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July 23, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 12:50pm


By CBR Staff Writer

It’s clearer than ever that the Smalltalk object-oriented programming language is being quickly supplanted by Java with news that ParcPlace-Digitalk Inc, the spiritual home of Smalltalk, will soon to change its name to Objectshare Inc, the name of the tiny 15-person Java shop it scooped up for $3m in July 1996. On August 7th it’s expected to announce as many 50 job losses amongst its 150-strong workforce, a new Java-based product strategy, its name change and some poorly first quarter numbers. It says it won’t abandon its installed base entirely, but can only hope to get new Smalltalk products to market. The company has already abandoned further work on the Digitalk Visual Smalltalk Enterprise (CI No 3,092). As ObjectShare, the 150- person company is turning all of its attention to Java, using the Parts for Java graphical application development system it acquired with that company. Following a disastrous financial 1997 when ParcPlace-Digitalk company lost $22.48m on revenue of $37.28m, CEO Bill Lyons and other senior executives were ousted. Former Simulation Sciences Inc CEO Eugene Goda was installed as CEO, Ron Clear as CFO and Jim Smith as VP worldwide sales on salaries of $200,000, $175,000, and $195,000, respectively on June 10. Jim Anderson, co-founder of Digitalk, the Smalltalk rival which ParcPlace rashly acquired in June 1995 and now CEO of intranet developer Urlysoft Co, still sits on the company’s board. ParcPlace-Digitalk says that sales of [its] products, for the most part Smalltalk programming language, declined in each quarter of fiscal 1997, due in large part to corporate users’ reluctance to make new or additional investments in Smalltalk- based applications. This reluctance correlates to the perception that Java will emerge as the leading programming language. The losses have continued in its first fiscal 1998 and will be reflected in the company’s first quarter results due August 7. It’s done little revenue on Parts for Java so far. Parcplace, founded by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center luminary and Smalltalk co-developer Adele Goldberg, started life as a Xerox spin-off ten years ago. After six years of burning a lot of venture capital the company had a well-received IPO in 1994, enjoyed a brief spell of profitability during the short period object languages other than C++ were being actively considered by the Fortune 500, then started dipping into the red again after the $3m acquisition of fellow Smalltalk development environment player Digitalk, at the end of July 1995. VisualWorks – a cross-platform application development environment – was targeted at Cobol developers put off by C++’s complexity. But the independent Smalltalk vendors enjoyed an all too brief place in the sun before being threatened by IBM’s move into the market, and the wholly unexpected eclipse of familiar enemy C++ by the upstart Java. ParcPlace-Digitalk follows the likes of Gemstone Systems Inc from Smalltalk to Java. ParcPlace-Digitalk shares closed at $1.12 last night.

Universal Virtual Machine

STIC Smalltalk industry council director Randy Best, also president of IBM Corp Smalltalk operation Object Technology International Inc, says Smalltalk’s far from dead, despite ParcPlace-Digitalk’s Java makeover, and that more and more customers – including many within the Swiss banking system – are building Smalltalk production systems. Indeed he says some of ParcPlace-Digitalk’s biggest customers, including a well-known chip-builder are now banging on its door having heard the company is effectively quitting the Smalltalk business. Smalltalk has a very secure future at IBM, he says. He also accuses Java of having committed complete intellectual fraud by appropriating the concepts of Just In Time Compilers and garbage collectors, in fact originally developed by the Smalltalk community. Best says one of the Smalltalk industry’s better hopes is the so-called Universal Virtual Machine being developed by IBM which will provide cross-platform support for Java, Basic and Smalltalk.

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