My Lisp experiences and the development of GNU Emacs

My Lisp Experiences and the Development of GNU Emacs

The never-dull Richard Stallman talks about his experiences with Lisp and with the development of Emacs. It’s got some useful observations on why Lisp became the core of Emacs: it was news to me that this hadn’t always been the case. It started with an “editor control” language in the spirit of editors like ed. But as people wanted more support from their editor, they wanted to program it more effectively.

The language that you build your extensions on shouldn’t be thought of as a programming language in afterthought; it should be designed as a programming language. In fact, we discovered that the best programming language for that purpose was Lisp.

The result was a re-write of Emacs in C (for portability), with a Lisp interpreter specialised towards editing tasks.

He then gives an insider’s perspective on the Lisp machines and their evolution, as well as revealing the genesis of his ideas for the free software movement. While these are interesting to read, it should be noted that much of it has been rebutted: his description of the formation and later history of the two spin-outs, Symbolics and Lisp Machines Inc, is strongly disputed by Dan Weinreb on his blog.)

(Part of the series An annotated Lisp bibliography.)