Since the GNU project is celebrating its anniversary, and the initial announcement for GNU is linked to (http://www.gnu.org/gnu/initial-announcement.en.html) all over the place, I reread it and I stumbled upon the plan for a lisp-based window system:

and eventually a Lisp-based window system through which several Lisp programs and ordinary Unix programs can share a screen.

It is well known that Stallman had a lisp background and has launched lisp-based projects (Emacs, Guile). As I understand, Stallman's preferred desktop environment for the GNU system is nowadays GNUstep (which seems to be a little dormant).

When looking at demonstrations of Symbolics Lisp machines, I am really impressed by the powerful approach and I think that Stallman had something like this in mind during the announcement.

So I wonder: What happened to this plan of a Lisp-based window system? Has it been actually pursued once?

1 Answer 1


Nothing happened.

The main reason is that Stallman grossly overestimated the amount of help he was going to get from other developers, so his plans were, correspondingly, grandiose.

In fact, the first generally useful GNU systems did not become available for 10 years (until the Linux kernel became usable for a non-hacker user). This lead to the sarcastic expansion of GNU as "Generally Not Used/Useful/Usable".

The closest were, I guess, two window managers: a lisp-based one gwm and a scheme-based one scwm, neither of which actually GNU projects.

Nothing Will Happen

One has also to take into account that the X Window system made an enormous progress in the last 30 years, and became very much entrenched, so replacing it with something only slightly better - but incompatible - is not really an option.

  • "so replacing it with something slightly better is not really an option." Except that's happening right now, X is getting replaced by Wayland, next year most likely, with GNOME 3.12 (even the most recent .10 release has almost full Wayland support).
    – jcora
    Sep 29, 2013 at 15:47
  • 1
    Stallman also probably never liked the Lisp Machine software architecture (object-oriented with Flavors) and also not Common Lisp. He had seen that already and my guess is that he would not have been able to reproduce it or recreate it in a modern way. Instead he was busy with C, Unix tools, Emacs, Emacs Lisp, ... Sep 30, 2013 at 19:28
  • This lead to the sarcastic expansion of GNU as "Generally Not Used/Useful/Usable".: I find this sarcasm exaggerated: The Linux kernel would have been unusable without the GNU tool chain as much as the GNU tools were unusable without the Linux kernel.
    – Giorgio
    Apr 3, 2017 at 17:58

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