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Symbolics [was: compile-flavor-methods for CLOS]
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 90 22:53 EST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (John C. Mallery)
[... flame on ...
Warning managers: the following may be hazardous to your job.]
Symbolics purports to sell software support. If it expects anybody to buy it,
it should provide some support. Well, here is an obvious opportunity to
provide some simple and useful support instead of milking the support business
to fund the latest (last?) boondoggle misconceived by its top non-manager to
cover the preceding series of management disasters.
While there may be reason to complain about the unevenness of Symbolics
software support coverage, I don't think that the prices they charge for
it justify an assertion that they are "milking the support business."
To all appearances (from my viewpoint as a past employee and current
customer), they make a concerted effort to meet the support needs of the
customers, albeit with limited resources.
How do you take some of the best talent in the computer industry (which
Symbolics had as of 1986) and lose miserably? Answer: incompetent management.
How do you cover it up? Answer: Blame it on the technology (LISP) and the
talent, studiously ignoring blunders in public relations, marketing, sales,
organization, finance, and strategic orientation -- the basic elements of
business. (Look at Sun. What did it have? Answer: talented management)
Indeed, the biggest reason for not buying Lisp Machines is Symbolics'
reputation for managerial incompetence. This is what costs Symbolics most in
sales, not the lisp technology which remains vastly superior to *all*
alternatives. Needless to say, it is rather difficult to get management to
admit this, let alone fix itself.
Your "Reader's Digest History of Symbolics, Inc." above is a gross
oversimplification. I do not dispute that there have been management
bungles, but I don't see that they have been the company's sole source
of trouble by any stretch of reason. Try as I may (and believe me, I
have tried), I cannot boil down the stumblings of Symbolics to one or a
few pat conclusions that neatly describe what has happened and why.
All companies with employees have bad management to some degree, yet
many of them survive it. Why they survive (or don't) isn't clear in
most cases. In the case of Symbolics there have been many factors
involved, including the actions of the competition and moving with a
young and rapidly changing market, in addition to imperfect management.
Informed observers find it particularly disheartening to see incompetent
management squander a national resource. At least, we can take heart in the
prospect that sometime after the mid-1990s low-cost, mass prodcued PCs will
reinvent many of the good ideas from the Lisp Machine environment of the
1980s, especially the visible items such as object-oriented programming,
graphics, and 3D modeling. But, what about the advanced programming
environment of the 1990s or the twenty-first century?
[... flame off ...]