Smalltalk on the 68000, by Tektronix

There’s some good reading around this subject: a small group within Tektronix took Xerox’ experience in Smalltalk and made a series of 68000 based machines with bitmapped graphics and GUIs. Eventually they put Smalltalk into their scopes, and the group went on to spread the word about advanced software techniques.

Here’s a blog post:
Tektronix Smalltalk Workstations (4400 and 4300 Series)
which introduces us to the Magnolia workstation, Tek’s second effort

and then the Pegasus, which became the 4404, with a 68010 inside.

(both images from the blog and also appearing in the slide deck below)

There are some good resource links at the end of the blog, which lead us to Allen Wirfs-Brock’s
Tektronix Smalltalk Document Archive
with videos and slide decks, including
Smalltalk at Tektronix (pdf)
where you’ll learn about a series of developments, including writing a VM and addressing the severe performance shortfall. And the evangelists’ exit of the team, including Ward Cunningham, Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, and Kent Beck. (And other people I should perhaps have heard of, but haven’t.)


Chapters 5 and 16 of the “green book” (“Smalltalk-80: Bits of History, Words of Advice” available at Stephane Ducasse’s list of free Smalltalk books) have more details about the early Tektronix experience with the Smalltalk project.

It is interesting that though it was a Smalltalk computer, it was marketed as an “AI Workstation” to take advantage of that era’s hype. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Boy, did I want one of these back in the day. I just didn’t have the $10-15,000 burning a hole in my pocket.

As I understand it, Tektronix was the only company that really made a go out of Smalltalk commercially during that era. My first experience with Smalltalk (outside of the Byte issue) was seeing it run on a Mac Plus at an Apple College event. This was the raw ST image from Xerox with the VM tweaked to work on the Mac. It was a very powerful experience, but the 1MB MacPlus was pretty tapped out. It mostly made a good demo. And by then, the existence of the Lisa and the Mac, the base interface was already really dated.

If you want to see what ST was like back then, dig up an old Squeak image that starts up in the MVC environment. Squeak was based on the Apple image that they got from Xerox. The ST I saw on that Mac Plus was a (if not THE) close ancestor of the image the Squeak team used.

Even still, as I understand it, the Tektronix machines were pretty slow. It would be interesting to see one today.

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That green book is pretty interesting, I started browsing it earlier today.

Coincidentally, I’m working on cleaning up a Tek 4010-1 graphics terminal this week (which will definitely not either run or display smalltalk!).

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Their first hardware used a Tek 4025 terminal, which required translating pixel graphics to vector graphics commands. Adding video to their second hardware eliminated this complication and bottleneck.


I just ran across their mention of implementing smalltalk on vector displays in the book. It’s interesting that they even tried, with the only graphics operation on smalltalk-80 being a bit blit.

Thanks again for that link, this book is fascinating!

It is indeed! I’ve only got so far as chapter 2…

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I am restoring a couple of these Tek4404.

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Thanks for bringing this machine back to life and for documenting your efforts.

I was working on a similar machine when this came out and wondered if it made sense for me to continue, but then decided it would be possible to do it at a lower cost (Tektronix was not known for mass market products).