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Web pioneer hits critics with Lisp gauntlet

Higher-level challenge

Maverick programmer and venture capitalist Paul Graham is challenging all comers to beat him after finally releasing a working version of his Lisp update – called Arc.

Best known for his pioneering early 1990s work on web development and spam filters, Graham announced in 2001 he was working on an economic version of Lisp, one of the oldest languages still in regular use for production systems - with Cobol and Fortran - that’s used in artificial intelligence programming and considered something for “serious” developers.

9/11, the dot-com bust, Katrina… a whole lot's happened since Graham's pledge, but people have hung on in eager anticipation of his work.

After seven years' work, though, Graham has delivered what's being considered an incomplete version of Arc. Apparently Graham decided now is the time to get Arc out into the world in the form of a compiler that generates MzScheme code.

Unsurprisingly, the reaction has been mixed with some applauding how Arc strips the Lisp language down to its bare essentials. But other commentators have expressed disappointment. One view says Arc is merely an extension to Lisp - an extendable language - so its not really new at all. Another view is that Arc is only a thin layer (and not the right one) on top of the Lisp dialect Scheme.

Graham has now thrown down the gauntlet to supporters of other programming languages, challenging them to come up with a shorter version of an Arc code example to read and display a field on a web page. Graham said he doesn't usually refute criticisms directly but would this time as the main complaint is: “That I don't seem to have had to work hard enough writing it.”

Not surprisingly the challenge has met with a broad response. A Smalltalk solution using Seaside claims both to be shorter and easier to understand.

Despite the negative comment, Arc seems to be generating excitement among programming language enthusiasts and has already been ported to Javascript. Arc is also supported under the Eclipse-based IDE Schemescript

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