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Hardware/software schizophrenia Date: Mon, 18 Dec 89 14:19 EST From: uunet!CS.ROCHESTER.EDU!miller (Brad Miller)

    I beg to differ (about its being depressing).  I think if they had
    thought of themselves as a hardware company to begin with, 

To my knowledge, Symbolics has always viewed itself as essentially and
primarily a hardware company. 

	they would
    have built Ivory and the various products based on it a good three or
    four years earlier, and quite plausibly saved their corporate a*s.

"three or four years earlier" would have been less than two years after
they introduced the 3600.  I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation.
Keep in mind they introduced one other distinct architecture (the "G"
machines) in between the 3600 and the Ivory.  In the meantime, no other
lisp workstation vendor has ever been able to come up with a single new
architecture, just modified copies of existing ones.  (In hindsight, I
must grant that the G machine effort, while it was a tactical success,
may have been a strategic mistake since it delayed the Ivory effort
somewhat.  However, it certainly didn't look that way at the time.)

    there had never been a time when Suns had a better price/performance
    ratio for running Lisp, they would have had a market that might not
    have been very large, but would have been steady and loyal.  As it
    was, the appearance of the Sun 4 at AAAI-87 was the all-but-fatal

I don't think this is a particularly accurate portrayal of the causes of
Symbolics' difficulties, which are closely tied to the problems in the
lisp hardware market in general.  It was and is a much more complex
situation than you suggest. 

    I can't resist adding that had they concentrated on hardware volume,
    they would have attracted more third-party software vendors who
    collectively could provide far more functionality than Symbolics ever
    could hack up.

I'm not sure it would have worked out that way, and I think the feeling
has always been that Symbolics, because of their size and the uniqueness
of their hardware, would have been hard pressed to compete pricewise in
a high-volume market.  They also would have had a lot of trouble ramping
up their manufacturing facilities fast enough.  As it turned out, their
sales kept pace with their (high) expectations for the first few years
after the 3600 was introduced, and they quickly developed a strong
customer base where there hadn't previously been much of a market at
all.  They also held their own against the industry-wide slump far
longer than did most computer vendors.  Unfortunately, as Barmar has
pointed out, they got a bit overoptimistic about their future prospects
and grew too fast, then the general slump really hit, and also Lisp
started becoming a bad word. 

I don't quite grasp what all this second-guessing and sniping at
Symbolics is based on.  People seem to be unaware that, unlike every
other vendor that has entered the lisp workstation market (with the
possible exception of Xerox), Symbolics has profited from it.  Only in a
few of their very worst quarters did they ever fail to be consistently
profitable.  Contrast this with the history of Sun, or almost any other
hardware vendor, and you'd be forced to conclude that Symbolics must
have done something pretty right.  Sure, they've made mistakes, but then
nobody's perfect.