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Minutes of Meeting, SLUG & Symbolics, 15 December 89
-*- Default-character-style: (SAGE::CENTURYSCHOOLBOOK-BODY :ROMAN :NORMAL) -*-
The following minutes were prepared and reviewed by SLUG attendees.
They were also reviewed by Symbolics for errors; none were noted.
Details such as titles and such were included as made available by
In the spirit of meeting minutes, they have not been updated with recent
news (e.g., Symbolics' losses of last quarter). The SLUG Board has seen
one proposal in the wake of the meeting, concerning Software Transfer
Fees, which I expect will be announced to the community shortly. Other
matters are all pending.
I hope that the information here will generate considerable response as
it is more and more important that users provide Symbolics with direct,
reasoned and useful feedback.
Respectfully submitted on behalf of the SLUG Board,
1Minutes of Meeting
SLUG and Symbolics
15 December 89
10:30 - 3:00 PM
0Attendees for SLUG: Richard Billington, Barry Margolin, Paul
Pangaro, Andrew Ressler; Dennis Doughty (for Bill York), Steve Gander.
Attendees for Symbolics: Jay Wurts (President, Chairman and CEO; joined
the meeting at lunch and for a period into the afternoon), Jack Slavin (VP
North American Sales & Service), Ken Tarpey (VP Customer Service), Rick
Karash (VP Marketing), Howard Cannon (VP Product Marketing), Ron Beaty
(also representing Education Services), Gary Roberts (Genera Product
Manager), David Andre (Director Software Development), Johanna
Rothman (Software Q-A), Reza Seddigh (SLUG Liaison), Kim Cook
After some initial introductions all around, we were updated about the
status of Customer Service, which is now to be included under Jack
Slavin, VP North American Sales. Slavin introduced Ken Tarpey, recently
appointed VP Customer Service, whose background as VP at
ComputerVision/Prime for customer service gives him excellent
experience with users' groups and customer relations.
1 Agenda Items:
01. State of Symbolics/SLUG Liaison: pre- and post- SLUG-89; general
assessment of the relationship; how past, present and future needs of
SLUG are to be met; specific commitment and resources to be allocated
The newest proposal from Symbolics was presented, namely, to distribute
the "SLUG liaison" function across a number of individuals within
Symbolics. This was proposed as an alternative to the current status
(wherein Seddigh has the complete burden for SLUG contact) and another
proposal from Symbolics to bring the liaison function under marketing
(which was thought unsuitable by SLUG because of past responsive, and
stronger reasons for closer liaison with local sales offices). Seddigh
pointed out that his position as central liaison was created after a history
of difficulties with response from Symbolics to SLUG on many issues, and the "SLUG
Liaison" position as symbol of the relationship had served its purpose.
The relationship was now on a strong footing and he had, like the Maytag
repair man, put himself out of business. In reference to any change in the
formal relationship, Karash said that SLUG belongs to Jack [Slavin] and
Ken [Tarpey], but this was a general statement and of course different
areas within Symbolics would be represented by individuals from those
areas: e.g., Cook (Marketing); Seddigh (Customer Service). Further
individuals were not yet named at that time, but would be made explicit,
once Tarpey had more chance to catch up (as he is on-board only since
November). In general this approach was considered acceptable by SLUG,
although it was again noted that Seddigh has done an exceptional job in
maintaining SLUG's voice and needs within Symbolics. Billington
requested that as a chain of communication is made from the
point-of-contact within an area of Symbolics to SLUG, that Symbolics
make the internal contacts first, to avoid any feeling that SLUG is being
pushed aside to someone else.
2. Flow of Technical Information via the Sales Offices: Discussion of
actions taken on this policy since last SLUG-Symbolics meeting; reasons
for failure of the approach; any means, including SLUG aid, to bring
SLUG pointed out that no improvement had been seen in this area.
Karash indicated that Marketing was "staffing up", and that there was now
a "Program Team Concept"; it was presented that issues were being
addressed and that improvements should be seen immediately.
Ressler questioned whether the growth here was at a loss to other,
especially technical, areas. Rumors of lay-offs of VLSI experts were
denied, in that some losses were due to attrition of positions not
re-hired. Faster/newer Ivories were definitely coming; but there is not a
critical mass of expertise for wholly new chips.
Pangaro expressed a strong sense of 2deja vu0: once again SLUG was being
presented with information that was almost a revelation. Such information
is hotly sought after and requested by users and by SLUG, and yet seems
to emerge only once (or sometimes twice) a year at these meetings.
Andre felt it was more than reasonable to learn new things in this setting.
Pangaro conceded the point to the degree that 2some0 new information
should be expected, but maintained the position that Symbolics has no
effective mechanism for bringing information to its users. 2Symbolics
Symposium0 was brought up but thought by the SLUG members attending to
be inadequate, aimed wrongly, too infrequent, and generally a poor
SLUG was told that communication to users was to be a major emphasis
from Symbolics. Specifically Beaty mentioned a new mechanism to
guarantee communications to the field.
3. Bug Tracker: Reasons for failure to provide this capability to users;
current effort being expended by Symbolics; strategy for collaboration on
design, testing and deployment; specific commitment and resources to be
allocated by Symbolics; specific timetables.
No progress had been made by Customer Services since a quick hack
demonstrated at SLUG-89, and hence the promise to provide the
capability (at all, no less by SLUG-89) has not been kept. Furthermore, no
contact had been established about the substance of the issues. Tarpey
indicated that his organization also needs such a system; he also felt it
would encourage customer support contracts. Hardcopy possibilities were
mentioned but not found sufficient by SLUG. Tarpey committed to
provide some type of electronic capability in 120 days from the meeting.
Doughty asked for a sense of what would be available in that time; Tarpey
indicated that a "bulletin board" could be done quickly. He said that he
felt that some form of bug tracker is consistent with industry demands
and that it would not be an extra cost on top of current software service
fees. Ressler asked about the availability of the bug tracker to the general
user population (not merely those on software maintenance) and the
perception that this could constitute free maintenance was discussed.
Some further details of the new capability were to be prepared by David
Motazedi of Customer Services by [end of the week of 22 December].
Tarpey asked for details of SLUG's needs and desires, and was told that
this information has been in the hands of Symbolics for quite a while and
SLUG respectfully asked that the archives first be examined. He promised
to be in touch with SLUG on issues of implementation and phased
At this stage Jay Wurts joined the meeting to provide the next agenda item:
5. General Strategic Direction of the Company: Overall hardware and
software direction; placement of Symbolics within the industry; "after
Ivory"; role of existing and future users in Symbolics' planning.
The company was profitable for the year ending June 89. Product
revenues (i.e. not including service revenues) are up 20% this quarter
over the same quarter last year; this is considered excellent, given the
declining cost of the products. The number of seats is up more than 30%
over the past year (there's been sustained growth in the number of seats
for at least the last four quarters). There's been a 15% ($10K) cut in the
price of XL400's (in case you had not heard, and most of us from SLUG
had not --- another example of the status of communication to users).
There are a number of good, large sales which have either been recently
made or are very close, and their presence at American Express seems
assured for quite awhile. The Statice/Joshua/Concordia products have
helped make a lot of sales.
Wurtz gave the overall impression that Symbolics is growing - even if only
slightly - in R&D (see below about Statice) and marketing.
Statice needs some further development but its importance to a new
contract with Lufthansa should assure this, as well as press the question
as to whether it should be made "more standard."
Symbolics Consulting was discussed, and the perception that Symbolics is
not open to using outside consultants; the extraordinary overlap between
outside individuals who consult for Symbolics and ex-Symbolics
employees was noted by both sides, but SLUG was assured that the
situation is changing. SLUG noted hearing of situations where Symbolics
could not respond to requests for consulting due to shortages of bodies,
but still it did not seek help from the well-established consulting
community. Symbolics agreed to open the conversation, and Don Sundue
of Symbolics was named as someone working toward interest in LISP as a
language of general interest, as well as increasing revenues via consulting
services. SLUG agreed to make a new contact to Symbolics to continue
Futures: Prolog and Pascal will go soon. Statice improvements are
forthcoming, and there are more developers being added on that project.
DNA is a problem - too much development effort for the limited number
of customers - tcp and nfs are available for VMS, are these acceptable
[other numbered category of Rumors to add here?]]
6. Strategies for Stimulating Development of Application Programs on
Symbolics and for Delivery on Symbolics; Software License Fees: their
policy and cost; purpose; impact on used hardware market; modifications
to policy to encourage keeping machines in use.
Symbolics indicated that had "selectively reduced" the software transfer
fee in certain cases, though educational purchases was the example
given. Symbolics indicated that they re-sell 200 to 300 machines a year
and hence were explicit that the transfer fee was to maintain some
income while discouraging the used market. SLUG pointed out at length
that machines were being lost to the junk heap, that the transfer fees
were therefore simply not adding to Symbolics' revenues, and that the
loss of machines to use and hence limits on development was a far
greater loss than the sales made by Symbolics on refurbished machines.
Billington noted that the losses were especially great in educational
settings, where existence of the machines points directly to future
resources and demand. Symbolics conceded that no fee for transfer of
ownership to universities was reasonable and would be taken under
Ressler pointed out that one could reason that decreased demand for the
machines due to the fees would cause lower revenues for Symbolics on
sales of refurbished machines, whereas continuing to keep the machines
in service would lead to increased interest and applications and hence
maintain their price. Specifically it was proposed that used machines be
gvien or sold to start-ups and consultants at low prices for evaluation,
Ressler and Gander suggested that reduced prices be given to consultants
on layered products, to allow for their evaluation of the products and
potential use in software for their clients. This tied back to the idea that
keeping machines in service would stimulate applications and system
tools, thus enhancing the position of Symbolics' systems. NFS, X-Windows
and CLIM came from consultants, for example. Symbolics raised a concern
that the recommendations regarding such products could be negative. It
was pointed out that the only alternative to this fear is not providing
information on the products to anyone. The idea of "Certified Consultants
Program", something like the one with Apple whereby developers were
given price breaks, was raised.
Symbolics agreed to discuss the issue internally and promised to contact
SLUG by 15 January with evidence of some progress in responding to
SLUG's concerns. 30 January was the deadline agreed for final decisions
in the matter.
Wurtz said there are somewhere between 500 and 1000 3640's
warehoused and that they sell about 100 per year at $20K per machine.
Billington said they shouldn't expect to sell all of them at that rate
(they're old) and that they should consider giving them to educational
institutions. Ressler pointed out that if they were steeply discounted to
consultants, more applications would get done and Symbolics would be
7. Specific Futures for software enhancements, bug fixes and support for
Genera, layered products.
SLUG was told that there were no plans for further development or later
releases of Genera beyond 8.0., essentially because 8.0 would be
complete and robust on its own. (This implied that enhancements of
functionality in Genera would come to an end with 8.0.) Cannon made a
comment to the effect that 8.0 is the finished thing they have been
targetting Genera to be. ECOs would continue if needed, but support of
Genera and delivery options are the next priority. This is not to say that
there will not be further releases; they are just not committing to further
releases at this point. Even if there never were a release of 9.0, but users
"can rely on Genera as a means for software delivery."
Ressler questioned whether it was clear to the world why LISP should be
chosen above (for example) C++, and he felt that Symbolics, premiere in
the use of object-oriented programming, should be pushing more into
that conference arena. Karash said they were responding in that way, and
Cannon indicated he was working on a C++/LISP white paper. Karash
indicated the importance of running on "native platforms."
8. Specific Futures for 36xx hardware.
Cannon raised the issue of phasing out the 36-oh-oh systems. He noted
that the 3650 will be the strongest of the 36xx line, as it still has its niche
and is selling nicely. The 3620 is closest in line with the MacIvory, though
SLUG felt that the latter was still quite expensive, and especially for
SLUG was assured that the 36-oh-oh and the entire 3600 line would get a
complete 8.0 release, but the issue of when hardware and software
support would be dropped was also raised. SLUG was also assured that 8.0
would be an excellent release, and lack of further minor releases for
discontinued models (should the timing be that way) would not be
terrible because of the quality of the release; SLUG could not help but
mention 7.0, if only in passing.
Cannon assured SLUG that the
"1 year rule" (whereby support would not be dropped until after 1 year
public announcement of a date) was still in effect. Rothman and Andre
stated that the trouble with maintaining so many configurations is that of
"testing". Even after software support is discontinued for any 36xx model
in the series, Symbolics promised to provide patches on an "as-is" basis
(i.e., not integrated into a new "world" release) to users if desired; SLUG
desired. SLUG also was promised sources to the microcode compiler at
some point, and certainly after the entire 36xx series was discontinued,
though Andre assured use we would not want it; we do.
SLUG maintained that certainly the entire 36-oh-oh, and perhaps the
entire 36xx owner community, should be canvassed for its feelings on the
timing of phasing out 36xx support. Cannon wanted to start the clock at
some point (probably soon), and then possibly extend it, based on user
response. SLUG indicated that this was an excellent opportunity to "be
gracious" about phasing out old systems, and that they should not scare
owners of newer models by giving users a bad impression of this
first-time policy. SLUG requested also that a much more aggressive
trade-in policy for old machines be instituted by Symbolics.
Symbolics agreed to take our concerns and derive a
9. DIALnet Status: Success with installation of greater capabilities; brief
review of delays in implementation; remaining uncertainties and
problems in maintenance (responsibility, reportability); discussion of final
steps for use by all users.
9. SLUG-90 Liaison: General timing issues; establishing specific
individuals to serve as contacts between SLUG and Symbolics in these
[Other SLUG-90 areas to be enumerated, including Conference Demo
Arrangements; Education Services Tutorials; Symbolics Reception
Arrangements; Requests for Topics and Individuals as Speakers; Symbolics