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Date: Thu, 22 Jun 89 22:21 EDT
From: Henry Lieberman <Henry@ai.ai.mit.edu>
Yes, there are many parallels, but what people
like about the Symbolics and the Mac are fundamentally different.
Your informant cites
>user interface guidelines, its graphics
>orientation and its desktop metaphor
which are precisely the weakness of the Symbolics!
[Select keys aren't much of a desktop metaphor].
The user interface is a complicated mess, so the Symbolics
can't be justified to management on the basis that it is
easy to learn and use, the way the Mac is touted.
I think you may be trying to take the analogy too far. My thinking
was that the Mac and Lispm are just generally "neater" than the IBM-PC
and Sun, respectively.
What people do like about the Symbolics, justifiably,
is its integrated programming environment and the
accessibility of such a wide range of functionality.
This is, of course, much harder to sell to management.
This suggests that a route for Symbolics would be to
put substantially more effort into making the machine
and software more graphically oriented and easier to
learn and use. They might then make some headway against
Sun as Apple has against IBM, despite hardware costs.
I doubt it. Symbolics's expertise is in powerful development
environments and nifty high-level tools (such as Statice, Concordia,
and Joshua). They are not really aiming these machines at naive users
who need lots of hand-holding from the UI. The intended users of
these machines are experienced programmers.
No one is going to pay an extra $30K for a developer workstation
because it will save a week of learning the user interface. There's a
big difference between the developer workstation market and the office
automation market. No one wants to have to spend lots of time
training secretaries to use a complicated machine.
When the application is completed and you want to put it on naive
users' desks, you run it on a MacIvory and let it use the Macintosh
Personally, I've never had much trouble with the Symbolics UI, and I
feel it has gotten better in the last few years. I can't believe no
one has copied the mouse documentation line, which is easily the best
feature of the Lispm UI (unfortunately, it's also one area that has
gotten worse since Genera 7.0, because most applications simply use
the defaults that DEFINE-COMMAND generates: "L: Read arguments for
<command>; M: Accept arguments for <command>; R: Menu", which leaves
out the critical information of what <command> does). How Sun and X
users can remember what modifier keys mean in each context I don't
know (when I sit down at a Sun console I'm thankful that they share
the convention of using the right mouse button to pop up a menu).
Even granting that the Symbolics UI is hard to learn, it's certainly
not so much harder than the Sun UI that it is likely to affect the two
companys' market shares. It's certainly nothing like the orders of
magnitude difference in ease of use between the Mac and MS-DOS.