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Ground rules not yet decided???

In response to REM@IMSSS (mail sent to that address always bounces back
in my face):

It was never our intention to try to formalize the "ground rules"
covering the philosophy of language design at the Boston meeting or
anywhere else.  This is a fluid process with a lot of varying opinions,
and in the end these choices come down to taste and experience.  I don't
think it would be wise to try to chisel a set of principles in stone,
even if we could get people to agree.

What we did try to do in Boston was to work out some more formal way for
making final decisions on what is in Common Lisp and what is not.  I had
assumed that everyone who cared about this had heard the news from
someone who attended the meeting, but maybe not.  What happened in the
charter area was this (very briefly):

After some discussion of the possible kinds of organization we might
want to form, we heard from Bob Mathis on what it would take to
standardize Common Lisp in a formal way under ISO.  Mathis used to run
the Ada and Stars programs at DOD, and he was deeply involved in the
effort to get Ada standardized by ISO.  In the past, most of us had
discounted the formal standards organizations as unwieldy bureaucracies
that mangle everything they touch, but Mathis persuaded most of us that
there was a good chance of setting things up so that a technical
committee acceptable to the current Common Lisp community produces a
recommendation for a standard (perhaps a series of standards, one every
couple of years) and the ISO approves this as the standard definition of
Common Lisp without a lot of gratuitous alterations.

We decided that this route was worth a try.  The original gang of five,
plus Mathis and Squires, were appointed to try to put together a
steering committee to do the political work and a technical commitee
that would be more representative of the total community than the gang
of five are by themselves.  This will then be proposed to ISO, with
Mathis as the "convenor" of the committee -- a position of some power.
The formation of a separate standards organization for Common Lisp was
put on hold for six months, by which time we should have a good idea
whether the ISO process is going to work the way we want it to.
However, we hope to proceed rapidly toward getting ISI a contract from
DARPA for performing various non-decision-making support tasks for
Common Lisp.

The intention is that the technical committee, once formed, would work
in more or less the way that we always have worked.  Issues would be
raised, discussed via the network (we hope to establish better mail
connections with Europe and Japan as quickly as possible), and when some
sort of near consensus emerges, a decision would be made and recorded.
The technical committee would then announce that this is going to be in
the proposed standard that is sent on to ISO.  Eventually, all of these
decisions are bundled together, sent to ISO, and (we hope) they emerge
from the other end of the process as an ISO standard.  Getting through
these last few steps could take a long time, but companies would be
perfectly free to go ahead and implement what is in the proposal, rather
than waiting for the final standard to be approved.

One thing that became clear at the meeting was that there is
considerable interest in Europe, especially in Jerome Chailloux's group
in France, in working on a smaller, cleaner Lisp that probably would be
a subset of Common Lisp.  Of course, there has been some interest in
this in the U.S. as well, particularly in Kessler's PCLS group at Utah,
and Dr. Ida in Japan has been working on something similar.

I personally don't see any fundamental conflict here.  What might well
emerge is a two-level standard (or maybe two distinct standards): big,
ugly, hairy industrial strength Common Lisp on the one hand, and some
cleaner subset on the other.  (Whether the subset people can reach
agreement is another matter -- there are many different reasons for
doing a subset, and the resulting language would be different in each
case.)  It would cause a lot of confusion to use the name "Common Lisp"
to refer to anything other than the big language more or less as defined
in Guy's book, but if we're careful in choosing what to call the subset,
the two levels should be able to coexist quite happily.

So the next task is to work out the membership of the technical and
steering committees, and then do whatever one does to get ISO to
recognize them.  This will take awhile.  In the meantime, nobody is in a
position to make any binding decisions on language issues, but we can
continue to muddle along as we have for the last year or two until the
more formal mechanism is in place.

-- Scott