Embedding VMs

Alaric B. Williams alaric@abwillms.demon.co.uk
Wed, 30 Apr 1997 18:12:59 +0000

On 28 Apr 97 at 20:55, lispos@math.gatech.edu wrote:

> I don't think we'll be adding to the "Lisp is slow" myth. On the contrary, I
> think we will be debunking that myth, and proving that Lisp can integrate with
> everything. Even today, I can use AgentBase from within Word and Excel, via our
> OLE wrapper. This isn't wishful thinking, it's running software.

Yes; some people have been worrying about compatability. Let me tell you
what happens in the Real Worlds...

There are, of course, many Real Worlds in software. One of them is the desktop
PC market. In this Real World, the ability to support the VMs expected by
existing software is a major plus. It's a very complex Real World with
many backwards compatability problems. It's hard to please, but it's a big

Another one is the serious business network. Here, you typically have
a server of some kind that's as old as, say, the habit of wearing flares.
In front of it is, perhaps, some kind of more modern gateway server, and
in fron of that, a vast Ethernet of Wintel boxes running nice front ends
that talk, via the gateway server, to the existing box.

Here, the ability to talk to existing protocols is the key thing - and
such goals as fast prototyping, reliability, and so on actually rise above
the mere issue of compatability. A LispOS with a good networking support
layer would be a dream come true for such a system; their small programming
team could wack together an idiot proof front end to the server in no time
at all, and be able to maintain it easily thanks to all the "dynamic code"
benefits. It's not an exciting Real World, but it's full of money, and also
full of really OLD technologies just quivering to be replaced...

EG: Barclaycard IT HQ in Northampton; my school visited it as a computing
project thing. They have a mainframe in a bunker running a COBOL database
thing, that keeps track of all the credit card databases, and the
transaction processing. The gateway system is a UNIX box of some kind,
hooked into the mainframe's terminal sockets, with a network interface
hanging off of it. It pretends to be a user, sending keystrokes to the
database app, and reading the responses from the places it expects
them to be onscreen (yuck!), one advantage of which is that it can
then provide the same external API to the second mainframe, which handles
a different set of accounts with the same pertinent data, but uses
different software.

The network branches out to a lot of PCs running NT3.51, with front
end apps in Visual Basic. Some of them are Unix boxes, too, but
not that many.

> Bill House

Alaric B. Williams (alaric@abwillms.demon.co.uk)

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