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[The Smalltalk Balloon]

About the Smalltalk Balloon

The August 1981 issue of Byte magazine was entirely on Smalltalk. It introduced Smalltalk to many of those who went on to commercialize it. The cover (by Robert Tinney) showed Smalltalk as a balloon casting off from a remote island, heading towards the mainland of computer users. For years this balloon has been a symbol of Smalltalk. Our balloon is not a copy of the original Smalltalk balloon, but it is similar. If you are a Smalltalk fan, you should try to find a copy of the original cover. Someone should talk with Robert Tinney about making his cover into a poster!

-- Ralph Johnson


One of BYTE's very early issues was dedicated to one of Carl's (Carl Helmers, founding editor of BYTE) favorite languages, Pascal. Carl decided he wanted the cover of this issue to be a special one entitled "Pascal's Triangle," and he wished to illustrate the superiority of the Pascal language by representing it as a triangular shaped area of calm in a stormy sea of other computer languages. One of the other languages represented on the cover was Smalltalk; as I recall, Carl's opinion of Smalltalk at that time (remember, this was almost two decades ago) was that although it was a worthy enough language, it was cloistered in the "ivory tower" of corporate research, and relatively inaccessible to the average hacker. So, we represented Smalltalk as an ivory tower atop a shear cliff in the stormy sea outside of Pascal's triangle.

Later, in 1981, it was Smalltalk's turn to be featured on the cover of BYTE. Carl told me that since the Smalltalk developers had taken good-natured "offense" at their representation in the previous cover, this time they wanted Smalltalk to be shown at the moment of liberation from the ivory tower. I'm not positive, but I think it was the Smalltalk team itself who came up with the idea of using the image of a balloon. Anyway, I painted the same cliffs and ivory tower from the previous cover, only this time they are being left far below as Smalltalk escapes its cloistered image and ascends to the heights of popular appeal!

By the way, I did in fact offer this cover as a limited edition print; it was one of my most popular ones, and it sold out long ago!

-- Robert Tinney


The original Byte magazine cover

-- Webmaster, 8/24/98


This rendition of the Smalltalk Balloon was drawn by Ian Chai.


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