[Openmcl-devel] Mac App store: solving Lisp's last mile problem

Alexander Repenning ralex at cs.colorado.edu
Sat Oct 23 09:59:11 PDT 2010

Seems to me that we can just keep speculating until the proverbial cows come home (or stay on the feedlot ;-) Slashdot has a big discussion on the "garden of Steven" http://apple.slashdot.org/story/10/10/22/1931211/Beware-the-Garden-of-Steven   

I would like to give this whole Mac App Store development a more positive spin. The iPhone/iPad/IApp Store eco system has attracted many NEW programmers to the Apple world. A number of my ugrad students make a surprising amount of money from making simple games that they developed for iOS. An interesting observation is that NONE of these students actually liked Objective-C, BUT, Objective-C did the trick. That is, they could produce that simple app that ended up making some money for them.  The Mac App store may not have quite the same level of attraction but I think many students would still be very interest in making casual apps. Objective-C was not an attractive programming language, Objective-C is not typically a language used in teaching and yet this is what many students end up being interested in because of the integration into the more general eco system including the commercial aspect. To summarize, students program in Objective-C in-spite of not liking it, and buy Macs to develop apps in-spite of thinking that Macs are expensive.

Now, lets speculate what could happen if the Lisp/CCL community, instead of debating end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios would embrace this eco system as well and would think, for a change, about what perhaps one could call the "last mile" problem of Lisp. Lets start with an observation of Ron Garret:

> Besides, why would you even *want* to develop a retail app in CCL?  The leverage CCL gives you over ObjC is virtually useless in the retail app world.  What makes CCL cool is that you have a debugger, a compiler available at run time, the MOP, macros... what would you do with those things in a retail app?

I think this hits the problem really on the head. Perhaps this is Lisp's biggest problem. Period. Basically, we are saying that Lisp is great to play around, do a little debugging here and there just run little experiments but certainly not good enough to make a real app that others could actually use or even would be willing to pay for. Is this really true? Perhaps this is true now but is there some reason intrinsic to Lisp why this has to stay like this? For a lack of a better term I call this Lisp's Last Mile problem. I claim this is a great opportunity for the Lisp community in general and most certainly for the CCL community. Instead of contemplating syntactic simplifications, or whatever the CL lang newslist is currently wasting their time over, we could actually try to solve CL's last mile problem for the Mac. I realize, this probably would not be a fun project. Error handlers, full OS X integration etc.  requires some thinking. 

I claim it would be very worthwhile to explore the compatibility of CCL with the Mac Store Apps framework. Obviously, we need to assess if, for instance, the use of the badly documented darwin functions could be a problem. I actually suspect it may not be. In the case of Java Apple is pulling the rug from underneath developers by declaring Java to be an OPTIONAL component of OS X. For a change lets use some positive thinking here and explore new exciting opportunities.


Prof. Alexander Repenning

University of Colorado
Computer Science Department
Boulder, CO 80309-430

vCard: http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~ralex/AlexanderRepenning.vcf

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