August 2007


Aug 11, 2007: 14. Dolphin in coma


Since I still do follow Smalltalk and wrote in BitsAndPieces about it - see About Smalltalk and About Squeak - here is some sad Smalltalk news, with a curious twist about Open Source.

On the VisualWorks list the former main developer of VisualWorks, now elsewhere employed, reproduced a mail of one of the two developers of Dolphin under his own title "Terrible News: Dolphin is Dying".

The summary of it is that Dolphin has been developed for 10 years now as a commercial product, but that it turned out to be not commercially viable, and that it will be maintained for its user-community by its developers and owners, but not further developed nor made open source.

The mail of the Dolphin-developer is, understandably, rather sour about this:

"We have come to this point for a number of reasons, the most potent of which is the fact that it is just not commercially viable (and to be truthful it has never really been so) to continue development of the product.  There are simply not enough people who are able to recognise that Smalltalk offers something much better than the tools and languages "du jour"."


"There will no doubt be a number of you who would suggest that we Open Source Dolphin.  Of course, you are free harbour such opinions and to discuss the idea on the newsgroup but please do not expect us to be persuaded.  It simply will not happen! Both Blair [the other developer and owner of Dolphin - MM] and I dislike the Open Source movement intensely and we would rather see Dolphin gradually disappear into the sands of time than instantly lose all  commercial value in one fell swoop."

For my opinions on this see The Borland Saga (issue: CodeGear): Indeed it must be very difficult these days for a small or not-very-large firm to develop a programming language and make money by it, and part of the reason must be that there are currently many more or less good freely available open source programming environments.

And this - that it is very difficult these days for a small or not-very-large firm to develop a programming language and make money by it - is not desirable itself, even if Open Source is, for it means in effect that all commercial clout comes to lay with Microsoft (that doesn't need to make profit on its programming languages, for it makes plenty from its OS), and - as users of Microsoft know from experience - a monopoly (or oligopoly) never is good for the competition or its customers.

Others think or feel differently about this. Also on the VisualWorks-list is a mail by one of the developers of Squeak that reacts to the above reproduced mail of the Dolphin-developers:

Personally, I think it's quaint to dislike or like Open Source.
It's just an alternative among alternatives...

The writer is Dutch, and has the ordinary Dutch relativist morals - which the non-Dutch can infer with large chances of little errors by analogy from the English descriptive phrases "Dutch courage", "Dutch treat" and "Dutch uncle" - and is one the major specialists on the Squeaklist in legal matters, about which he can and did write interminably and vaguely, but quite grandiloquently (and indeed "IANAL", in his and in my case - except that I don't write about stuff I know I don't know anything relevant about, and also that my own morals are as non-Dutch as can be).

Said Dutchman also wrote in that (would be) legal context, quite a few years ago, that he wanted Squeak to be free also for

"our friends in Lybia, Iraq and Iran".

Anyway... one problem of Open Source is that it currently makes it very difficult for enterprising and smart individuals (as is certainly true of the two guys who developed Dolphin) to make money by their own talents and efforts:

"... the cold reality is that we have to look for other sources of income for our families and the future."

That's not an occasion for gloating but for sadness, it seems to me. And if the "alternative among alternatives" works out in practice as an effective  unintended means for Microsoft to enlarge its monopoly, then there is a good ground for some who really tried (as did the Dolphin guys) to dislike Open Source, and to conclude that it may have some major side-effects that are far from salutory, and indeed also that there is some evidence that, like most revolutionary movements, the revolution eats its own children.

Sad indeed.

Maarten Maartensz


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