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> Today’s software apps are like appliances: we can only use the capabilities exactly as programmed by the developer. What if we, and all computer users, could reach in and modify our favorite apps? Or even create new apps on the fly according to our needs in the moment?

threw me, this isn't true at all. Maybe he's using different apps than me.

4 points by enkiv2 610 days ago

I think it's true of most proprietary applications, & most applications not intended for use by technical folks.

Even in cases where deep configurability & scriptability exists, it's generally hidden (as though it's embarassing) & 'normal' users never become aware unless using those features has been grandfathered in by a technical community. (For instance, some games are heavily moddable, but most players are not modders & modding is considered something special; as another example, Microsoft Word and Excel are highly scriptable, and many but not most non-programmer users are aware of this in a vague way because they belong to a group that uses existing scripts to make up for missing core features or adapt the program to a particular domain.)

Applications for programmers tend to be extremely scriptable, and tend to expose that extensibility.

(Even so: I'd really like to be able to do real intense modifications to running applications without a separate recompile step, which is something applications don't do outside smalltalk-land. Likewise, I'd love to be able to throw together widgets as casually as I write pipelines.)


"which is something applications don't do outside smalltalk-land."

I thought Lisp's could do live updates. Outside Lisp and Smalltalk, what about apps with Lua scripting like [Luakit](


2 points by enkiv2 609 days ago

For any dynamic language with a REPL, you can expose the language & make it so live modification can be done. GUI toolkits don't tend to expose the language by default, & applications don't tend to go to the effort to expose them themselves (or design their internal structures to be amenable to live-editing by non-programmers as opposed to modification during a normal development cycle).

It's not a problem of missing features generally (though sometimes it is -- like if a language, by default, loses the original source after bytecode compilation, & the compilation step can't be hooked to keep that source around), but of UI (though a whole host of unusual language features can make providing a reasonable UI to do this a lot easier -- like having an image-based system and having that image versioned internally).

Back in high school, I wrote a system intended for exposing live tcl scripting to a Tk-based set of widgets, as part of a 'desktop environment'. Doing such a thing is easy, if you don't mind doing it badly, even with a language & framework like tcl+tk that isn't really intended to support it.

Scriptability is, I think, a different (related but less interesting) version of this. Rarely is the whole application really scriptable -- it's unusual to have an application that can be turned into functionally an entirely different application through the exposed scripting API without a great deal of knowledge and effort (greater than the knowledge & effort necessary to write the thing from scratch in a normal environment); and then, scripting normally operates in the same way as a normal build process (wherein you edit files on the filesystem with your text editor & force a reload), which ultimately means unfamiliar tooling to non-technical users & no support for built-in documentation.

I think the article here describes a spectrum of end-user-programmability where the far end is what I termed 'composable UI' -- stuff that looks like smalltalk environments, in that the programming environment is one pop-up menu away from any widget, with full built-in documentation, and where a non-programmer can stumble into it accidentally & be glad they did because it let them solve their problem.


2 points by akkartik 608 days ago

I'd love to see examples of non-appliance apps that you use.


what i mean is it's relatively common for me to break open software and modify it in some way - to add a feature i need. I'm not stuck with the off-the-shelf configuration. An example could be baobab which I have a patch that lets it show file sizes.


You might be using different apps than the majority of computer users. Maybe for good reasons, too. ;) They prefer stuff that works out of the box with minimal understanding needed. Point and click. Dropbox vs FTP was famous example.


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