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specialized machines

Of all the comments that I made, I have to say I never expected
people to disagree with the notion that Symbolics machines are
special purpose.  Symbolics machines are Lisp machines, and this,
by default, means they are special purpose.  And I, for one, like
this optimization--it makes my work in Lisp go faster.

I know that Symbolics machines run other languages, but every time
one of our C hackers tries his or her hand at Symbolics C, after
only a few minutes they go scurrying back to Think C on the Mac II
or Saber C on the Sun.  To tell the truth, I've tried Symbolics C
and don't blame them.  It acts like a second-class citizen in a
Lisp world.  If Symbolics wants people to run C on their machines,
then they should work at at least matching the competition.  I know
they know other C's, since the MacIvory uses Think C.

Concerning i/o, my work uses lots of low level color graphics.  We
don't use existing toolkits, except for draw-line, bitblt, and the
like.  Our 3650 with an ancient 8-bit color system run rings around
the same system running under Lucid on a Sun 4, although the new Sun
Sparcstations are a lot better.  Sun has, in recent years, come under
attack for poor i/o, and I've been told they have a new backplane in
late development which should substantially speed up i/o.

So I prefer the Symbolics machine for my work.  However, recently a
decision was made to develop our system as a multi-user one, and to
use a separate database machine in the network.  The dbms chosen was
Oracle (much of the Air Force is going in this direction), and since
Oracle won't run on a Symbolics, we chose the Sun 4 as the platform.
Since we didn't want to get into writing lots of low level network
code, we really had no choice but to use Oracle's built-in multi-user
code and therefore run the Lisp code on other Suns (with Lucid 3.0).
And so, one day we woke up with the realization that the future of the
project was no longer with Symbolics, but instead with Sun.  The fact
that Symbolics machines are not capable of running a relational dbms
like Oracle killed it.

Thankfully there are more projects, and nothing can touch a Symbolics
for bringing up the initial, single-user, standalone system.  But, as
I've said in previous postings, the competition is getting better all
the time, and it is easy to imagine a day when I will be able to match
or even beat a Symbolics using a 100mip Sun 6 with SPE 3.0/Lucid 5.0,
or with Allegro Composer 4.0.  And, when that day comes, I would love
to have, as an alternative to Lucid or Allegro, Genera 9 or 10 which
runs, as software only, on that Sun.

Barry Smith