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May Symbolics thrive...

Come on you guys. Have any of you really tried to use Lucid/GNUEmacs/ILisp/CLIM
on a SPARCstation ELC or better (with at least 32 megabytes). I have been
using such for almost a year now, writing tens of thousands of lines of code
and find that the SPARCstation configuration is hands down better than
anything Symbolics ever produced. The SPARCstation configuration is at least
twice as fast as an XL1200 on the average and at least ten or twenty times
faster than a 3640. For some things (like compiling source files using the
development mode compiler and dynamic GC), the SPARCstation configuration is
two orders of magnitude faster than an XL1200 (yes an XL1200). And it costs
one fifth as much. And my ELC is a generation out of date. A SPARCstation-10,
an RS6000, a MIPS R4000 or a DEC Alpha should make an XL1200 seem like a PDP-8.

Ah, the development environment you say makes all the difference. But have you
really tried Lucid/GNUEmacs/ILisp/CLIM? I'm not talking about Unix and C++.
I'm talking about CommonLisp. Now don't tell me about hacking networking and
window system internals since Unix provides all of that as a black box and
most research and applications development work is not about doing operating
system development. I find that at least 85% of all the wonderfull features
of Genera that I used on a daily basis are available on my SPARCstation. And
the ones that weren't there when I came along (like m-sh-C) I implemented
myself. (If people are interested, I might be able to convince UPenn to allow
me to release my implementation of m-sh-C for GNUEMacs/ILisp). The remainder
are more than made up for by the blazing speed.

I was one of the first 3600 users. Back in 1982 I purchased two 3600s sight
unseen, one of the first commercial organizations to do so. I didn't touch
another brand of computer for ten years as I had the great fortune of having a
Symbolics to work on everywhere I have been for the past ten years. So with
great trepidation I faced the decision to switch to SPARCstations little over a
year ago. It took me a few months to port several of my most current research
projects totalling a few tens of thousands of line of code. Now in retrospect,
if I was given the opportunity to switch back, even if you gave me a free
XL1200 that was twice as fast, I wouldn't do it. Yes, every now and then I
curse out my Unix machine for doing something in a brain damaged fashion and
wish that the whole world did the right thing like Symbolics. But all I have
to do to get over it is remember how I had to twiddle my thumbs when I typed
<Select> L and my machine paged and GCed for the next few minutes. Really, try
switching, I promise you that you'll never go back. I pity those poor souls
still using 36xx machines.

Symbolics made one fundamental mistake. They ignored performance. They
focussed their energy on making a whole operating system (ignoring all of the
other things like Fortran/Pascal/C/Ada compilers, Joshua, Statice, Concordia,
the S-products) when the real valued added of the their system was the Lisp
development environment. Back in 1982 not only was the 3600 the best Lisp
development environement, it also was the fastest Lisp execution vehicle as
well as the one with the highest performance/price ratio. If they would have
stuck to those three marketing goals: highest Lisp performance, highest
performance/price ratio, and best LISP development environment, the areas of
their unique strength, and did not attempt to reinvent the wheel of file
systems, tape backup systems, network systems, window systems, etc. and
instead leveraged off of other peoples work in those areas, they would probably
still be in business today---and I would probably still proudly be using their

So what is the upshot of all this. I think that the Lisp community faces a
much graver problem: not the demise of Symbolics but the demise of CommonLisp.
I see lots of people around me spending ten times the effort to code something
in C or C++ than it would take in CommonLisp. Yet the community of CommonLisp
users is dwindling because people are not willing to pay the performance hit
(perceived or imagined) of using CommonLisp over C. CommonLisp vendors find it
hard to stay in business due to the small market for their product. While I
used to dread the day I would have to switch from Symbolics to other
platforms, I now really fear the day when there will be no CommonLisp
implementation. What we have to do to prevent that day from happening is
support and encourage the development of really high performance CommonLisp
implementations, not creaping featurism in the design of CommonLisp.

So to quote Christine Lavin, 28 December 1992 is not a time for celebration
but a time for nostalgia of longing for the innocense of days gone by.
	End of Flame,