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6. Lisp-based OSes

Symbolics and Lisp Machines built integrated hardware and software environments tuned to Lisp that were considered to be highly productive environments, with such merits as:

The business efforts in the Lisp area have failed; people still would like to have similar sorts of environments.

There are still some used Lisp Machines out there, and a company called Symbolics may be able to provide Genera software to run on a Compaq/Digital Alpha machine atop what used to be called OSF/1, although contact information is spotty, and pricing is reputedly quite hefty.

For some similar "flavor," Smalltalk environments reputedly provide similar integration between the programming language and the rest of the environment, and have inspired similarly fierce loyalty. NeXTStep was similarly inspiring, though it used "batch compiled" Objective-C which eliminates much of the "dynamic" flavor.


Some of the following links are probably dead; this nicely reflects the consideration that there has been a lot more talk than action, and many failed projects.


The classic problem with the "LispOS Project" is that a large portion of the early effort would involve low level hardware hacking. The attraction of a "LispOS" is in having a powerful integrated environment; hacking on device drivers isn't attractive in that way.

Furthermore, there have been several projects that built low level OS kernels; these kernels tend to be tightly tied to particular hardware configurations:

  • The SCSI card that was available;

  • A particular IA-32 variation, and, presumably some of its children;

  • A particular family of IA-32 motherboards;

  • A particular video card.

It's unlikely that a video card sold last year will continue to be available three years from now; that is quite a severe limitation on such efforts.

6.1. Links on the Original Lisp Machines

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