Some time ago the first domain name in DNS, symbolics.com, turned 30
years old. WHOIS says:
Domain Name: SYMBOLICS.COM
Registrar: NETWORK SOLUTIONS, LLC.
Sponsoring Registrar IANA ID: 2
Whois Server: whois.networksolutions.com
Referral URL: http://networksolutions.com
Name Server: NS1.AMERINOC.COM
Name Server: NS2.AMERINOC.COM
Status: clientTransferProhibited http://www.icann.org/epp#clientTransferProhibited
Updated Date: 05-jun-2011
Creation Date: 15-mar-1985
Expiration Date: 16-mar-2016
Behind the domain name was once Symbolics, Inc., a legendary
manufacturer of Lisp machines, computers with a special architecture
suitable to run Lisp programs at high speed.
There's something in the eye of an old hacker when she thinks about
Lisp machines. From what I can gather, they seem to have been the
ultimate hacker computer: a completely dynamic environment with easy
access to source for everything, including the lowest levels of the
operating system, easily changed from within the interactive
environment with the effects taking place immediately.
There were several LispM makers back before the AI Winter: Symbolics,
LMI, Xerox and even Texas Instruments, with their TI Explorer. A brief
history of lisp machines can be found here:
I'm too young to have experienced the LispM directly myself. When I
started at Linköping University the Computer Science department had
just thrown out some Xerox LispMs and replaced them with Sun
SPARCstation-1s. They still ran some Lisp assignments in an emulator
called Medley but since I didn't even had official access to the the
Suns, I never experienced it.
I don't know where the Xerox machines ended up. For some reason
Lysator, the academic computing society
at LiU, didn't get them. Update, Lysator's
counterpart in Uppsala, has a few Symbolics machines.
To get a feeling of what it was like to work on a LispM, here's a
movie of someone playing with a TI Explorer in Unisys disguise for an
and here's a collection of screenshots from Symbolics' Genera
Remember that many of these screenshots are from the early 1980s,
before the first Mac, for instance.
The CPU in most of the LispMs were developed from the architecture of
the CONS and CADR machines from MIT's AI Lab. Both Symbolics' and
LMI's first machines was based directly on the CADR.
For a couple of years it's been possible to run the CADR machine on an
emulator written by Brad Parker. All the source from the original CADR
system is also available:
Björn Victor has collected some information about running emulated
Some people still seem to dream about running Lisp on the bare metal.
Here are two such projects:
Other than that, the best way of experiencing something like the LispM
environment on modern computers is probably to use Emacs as your main
environment. This is what I do, although I have sometimes looked
longingly at Racket.