Thursday, May 19, 2005

Xerox software environments used by the GraphTalk team

Sorry to disappoint you, GraphTalk was not developed at Xerox PARC, even we had several meetings at Xerox PARC (mainly for some demonstration) and other meetings and demo too in other Xerox sites (Rochester Xerox Labs, etc...).

GraphTalk was an internal project in the french operating company Rank Xerox France.

We had the great luck to meet intelligent managers with openness to accept that a local team built something outside the official organization framework.

Xerox Sales people help us a lot when they started to demonstrate and to sell our successive prototypes as they were a product.
Each commitment took by the Sales people with customers or prospects were for us, new resources or new prioritization to the advantage of the GraphTalk project.

The first GraphTalk prototype was imagined and developed outside the normal working hours and with a very brilliant trainee, Mounir Khlat from the French "Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées".
It is not the first time I have met, in my career, brilliant developer students or graduates of "the bridge" as we say in France.

I meet Mounir at the "Aulnay sous-bois" IT Rank Xerox France office. He was trainee on a not funny subject: an expert system to help sales and marketing people for the printer’s configuration management.

Several "face to face" discussions about Niam (I was joining Rank Xerox from the Maia project at the BNP Paribas), semantic networks, metamodeling, XAIE capabilities, etc ... convince quickly Mounir to start to work with me.
I had only the difficult mission to explain to the previous Mounir's manager that it was better for the Master of Mounir and for Rank Xerox to work on the software engineering domain and not on a basic expert systems feasible directly with a simple PC/guru engine ...
We started by a train on XAIE and InterLispD given by AI Xerox environment experts from Tecsi software (there were no local Xerox employee with enough knowledge on InterLispD to teach us).
My local boss ordered two Xerox 1108 AI machines and as soon we received then, we started some brain exercises ...

The "Talk" common string between SmallTalk and GraphTalk is the only common point with SmallTalk, this exceptionally talented environment.

Our competitor, for technical choices, inside Xerox was not SmallTalk (even Pierre Cointe was closed to Xerox during this period; Pierre was the SmallTalk 80 expert for Rank Xerox), but Mesa/XDE.

Only experts in Xerox software know about the other great Xerox software development environment, the Mesa/XDE environment.
Mesa was the implementation environment for the Xerox Viewpoint environment (OIS environment) running on Xerox 8010 Star, Xerox 6085 and PC with a special hardware card and some specific chips).

During the GraphTalk period, The Mesa environment was used by Xerox @ Rochester for a project in competition with the french GraphTalk team:

It was the SVP (Structured View Point) project.
I met the SVP team in the Rochester Labs, and we were surprised we have a lot of common functional ideas and a common enthusiasm on our own project.
SVP was closed to the Xerox strategy, with very good ideas on the document workflows, and with specific items for software development documentation in a collaborative approach.
GraphTalk was more Engineering oriented and SVP more document oriented.

Jim Savage, the corporate IT manager (so the big IT manager), took two days with Mounir Khlat and myself in France to look at all prototypes we made and to hear our explanations.
Jim was enthusiastic and he took quickly 3 critical decisions, concerning the future of the GraphTalk project:

  • Creation of an international internal team dedicated to software engineering with me as French member and GraphTalk mentor.
    • As often with this kind of committee, results were weak:
      • SVP and GraphTalk stay in competition
      • The IT of the french operating company will use the GraphTalk/Merise tool and other GraphTalk stuff for Enterprise IT architecture, while the other countries will use the IEW James Martin CASE tool.
  • Decision to give me an exclusive mission on GraphTalk and AI stuff and quickly to stop to work on my initial job description (Architecture of French IT systems).
  • Creation of the DIAGL (Direction Intelligence Articielle et Génie Logiciel), an internal enterprise inside Rank Xerox France dedicated to the GraphTalk project and the sales of the Xerox AI products in French speaking countries.

GraphTalk was developed with XAIE InterLispD and an advanced prototype of GraphTalk was developed by Leopold Wilhelm with CLOS (Common Lisp Object System).

When we worked on the port of GraphTalk to standard operating systems (OS/2 and later on Windows and more later on Unix), we took few days to think if we have to be good Xerox employees and to use the official Mesa/XDE environment instead InterLispD.

Market consideration, not limited to the Xeroxsphere, were the most important: the importance of standard (operating systems) is critical for an IT manager before to buy a product, even he is convinced by the concepts.
We choose IBM OS/2 PM, and not Windows because at this time OS/2 PM was strong and Windows with so may bugs that it was not efficient to develop with Windows 3.0.
I remember a meeting with Gartner's analysts at Stanford: they were sure that IBM will be the winner in the war between IBM and Microsoft, for the competition between OS/2 PM or Windows as PC systems.

When you start with train about product strategy, teachers said always: you have to do a market study and you have to meet software analysts (from Gartner, Metagroup, etc..) with a business plan and after you will be in the good position.
I think that when you start with a product, the first thing you have to do is to built the product, and to listen customers. Customers are more important than anything else.

A famous killer decision from marketing is the case of the SmallTalk team at Objectshare (the new name for ParcPlace), a spin-off of Xerox for SmallTalk activity.
In February of 1997 Richard Dym, marketing VP, put out a press release that stated the company's direction was moving away from Smalltalk towards Java. This became known as the suicide letter.

Take care, I didn't hate for marketing people and I have very good relationship with a lot of marketing people.

What really we used in GraphTalk into the Xerox tool box?

  • XAIE InterLispD, with two important tools
    • Important because we can program this tool for GraphTalk (with Grapher) and LEdit (with SEdit)
      • InterLispD Grapher
        • first iteration on GraphTalk was only a special Grapher application
        • due to limitations, very quickly we replace Grapher by our own component.
      • InterLispD Lisp editor SEdit
        • all iterations on LEdit were special SEdit applications
    • InterLispD text editor TEdit
      • To generate documentation
      • Very early and easily it was possible with a GraphTalk CASE tools to generate document with the diagrams inside the document and with clicking in the diagram in the document, to open the diagram editor. In 1986, it was not current and we could say it was very sexy
    • Rooms
      • Genial product from Ramano Rao: the use of multiple virtual workspaces to reduce space contention in a Window-based Graphical User Interface
      • We used it to organize the CASE tool: one room by Diagram editor, or document editor.
    • Loops (from Daniel Bobrow and Mark Stefik)
      • for the concepts and the paradigms
    • Stem, a simulation environment developed by AIS Limited in UK (David Butler was the manager of this external structure outside Rank Xerox UK) with Loops and InterLispD
      • for the concepts and the paradigms
    • Notecards (from Randall Trigg), a powerful hypertext environment
      • for the concepts and the paradigms

If we look at the PARC story with the delivery of these Xerox software environments, we can estimate we meet at Rank Xerox France a lot of exceptional technologies during the GraphTalk project (1986-1992).

We were in the best software company to do this kind of product development.


At a Chicago tradeshow, Xerox unveils the 8010 STAR Information System. PARC's Alto personal workstation is the foundation for this product. The 8010's features include all of the Alto's capabilities plus multilingual software, the Mesa programming language, and interim file servers. The system allows users to create complex documents by combining computing, text editing and graphics, and to access file servers and printers around the world through simple point-and-click actions, a functionality that has yet to be matched by today's computing systems.


The Xerox 6085 Professional Computer System that runs PC programs and has advanced ViewPoint software document-processing capabilities, is released. The product builds on a foundation of PARC's Alto personal workstation and has features and performance capabilities beyond that of the previously released 8010 STAR Information System.


The Xerox 1185 and 1186 Artificial Intelligence (AI) Workstations, intended for the design, use and delivery of AI software and expert systems, are released. These artificial intelligence machines use the Interlisp-D programming environment and computer techniques developed at PARC to duplicate the human cognitive process of problem solving.

Using the Interlisp-D environment, PARC researchers develop Trillium and Pride expert systems for artificial intelligence programming. Trillium enables the quick simulation of new user interface designs. Pride captures engineers' experiences and "rules of thumb" for designing paper paths using pinch rollers.

Xerox markets Lisp workstations that use the Interlisp-D programming language to support artificial intelligence programming as well as applications utilized within Xerox. Developed as a computing environment for research in cognitive science, Interlisp-D combines ideas for rapid prototyping with explicit knowledge representation. With the Loops object-oriented extensions, it will be used to develop a number of valuable knowledge-based systems for Xerox.


The Smalltalk-80 object-oriented programming language is commercialized through the formation of ParcPlace Systems. First deployed in 1972, Smalltalk was the first object-oriented programming language with an integrated user interface, overlapping windows, integrated documents, and cut & paste editor. The business, formed to market products based on the Smalltalk-80 programming environment and to further develop and support Smalltalk-80 standards, will later become ObjectShare.

For people wanted to read some papers from the PARC, look at the the PARC Blue and White series.


At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Phaser Ink said...

This sounds amazing, i actually didnt hear any rumors that graphtalk was supposedly created in or by Xerox PARC.

However this sounds like an amazing challeging experience that had become a journey for everyone. These are my favorite type of experiences you learn so much and meet so many great people and im glad to hear you had this opportunity.

Im glad the people at Xerox PARC accepted you well and that you met many interesting people with open minds. I would love to go through an incredible experience like this and hopefully soon.. and have it be so great that we could demonstrate in Xerox PARC!

Wonderful post and i wish you the best of luck!


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At 12:43 AM, Blogger Hiro said...

The role of Mounir Khlat seems to be substantially understated.

In retrospect, I really wonder why they chose InterLisp and not smallTalk to implement graphTalk.

Would have been so much easier and avoided so many problems down the line.

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