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Window Systems Survey
The following request was posted to AILIST & SLUG bulletin boards:
We have been developing a user interface for a planning/scheduling
application on the Symbolics, using Version 6.1 windows and flavors.
For future long term development of the user interface, we are
considering a possible change of the window system, before converting
to Genera 7.0 Dynamic windows and Presentation types. We have heard
mention of XWINDOWS and are interested in knowing about it and other
"generic" window systems and the trade-offs between specialized
features and portability.
Issues we are looking at:
o will window system be compatible with a future Common
lisp window standard
o will window system be portable between lisp machines and
AI work stations, e.g. Symbolics, TI, LMI, Xerox, Sun, ..
o how much conversion will be required to go from current
implementation, now running under Genera 7.0, to a new
o what are advantages/disadvantages of potential window
systems as far as ease of implementation, facilities
available to present information to user, use of object
oriented techniques, etc
o availability of potential window systems on the Symbolics
Opinions and recommendations are solicited from Lisp machine users
as to their experience and preferences. Please respond by e-mail.
I will summarize for this bboard if requested and sufficient responses
Below are the significant responses (total responses were 10). This
summary is being posted to SLUG, Common-windows, Xpert (XWINDOWS) and
those who specifically requested it.
From: James J Dempsey <jjd@ALEXANDER.BBN.COM>
Do you ask about X windows because you have heard of someone porting X
windows to the Symbolics?
If it were up to me, I would always use a portable standard (like X
windows) instead of a propriatary system (like Symbolics Window
system). Right now our application is tied to symbolics machines and
can't be ported, mainly because of our use of the window system.
Intellicorp wrote their own window system so that KEE would be
portable across machines, including the window system.
If you have heard of X being available (or under development) for the
Symbolics, I would appreciate hearing about it.
[ I did not hear of X being available on the Symbolics and I imagine the
largest stumbling block to be that X is written in the C language and
no C compiler exists for the Symbolics (correct ?)- Will]
From: Connie K. Brede <BREDE@SRI-STRIPE.ARPA>
I have no info to offer concerning your query, but am very much interested in
the recommendations you recieve. I have been working on user interface
facilities for applications on Symbolics release 6.x and Xerox/InterLisp-D, and
i would really like to find a common base to work from.
From: mike@etl-ai.ARPA (Mike McDonnell)
As far as I know, the window system of the Symbolics is the part of the system
that is *least* likely to be compatible with some future Common-Lisp standard.
The single point of compatibility that is forseeable is that any window
standard will almost certainly be based on the yet-to-be-decided object-
based CL standard. A good bet is that this object standard will much resemble
the Genera 7 "new flavors", but since Symbolics has not yet implemented their
window system in new flavors, any future standard will almost certainly be
incompatible with the present Symbolics window system.
So, then, is there a portable window system that is good on the Symbolics and
on other machines? In particular, what about X windows? Sorry, but as far
as I know (and I don't know much) there are too many differences in the whole
philosophy and design of flavor-based window systems and other kinds of
windows, such as X windows, for there to be a means of changing one into the
other. Because of this bleak situation, there are several more-or-less heroic
attempts to bridge this yawning gap. Typical is Intellicorp's [usual
disclaimer] implementation of their own window system on top of whatever is
available on the host system so that they can port their products to various
systems while still programming to a consistent interface. This is hardly
ideal though, since the extra layer slows things down and adds complexity. And
developers still have to master each of the underlying window systems anyway.
My prejudice is that objects are the ideal paradigm for window systems since
inheritance allows you to easily extend and tailor the functionality of
windows. I do most of my programming on a Symbolics [disclaimer], but I have
done a lot of Unix programming too and do understand the differences between
the methods used on these systems. Because of this, I would stay with
flavor-based windows with the vastly increased programmer productivity in that
environment, and take my chances with the future. Immediate commercial
considerations would make me change my mind, but we don't have commercial
considerations in the government :-).
From: Arun Welch <Welch%OSU-20@ohio-state.ARPA>
Lisp Systems Programmer, Lab for AI Research, Ohio State University
We've been looking at pretty much the same issues here, and it looks
pretty bad. Most of our software has been written on Xerox
d-machines, and we're in the process of re-writing it with portability
in mind. From my experience, here are some answers to your questions:
> o will window system be compatible with a future Common
> lisp window standard
Last I heard, the work on a window system standard (Common-Windows)
was bogged down. If you want to get on the mailing list, the address
is CL-WINDOWS-REQUEST@SAIL.STANFORD.EDU. Otherwise, I haven't seen
any compatibility between any of the window systems. The Lucid and
the Xerox windows share a windowing philosophy which is different from
that shared by the TI and Symbolics worlds, but that's about as far as
it goes. The TI and Symbolics are fairly close, as of version 6, but
were diverging fast...
> o will window system be portable between lisp machines and
> AI work stations, e.g. Symbolics, TI, LMI, Xerox, Sun, ..
> o how much conversion will be required to go from current
> implementation, now running under Genera 7.0, to a new
> window system
I don't know about this one.
> o what are advantages/disadvantages of potential window
> systems as far as ease of implementation, facilities
> available to present information to user, use of object
> oriented techniques, etc
I'm a fanatic about the Interlisp window philosophy, myself, so I'm
warning you that I'm biased towards them as far as ease of use, etc. goes.
> o availability of potential window systems on the Symbolics
Once again, I don't know.
I wish I could help you more. We're in the *early* development stages
of developing our own portable window system, overlaid on the inherent
window systems of the target machines, using either CommonLoops or a
reasonable subset thereoff. However, since CommonLoops itself is in a
fair state of flux, even that is up in the air. Hopefully I'll have
something more in 6-9 months (I better :-).
Intellicorp has done some work in this area, but aren't releasing
anything. I have a copy of their draft manual, dated June 1986, but
haven't heard about any updates, nor is it complete. I don't know
about the availability of the manual, either (As I said, I got a draft
copy). I don't know how much has been implemented, either.
I'd be interested in any info you get. I hope it doesn't end up that
a lot of people are duplicating work all over the place.
From: Mark Richer <RICHER@SUMEX-AIM.STANFORD.EDU>
There is a mailing list on commonlisp windows that discusses issues
such as the ones you raise and a bunch of people that use or are interestsed
in X windows are on the list. I have remailed your message, perhaps you will
get a response from someone there. It would be appropriate if this
discussion moved there.
The list is email@example.com To get on send a request to
There is also a list on X called firstname.lastname@example.org. Send to xpert-request
to get on that one.
Phone call from Ken Tidwell, Intellicorp (415)965-5500
[ If there are any inaccuracies in the following condensation of
the conversation, I apologize to Ken and would appreciate being
corrected - Will]
Ken is one of the designers of Intellicorp's Common Windows (CW).
CW is a part of KEE 3.0 (Relase 6.1 Symbolics).
KEE 3.0300 (Genera 7.0 Symbolics) will be out in 2-3 months.
NeWS (Sun) & XWINDOWS are C based. XWINDOWS is very basic, has no tool
kit facilities - is available on HP, Sun, Dec. CW is common
lisp based & is proposed as a standard for common lisp windows. CW is not
currently sold separately from KEE 3. KEE 3 is available on Symbolics,
LMI, TI, Xerox, Sun, Vaxstation and IBM/PC-VAX.
Franz, Inc. and Lucid are working on common lisp based window systems
which may be available by the end of 1987. Sun is also working on a
window system, based on NeWS.
Requests to Intellicorp for possible unbundling of CW from KEE should
be directed to Dan Gottlieb - (415)965-5500
From: ihnp4!mmm!rouner@ucbvax.Berkeley.EDU (Bill Rouner)
Organization: Software & Electronics Resource Center/3M
Bill Rouner, SERC SW R&D, 3M Company (612)733-9086
We have the same concerns as you do. An additional concern is legal
protection (copyright or patent). One proposal I encountered was the
development of the APPLE Macintosh window toolbox calls in Common Lisp.
While the Macintosh interface is widely accepted among the user community,
we shied away because of the potential legal liability.
There are two window facilities that are being promoted: SUN windowing
facility and the recently introduced KEE Pictures window facility from
Intellicorp. At this time neither appear to be making headway. It seems
unlikely that any window system will get firmly established until a "standard"
object oriented facility (e.g. CommonLOOPS, Symbolics new FLAVOR) is adopted.
Feedback on this information would be appreciated - Will
Will Taylor - Sterling Software, MS 244-7,
NASA-Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035
phone : (415)694-6525