Lisp: Good News, Bad News

I dont understand really well the way the uthor describes the story but from what I can understand there are some problems that are forecasting the end of Lisp, like a bad reputation thanks to some article in Forbes, but there are also good things achived by Lisp, like the Standarization of the language even though the author talks about Scheme and common lisp, so I didn’t quite got that; other achivement is the good performance compared to c; other is a good environment, because modern programming environments come from Lisp, arguable; also good integration to other languages; as well as the most powerful, comprehensive, and pervasively object-oriented extensions of any language; last but not least the possibility to deliver applications written in Lisp.

When talking bout Lisp failures the author used a term “worse is better” where he declared that Lisp was made the correct way not like c which was the wrong way, this means that because the correct thing is more complex and therefore more robust they will not have a great dispersion, because of this  the author makes a comparizon of c an UNIX to a virus that spread easily and thanks to this they will be able to grow into a programming language and operating system 90% correct. In the other hand there are two scenarios for the right thing:

The big complex system scenario goes like this:

First, the right thing needs to be designed. Then its implementation needs to be designed. Finally it is implemented. Because it is the right thing, it has nearly 100% of desired functionality, and implementation simplicity was never a concern so it takes a long time to implement. It is large and complex. It requires complex tools to use properly. The last 20% takes 80% of the effort, and so the right thing takes a long time to get out, and it only runs satisfactorily on the most sophisticated hardware.

The diamond-like jewel scenario goes like this:

The right thing takes forever to design, but it is quite small at every point along the way. To implement it to run fast is either impossible or beyond the capabilities of most implementors.

The two scenarios correspond to Common Lisp and Scheme.

So what Richard Gabriel says is that the lesson to be learned from this is that it is often undesirable to go for the right thing first. It is better to get half of the right thing available so that it spreads like a virus. Once people are hooked on it, take the time to improve it to 90% of the right thing.

Other problems with Lisp is that good programming in Lisp is hard, it requires good declarations, good knowledge of the implementation and apropiate data structures; other problem are the complexity of integration and the speed at which other languages are catching up.

In conclusion doing something harder and slower even if its better wont be recived well, so worse is truly better.


Gabriel, R. (1991). Lisp: Good News, Bad News, How to Win Big. Lucid, Inc.




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