Symbolics? Lisp Machines?

Philip Greenspun's Homepage : Philip Greenspun's Homepage Discussion Forums : Ask Philip : One Thread
Notify me of new responses
I just graduated high school when Symbolics bought the farm. What's
become of all the programming that was done there? Would there be any
way of putting that stuff ( at least the software side of it) on a
current system, say a Linux/ BSD box?

or were all the tapes burned, the buildings destroyed, the ground sown
with salt?

Do you still have a few Symbolics or Lisp Machines that you caress
wistfully late at night?

-- Sanjeev Sharma, July 9, 2002


Last I heard/saw some of the Symbolics diehards had ported the LispM OS to the DEC ALPHA. The Alpha chip was so fast that the emulator ran faster than the Symbolics hardware! (see )

If you visit you'll see that this is still available!

So the answer to your question is that yes you can run this programming environment on modern hardware and even on top of other operating systems such as Unix.

But for me personally I don't miss the LispM OS/environment as much as I would if I were still building computer-aided engineering software (one user at a time; very complex data structures). For Internet-supported collaboration the real action is all in SQL and having a superlative imperative programming environment isn't all that helpful.

I haven't been doing much with computers for the last few months. It is just too tough to get high-speed Internet access. The only public 802.11b network that I found on this trip, for example, was in Teller, Alaska (250 Eskimos living at the end of the westernmost road on the North American continent; 60 miles NW of Nome, Alaska). But to the extent that I use computers at all it would be nice to have the programmability of the Lisp Machine. For example I can't get what I need and want out of closed-source email handlers such as Microsoft Outlook (a month's worth of mail was 2600 messages of which 13 required replies and the vast majority were spam). If the Microsoft environment were easy to tweak I would do it but since I don't really need to use email or Internet at all instead I basically just switch the whole thing off and do something else (e.g., flight training -- I just got my instrument rating a couple of weeks ago).

If you want to play around with something that is in the spirit of the old MIT and Xerox Lisp machines, I recommend (not a comprehensive computing environment like Unix or WinXP but fully understandable within a human lifetime, unlike Unix or WinXP, and therefore easy to modify/extend). Squeak was developed by one of the engineers from the Xerox Lisp machine days.

-- Philip Greenspun, August 13, 2002