Why [not] X?

Cyber Surfer cyber_surfer@wildcard.demon.co.uk
Fri, 23 May 1997 20:19:51 +0100

At 21:18 22/05/97 -0500, David Gadbois <gadbois@cyc.com> wrote:
>   Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 16:24:00 -0700
>   From: Mike McDonald <mikemac@titian.engr.sgi.com>
>   Where's that browser running? If your machine is running a lisp
>   based OS, I doubt Netscape is going to work too well. (Assuming
>   only one machine. Having a second machine on the net just to run a
>   C based browser is cheating!)

[answering Mike first]

Speaking for myself only, I don't see a problem with this.
I _have to_ use a non-Lisp OS. Even if I chose Linux, I'd
probably still use it via my NT machine, running an X Server.

Anyone who has doubts about using the web as the user
interface should take a look at ActiveDesktop. I'm just wondering
it'll be possible to use traditional CGI techniques to extend the
desktop. In theory, yes; there are alreay tools that let you do
this for Java and Perl. Why not Lisp?

Someday I'll get into ActiveX, and that's when I'll want a high
level language that can be called from C++. I've commented
on this issue before, in comp.lang.lisp.

My current favourite is Amzi Prolog, esp now that it's multi-threaded.
Perhaps this weekend I'll write a multi-threaded NT service in _Prolog_
instead of C. Amzi Prolog will be perfect for ActiveX, too.

Meanwhile, Smalltalk MT tackling C++ on C++ ground, instead of
focusing on only the things that Smalltalk is good at.

[and now David]

>Cheating?  No way, it is just the kind of stealth marketing we need to
>use!  No non-Lisp fanatic is going to give up their Windows until we
>have compelling killer horizontal and vertical apps for them to use.
>I don't doubt that will someday happen.  But it will be a lot easier
>to build the necessary critical mass if we can hand the user some
>floppies to stick in that old, dusty 386 sitting in a closet and have
>it do some magic over the network.  We have the tools and the talent
>to move any mountain, so why not bring it to the user?

People often use a particular for very good reasons, like the fact
that everyone else they know uses it. I like the idea of stealth marketing,
as it can exploit this. Remember the three Es: Embrace, Extend,
and Eliminate. Why should we not be able to do the same, but using
Lisp instead of the latest flavour of the month?

As you said, why not bring it to the user? How do we do that? Not
by first selling them the idea that they should change OS. They won't
do that in large numbers. If you only want small numbers, what will
that change? Ok, if you don't want to change the world then this
isn't problem, but we shouldn't underestimate the resistance that
we'll encounter if (or when) we try selling LispOS to non-Lisp people.

It's easy to preach to the converted. Don't make the mistake of
thinking that the heathens will be as ready to listen. Once they see
you as a treat, they'll want to lynch you, perhaps even burn you.
I'm reminded of the Cathars (spelling?). Today, they only exist
in small numbers, because the Pope ordered a genocide. Now
imagine that Bill Gates has the same power, while _we're_ the
rebels preaching heresy.

I love ivory towers. The Smalltalk balloon leaving the Xerox PARC
ivory tower was once an inspiring image for me. It still is, only now
I see a few other towers, at places like MIT, CMU, Imperial College,
and others. Around them, I see the Devil's Province. Lost souls
till the land and rationalise their suffering, claiming that all this
pain is necessary. If you question their dogma, they'll attack.

Hence my interest in stealth marketing. Offer people web tools,
and they'll welcome you. Web tools are "safe". Web tools are
embraced by the corporate world. Web tools have powerful
marketing support. In contrast, Lisp will at best look like Samizdat
(I hope I spelled that right, it's been a long time).

Or perhaps I've been reading too much mainstream publishing,
hanging around with the ultra-conservative corportate types?
One journalist I know recently learned Prolog, but only because
it was convenient for her to take the course. It had nothing to
do with her job as journalist. We'll see. Offer a Prolog system
on top of LispOS, as she may be easy to convert, esp if it's
easy to install and use than Linux, which I think she currently
uses for Prolog.

>Another windmill I'd like to tilt with is the stupid notion of "My
>Computer," which mostly seems to be an excuse for per-seat licensing.
>Why, oh why, in this day and age of cheap cycles and bandwidth do we
>need to have a big, noisy, and expensive albatross of a machine
>wrapped around our desktops?

Ah, yes. Machines which spend so much time idle, but denying
their recourses to others on the network? I sometimes feel this
way, too. Esp when I see people move from one machine to
another, just so they can run some software, access a device,
etc. It could even be because their machine is fully occupied
doing some simple task that should really be running in the
background, except that the concept has no real meaning on a
machine that schedules tasks so badly that an I/O bound app
can consume all the CPU cycles. Compute bound apps are
even worse.

I recall how in the late 80s, a Sun user complained to me about
how his machine and almost all the machines on the same
network were regularly taken over by a single user. I wouldn't
be suprised if this was easy to do, technically, but I've seen
now much effort it can take to accomplish this for a single
Windows app.

Would web based compute servers help with any or all of these
problems? Until large numbers of people start building and using
serious web based apps, we won't know for sure. A few of us
may find great benefits from a small number of apps, but that
won't sell a technology to a world hungry for solutions.

Perhaps it should, and in Ivory Towers anything may be possible,
but the Devil's Province is where most people live and work. Either
we ignore them, or we must acknowledge the problems and then
deal with them. I believe that may be done by learning to understand
what these people want, and then creating a solution for them built
on the technology that they choose, talking to the technology that
we choose.

Web based tools make that possible, which may explain why so many
mutually hostile groups all agree that the web is The Way To Go.
Fight the web and we might only succeed in uniting them all against us.

Martin Rodgers
Enrapture Limited
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