- Lisp Machines
Lisp Machines, Inc. was a company formed in 1979 by Richard Greenblatt of
MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to build Lisp machines. It was based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Russell Noftsker, administrator of the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab, was convinced that computers based on the artificial intelligence language LISPhad a bright future commercially. This due to the strength of the LISP programming language and the enabling factor of hardware acceleration. He made Richard Greenblatta proposal: they would take the technology out of the academic environment and make it commercial. Greenblatt agreed, hoping perhaps that he could recreate the informal and productive atmosphere of the Lab in a real, profitable business. His ideas and hopes about this business were considerably different from the ones Noftsker held. The two negotiated at length, but neither would compromise.
The ensuing discussions of the choice rent the lab into two factions. In February, 1979, matters came to a head. Greenblatt believed that the proceeds from the construction and sale of a few machines could be profitably reinvested in the funding of the company. Most sided with Noftsker, believing that a commercial venture fund-backed company had a better chance of surviving and commercializing Lisp Machines than Greenblatt's proposed self-sustaining start-up. They went on to start
Alexander Jacobson, a consultant from CDC, was trying to put together an AI natural language computer application, came to Greenblatt, seeking a Lisp machine for his group to work with. Eight months after Greenblatt had his disastrous conference with Noftsker, he had yet to produce anything. Alexander Jacobson decided that the only way Greenblatt was going to actually start his company and build the Lisp machines that Jacobson needed, was if he pushed and financially helped Greenblatt launch his company. Jacobson pulled together business plans, a board, and a partner, F. Jacobsson, for Greenblatt. The newfound company was named "LISP Machine, Inc." (LMI), and was funded by CDC orders, via Jacobson.
Folklore about LMI
The following parable-like story is told about LMI by
Steven Levyand used for the first time in "" ( 1984). Levy's account of hackers is in large part based on the values of the hackers at MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Among these hackers was Richard Stallman, whom Levy at the time called the last true hacker.
quote|The people at the lab came together, and together created a true hacker's machine, the original
Lisp Machines. When Russell Noftskersuggested that they move on, and spread the gospel beyond the walls of the lab, the hackers at the lab differed wildly in how they wanted the company run.
Greenblatt insisted that the company remain true to the hacker spirit, in that it should bow to no one, and focus solely on the creation of a good product. Some other hackers felt that this was not the way to lead a company. If this was done, it would never grow and truly spread the word of the
hacker ethic. Furthermore, Greenblatt demanded control over the company, to ensure that his vision was carried forth. Others (including Bill Gosperand Tom Knight) felt that to be under the rule of Greenblatt was unacceptable.
When Noftsker started Symbolics, while he able to pay salaries, he didn't actually have a building or any equipment for the programmers to work on. He bargained with Patrick Winston that, in exchange for allowing Symbolics' staff to keep working out of MIT, Symbolics would let MIT use internally and freely all the software Symbolics developed. Unfortunately this openness would later led to accusations of intellectual property theft.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, to prevent software from being used on their competitors' computers, most manufacturers stopped distributing
source codeand began using copyright and restrictive software licenses to limit or prohibit copying and redistribution. Such proprietary softwarehad existed before, but this shift in the legal characteristics of software can be regarded as a consequence triggered by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, as stated by MIT fellow Brewster Kahle. [Robert X. Cringely's interview with Brewster Kahle, around the 46th minute [http://www.pbs.org/cringely/nerdtv/shows/#4] ]
While both companies delivered
proprietary software, Richard Stallmanbelieved that LMI, unlike Symbolics, had tried to avoid hurting the lab. Stallman had proclaimed that "the prospect of charging money for software was a crime against humanity."cite book
title=Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software
id=ISBN 0-596-00287-4 Chapter 6. Available under the
GFDLin both the initial [http://www.oreilly.com/openbook/freedom/ch06.html O'Reilly edition] (accessed on 27 October, 2006) and the updated [http://www.faifzilla.org/ch06.html FAIFzilla edition] (accessed on 27 October, 2006)] He clarified, years later, that it is blocking the user's freedom that he believes is a "crime", not the issue of charging for the software. [cite web
title=Richard Stallman, Live and Unplugged
quote= Q: You once said "the prospect of charging money for software was a crime against humanity.” Do you still believe this? A: Well, I was not distinguishing the two meanings of free.] Symbolics had recruited most of the remaining MIT hackers including notable hacker Bill Gosper, who then left the AI Lab. Symbolics forced Greenblatt to also resign at the AI lab, by citing MIT policies. So for two years at the MIT AI Lab, from 1982 to the end of 1983, Stallman singlehandedly duplicated the efforts of the Symbolics programmers, in order to prevent them from gaining a monopoly on the lab's computers. [Levy,S: "Hackers". Penguin USA, 1984]
Although LMI was able to benefit from Stallman's freely available code, he was the last of his generation of hackers at the lab. Later programmers would have to sign
non-disclosure agreements not to share source codeor technical information with other software developers.
Lisp Machines, Inc. sold its first LISP machines, designed at MIT, as the LMI-CADR. After a series of internal battles, Symbolics began selling the CADR from the MIT Lab as the LM-2. Symbolics had been hindered by Noftsker's promise to give Greenblatt a year's head start, and by severe delays in procuring venture capital. Symbolics still had the major advantage that while 3 or 4 of the AI Lab hackers had gone to work for Greenblatt, a solid 14 other hackers had signed onto Symbolics. There were two AI Lab people who did not get hired by either:
Richard Stallmanand Marvin Minsky. Symbolics ended up producing ~100 LM-2s, each of which sold for $70,000. Both companies developed second-generation products based on the CADR: the Symbolics 3600 and the LMI-LAMBDA (of which LMI managed to sell ~200). The 3600, which shipped a year late, expanded on the CADR by widening the machine word to 36-bits, expanding the address space to 28-bits [Moon 1985] , and adding hardware to accelerate certain common functions that were implemented in microcode on the CADR. The LMI-LAMBDA, which came out a year after the 3600, in 1983, was compatible with the CADR (it could run CADR microcode), but there were hardware differences. Texas Instruments(TI) joined the fray when it licensed the LMI-LAMBDA design and produced its own variant, the TI Explorer.
Symbolics continued to develop the 3600 family and its operating system, Genera, and produced the Ivory, a VLSI chip implementation of the Symbolics architecture. Texas Instruments shrunk the Explorer into silicon as the MicroExplorer. LMI abandoned the CADR architecture and developed its own K-Machine [http://home.comcast.net/%7Eprunesquallor/kmachine.htm] , but LMI went bankrupt before the machine could be brought to market.
LMI was reincarnated as GigaMos Systems and included Greenblatt in its officers. GigaMos, through the ownership of a Canadian backer named
Guy Montpetit, bought the assets of LMI through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Prior to the incorporation of GigaMos [http://eval.apply.googlepages.com/kmachine.htm] , LMI developed a new Lisp machine called the "K-machine" which used a RISC-based architecture with a 40 bit word size akin to Symbolic's Ivory. Montpetit subsequently became embroiled in a 1989 Canadian political scandal which, as a side-effect, resulted in the seizure of all the assets of GigaMos, effectively killing the company since it could no longer meet payroll.
* [http://fare.tunes.org/tmp/emergent/kmachine.htm K-machine architecture]
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