Why, Indeed?

Chris Bitmead chrisb@Ans.Com.Au
Thu, 26 Mar 1998 05:46:05 +0000

Byron Davies wrote:

> There seems no
> more hope of reconciliation this year than last, so the best thing to do is
> to create a second list, SchemeOS, and separate the two sides.  

I suspect that reconcilliation is not the real issue. While I
feel strongly about Scheme, I'd quite happily use lisp if there
was anything to work with. Since there is not I promote Scheme.
Separating is very premature I would think.

> Kent
> Pitman, a key contributor to the parenthesized world, says he ignores all
> mail addressed to both comp.lang.lisp and comp.lang.scheme.  Surely, he
> ignores this list too.  At least with separate lists, each crowd can
> concentrate on technical issues, and perhaps generate more light than neat.

I think it's more just plain work that needs to be done. Neither
the light nor the heat actually do much, but they keep us
entertained in the mean time :-)
> Second, no driving force.  The driving force behind Linux was the
> determination of first Richard Stallman and then Linus Torvald to provide
> free competition for the proprietary Unix vendors.

Well that's true. I think what this list may lack is some single
nerds with little to do. Am I right in saying we are all married?
> Third, demographics.  There just aren't enough Lisp afficianados with time
> on their hands to make significant progress.  Counterexamples, of course,
> may be found in the CMUCL and RScheme efforts, but their rates of progress
> aren't sufficient to overtake PERL much less C++ or Java.

We don't need to worry about perl, C++ and Java. They can work on
these languages for the next 100 years, and they still won't hold
a torch to Lisp. Just look at the features of RScheme. Now show
me an implementation of perl, c++ or java with all these
features. There isn't one.

It's seems to me the effort required to build a half decent
LispOS or SchemeOS is miniscule compared to the effort that went
into even one of the early versions of Linux. The only (not
inconsiderable) thing going for Linux is the existing base of
UNIX code. If we're smart and careful we could try to leverage as
much of that code as possible without compromising the integrity
of the LispOS idea.

> What could drive a LispOS?  Although I'm a Lisp believer -- and a 25-year
> Lisp user, including a heady decade with LispMs --  I don't expect to see
> an outcry for a Lisp-based OS, or even a freeware Lisp environment.  Lisp
> has about as much chance in the programming language world as the Mac has
> in the  desktop computer world, for much the same reasons: (1) it has an
> extreme market share disadvantage, and (2) it hasn't kept up with external
> advances in software technology.  Lisp still has advantages over other
> programming languages, but they don't make up for the disadvantages -- for
> most people. 

What are those disadvantages? The only one I know of is people
that don't like (s and )s. Lisp has no technological disadvantage
like the Mac eventually had, nor does it have a market share
disadvantage for the same reason as Mac did.

I notice that almost all the programmers I have come across in
the last 5 years have got Linux loaded on their PC. I don't know
how many use it regularly, but it goes to show that programmers
will try an OS despite that Linux isn't supposedly for "most
people". A LispOS could become huge, especially I think if it
allows you to continue to run apps from other OSes. But clearly
it won't become huge until it exists. Yeah sure Symbolics existed
at one time, but so did AT&T. But AT&T was never able to make
UNIX popular. It took a free implementation that all could use
from Linus. LispOS will be as popular as it is good.

> Something could still happen, however.  For example, the leading vendor of
> enterprise management systems is SAP, about 25% as big as Microsoft in
> revenue.  In order to develop their industry-leading product, R/3, they
> developed a CUSTOM 4GL which is only used within SAP, by about 2000
> programmers.  This custom programming language is one of the reasons they
> were able to progress so rapidly to market leadership.

There are other examples. I think it is Ericsson (or maybe not.
Some telco anyway) developed a pure functional language called
E____ (can't remember), which they are doing all their
development work in now.

> Where is the killer app that could make Lisp a winner again?  Rather than
> aimlessly waving the technology wand, the Lisp community needs to search
> for markets that will sustain the ongoing effort needed to bring Lisp up to
> where it needs to be and keep it there.

Maybe, but until we have the full blown "technology wand" built,
the existance of a potential killer app won't matter.

Chris Bitmead