’s TTL circuitry.

It was designed to have a floppy drive and a mouse and used the variant Smalltalk-78. The final styling for the NoteTaker made it resemble a portable sewing machine and it was more accurately described as a ‘luggable’, weighing 48lbs (22kg).  Just ten were built at c$50,000 each. Never offered outside PARC, it influenced both the Osborne 1 and the Compaq Portable designs.

Kay moved to Atari as chief scientist, later still he became an Apple Fellow and also worked with Walt Disney Imagineering.  Then he became involved in the One Laptop Per Child project, using a computer design that draws on Dynabook concepts.

Forward to PC Moments 033
Back to PC Moments 031 – Back to PC Moments Index
Back to Anecdotes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *