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Interview with Alan Kay


Kay: The flaw there is probably the fact that C is early-bound. Because it's not late-bound, because it's not a dynamic system, pretty much the only way you can link in features is to link them in ahead of time. Remember when we had to boot the computer? There's no need for that. There's never been any need for it. Because they did it that way, you wind up with megabytes of features that are essentially bundled together whether you want them or not. And now a thousand system calls, where what you really want is objects that are migrating around the net, and when you need a resource, it comes to you — no operating system. We didn't use an operating system at PARC. We didn't have applications either.

Binstock: So it was just an object loader?

Kay: An object exchanger, really. The user interface's job was to ask objects to show themselves and to composite those views with other ones.

Binstock: You really radicalized the idea of objects by making everything in the system an object.

Kay: No, I didn't. I mean, I made up the term "objects." Since we did objects first, there weren't any objects to radicalize. We started off with that view of objects, which is exactly the same as the view we had of what the Internet had to be, except in software. What happened was retrograde. When C++ came out, they tried to cater to C programmers, and they made a system that was neither fish nor fowl. And that's true of most of the things that are called object-oriented systems today. None of them are object-oriented systems according to my definition. Objects were a radical idea, then they got retrograded.

Binstock: How do you view the Actor model?

Kay: The first Smalltalk was presented at MIT, and Carl Hewitt and his folks, a few months later, wrote the first Actor paper. The difference between the two systems is that the Actor model retained more of what I thought were the good features of the object idea, whereas at PARC, we used Smalltalk to invent personal computing. It was actually a practical programming language as well as being interesting theoretically. I don't think there were too many practical systems done in Actors back then.

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