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Ted Nelson Releases Xanadu 77

ewen writes "Ted Nelson has at last released the source to Xanadu, the extremely rich but never-quite-finished hypertext system. There was a couple of sessions at the O'Reilly Open Source conference yesterday, which Jon Udell has written up, and Dave Winer has posted some background material and thoughts at his website, "
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Ted Nelson Releases Xanadu

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  • I was just reading over the specs for Xanadu, when I came across a feature called double-linking. Why would this shock/suprise me? Have you ever read a book called "Earthweb" ? ... I found a copy at the library, and read it. Standard Sci-fi, but predicted a large amount about the web, the end of Microsoft, the privitisation of gov't, etc. Some food for thought.

    Now the really interesting thing was a comment at one point that "the first version of the web didn't even have dual link support." Hmmmm..
    On a side note, you'll win 50 books from Baen if you can tell the proper tale of how Microsoft was destroyed in the early 20th century.

    Go on, it won't hurt to read about it a bit. You might even think some :-)
  • Bad metaphor.

    In the current system, *everybody* can have their lips around the tap, guzzle it all down, and it still doesn't run out for anybody. That's the beauty of information against material goods.

    Thanks to the current model, we have a wealth of free information out there, which probably wouldn't have happened if mechanisms for fee collection had been in place from the beginning.

    I totally, wholeheartedly agree with the original poster. Xanadu getting a head start on HTML would have been a tragedy.
  • I can't see what problem it solves.
  • In fact, the Xanadu Operating Company [] (XOC) was funded by AutoDesk [] (of AutoCad fame) for about five years under the pretext that the Xanadu system would make a dandy archive/retrieval system for AutoCad design files. That it also tickled the imagination of AutoDesk founder John Walker was a happy coincidence.

    I was involved in a week's worth of discussion with the folks at XOC (and ESR []) about turning USENET into a "coarse grain" hypertext system (after all, every article has a world-wide unique message-ID, required by the transport, and the software can use "references" like links), but there were a number of issues we didn't have clean answers for, and the discussion never resulted in software. Besides, now we have DejaNews [] as an archive of USENET, also Alta Vista [] can search it, too.

    Anyway, when Carol Bartz became CEO of AutoDesk, she cut a lot of things (AutoDesk was in financial trouble at the time), and XOC was one of the casualties. Now, one could well ask why, with five years of funding, XOC never produced anything that the market saw...

    I think the principal failing of Ted Nelson's dream was the almost relentless drive for perfection, with almost no "real world" testing of the incremental versions of the software - no one associated with the effort wanted to release anything less than complete and perfect.

    Result: nothing was ever released (until now).

    It'll be interesting to see if the code lives up to the decades of hype about it.

  • That it hasn't is a good reason to wonder if Xanadu does indeed solve problems for real live people.
  • the "Concurrent virtual Workspaces" recently released as open source and mentioned above reads like a MUD with support for sharing .DOCs and .XLSes etc and video/audio. Not as good as a mailing list I would say at recording past discussion --never mind sophisticated stuff like transclusion.
  • Wow, thanks. I think that's one of the nicest technical things i've heard someone say about me.

    I wrote Pyxi. And it really isn't very well documented at all -- it was quite rushed, done in a couple of weeks or so (most of it in the last weekend before the demo).

    An important point i want to make is that i do not understand the back-end code at all, and i didn't have to understand how it worked in order to write the front-end. I wrote Pyxi entirely based on a paper protocol specification [] which is now published at the website.

    This means other people can develop on top of the back-end too. I only joined the project recently to write the front-end, and i agree the back-end code is pretty hard to read!

    Watch for another release with more documentation and stuff.

    -- ?!ng

  • I'd like to second that recommendation. Marc based his book [] on a lot of the ideas that have swirled around this group (hypertext [], idea futures [], real computer security [], smart contracting [], etc.).

    By the way, bidirectional linking is not new to the Web. It was new in 1997, when it was introduced by CritLink []. I encourage you to check that out, too. It lets anybody annotate any public web page using any browser -- no software required.

    -- ?!ng

  • because they were granted the same freedoms as me.

  • You're trying to say that the fact that Xanadu's source (and so on) isn't in Xanadu format means that Xanadu isn't (or might not be) useful.

    True in the sense that buggy, incomplete code isn't useful. False in the sense that buggy, incomplete code proves nothing about design quality.

    Xanadu doesn't NOW solve problems. I'm confident that it will in the future, though.

  • The Open Hyperdocument System [] is a format championed by Doug Engelbart.

    The goal of the OHS Project is to build an open source Open Hyperdocument System (OHS) - the critical missing piece of the technology for enabling dynamic, distributed collective knowledge work. OHS is designed to be:

    Open- provides vendor-independent access to hyperdocuments within and across work groups,
    platforms, and applications
    Navigable- provides flexible, bi-directional linking to any object in any multimedia file
    Customizable- allows users to select and create views of data best suited to task or preference
    Dynamic- end-user functionality automatically changes over time to accommodate new multimedia
    object formats and methods for viewing them
    Collaborative- enables users to synchronously and asynchronously create, use, and modify
    hyperdocuments and dialog about them.
    Platform-neutral- user interaction components are written in Java
    Interoperable- provides a unifying framework within which (future) multi-vendor applications can
    Reusable- knowledge stored in it can be used and shared across time, and across knowledge and
    organizational domains
    Extensible- new multimedia object types, means to interpret them, applications, views, and features
    can be added easily
    Standards-based- content formats are based on W3C XML standards

    For those who don't know, Engelbart produced a working collaborative (network work groups), hypertext, point and click, and video conferencing system in 1968 . See Doug Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution [] at Stanford.

  • B&W? Well, no, B&W was the standard. NTSC layered color onto the B&W signal so that B&W TVs could still recieve the color signal, albeit w/o the color.

    Color broadcasting equipment and cameras, etc., were much more expensive as well, at the time.
  • Sigh... udanax is yet another technical site which forgot to say what their stuff does!

    There should be a paragraph on that page which says what Green and Gold do and are used for. Yes, I remember the old BYTE summary...would have been nice to have back when disk space was expensive...

  • Nobody guzzles down all the information. It is duplicated and copied to all, with no scarcity.

    I like to believe that the one thing that Open Source has taught us is that Intellectual Property is the most artificial of all Property Rights.

    In theory, Intellectual Property is supported by law to encourage the creation of new Property. This is thought to benefit society.

    We see with Open Source that a creative resource that is artificially made scarce seems to inhibit creativity. It's my observation that the most inventive creations have come out of an innate desire to be creative.

    The real value created in Intellectual Property has not been in it's creation, but in it's application. If there were no copyrights, we would still buy books and newspapers. If there were no patents, someone would still make inventions and try to capitalize on their production and use.

    The abolition of property rights could lead to a much more competitive, vital economy than we have now. Businesses would be focused on making the best product at the best price and provide the best service rather than the inherent monopoly granted when someone builds a new widget that a bureaucrat says is 'patentable'.

    The same is true in software. Why is it that the Indian Software Mills have not been more successful? You can get good programmers for a fraction of what you pay in the US...

    I think it's because there's just not that much value in initial construction to specification. At least not in something so fluid as software. The real productive value in software comes in the revision cycles, the consulting on the best use, the integration of a software product with other systems. This is why the Linux software market is so vital. People get paid 'doing' Linux, but it's only when the software gets used in productive use, or is packaged in an easy-to-use form (the distributions). People are competing to provide value, not provide software licenses that may or may not be of value.

    Maybe we shouldn't be abolishing all Intellectual Property rights overnight. I don't think the uncertainty would be good. But, I'm concerned we are going in the wrong direction on Intellectual Property, what with the UCITA [] and this interesting article about various proposals to extend copyrights [].

  • I understand and appreciate your point here. However, you're dead wrong in this particular case -- Xanadu is VERY well described. You need to hold your horses a little, calm down, and understand that somethings do take more than 20 seconds of attention span to explain.

  • ...and no explorer needs it.

    Modesty is a drawback in exploration.

    Sure, a lack of it causes painful problems in marketing, but I think we're tought enough to look past marketing.

    The question shouldn't be: is Nelson a windbag. The question should be: what has he done?

  • For an interesting and clear explanation of what the technology actually does, see:
    (In case you followed the link to comments rather than to Scripting News).

    With all the attempts we're seeing to make the web an interactive, BBS-like medium (Slashdot, Web-DAV, ThirdVoice/Gooey/...), I think this technology is definately worth looking into.
  • The growth of the internet has been thanks to the simplicity (over simplistic in some people's view) of the protocols, etc. XML and XSL are another step in this direction, simple concepts that take the best from existing ideas. SGML has been largely ignored (at least in Europe) thanks to it's needless complexity. DSSSL is even worse.

    While the Xanadu system sounds technically and conceptually brilliant, the fact that twenty years down the line it still doesn't work is worrying. Is there a limit at which complex ideas become unimplementable, or has Xanadu simply been unlucky?

    And I couldn't help noticing that the C version is the preferred developer option, rather than the Smalltalk/C++ version. So much for the wonders of Object Oriented Programming - the biggest intellectual fraud of the nineties.

    Chris Wareham
  • So much for the wonders of Object Oriented Programming - the biggest intellectual fraud of the nineties

    yeah, that's probably why they wrote the front-end in Python...

  • by jdougan ( 11426 ) on Wednesday August 25, 1999 @12:47AM (#1727278) Homepage
    I feel the problem with implementing Xanadu was that the implementation technology of the late 80's simply wasn't up to the task. The hardware wasn't up to it, the Internet hadn't taken off yet (At one time they were planning to set up their own network), OO tools were crude and not yet performance optimized, and the cathedral style of development meant that there were never enough minds at work on it. Also the problem was partially Ted homself. He's not a programmer, but a designer. He is at the mercy of other peoples implementation and *funding* since he's not capable of hacking it out himself. He's a great designer, but he seems to think sideways from most other people and has a love of inventing new terminology which makes it difficult to convey his ideas and designs to others. So he's had a very difficult time getting financial support to build this stuff. Add in a little bit of bad luck here and there and you have a 20 year delay.

    Hopefully open sourceing it will help. I know some of the Squeak Smalltalk hackers (including myself) are interested in moving the Udanax Gold code to Squeak and already a preliminary reformatting and analysis of the code has been done. Apparantly Mark Miller has also expressed interest in a Squeak port.

    As I understand it the reason that the C version is preferred initially is simply because it is in a more complete state, being an older design and implementation. Some people are going to have trouble conceptualizing what Xanadu is capable of, so having something they can see in operation, even if it is missing some of the features of the more recent design, is going to be a big win.
  • I met Ted Nelson a few months back and, like nanotechnologist Eric Drexler who documented the effort in a chapter of "Engines of Creation []", he's a fascinating guy - neural connections just chaotic enough to create something like this.

    What I really want to know, though, is will it layer well over the web infrastructure? Its technical superiority won't win it users; it's not enough of a paradigm shift on its own. Let's hope it plugs into today's web and lets the networked society truly get a grip.

    Read a Linux newbie's musings in The Microsoft Matrix. []
  • They've gone for the one of the most liberal open source licenses out there X11. This is compatible with GPL and LGPL, doesn't have the "obnoxious advertising clause", and basically gives us enormous freedom to use the product as we see fit.
  • Ted Nelson explains the key concepts of Xanalogical Media [] elegantly in this article but has some conflicting things to say about centralization and copyright issues. He states that service providers would have to guarentee the future publishing of material and that material would have to be pulled down from the recognised publisher. This will allow the automatic paying of copyright fees etc.. This is very different to the decentralized WWW that we all feel confortable with. On the Xanadu Net you can quite quickly supress your latested publishing should you decide you said the wrong thing, just remove it from your ISP (and sue them if they refuse).. does Ted value the "once it's up it's cached and copied forever" mentality of the web? If so, Xandadu should be a distrobuted system which encourages the free and total exchange of ideas. There's no need to pay an upfront fee to guarentee that your work will remain available for people to cross reference, if it is valued then it will be read and cached more frequently than those articles which are sparingly used as reference. It would indeed be a task to construct a distrobuted data store that we all can poke into efficently and publish what we want into.. was this not what Xandadu was originally intended to become?

  • Indeed I do see a lot of effort being spent trying to solve the taxation of information. Perhaps something can be gleaned off this research.
  • If only they had released Xanadu as Open Source
    in the 80s, rather than waiting a whole decade.
    If they had, we'd probably be surfing the web using bidirectional links, infinite namespace and all the other cool things that Xanadu has.
    However, now that HTML has such a hold it is doubtful that Xanadu can ever make much of an impact.
  • 500 Server Error

    The hard transfer limit for this user has been reached

    and it's only 7:15AM (but only in east US!)

    Now if I could only find my copy of "Computer Lib/Dream Machines"

  • While the Xanadu system sounds technically and conceptually brilliant, the fact that twenty years down the line it still doesn't work is worrying. Is there a limit at which complex ideas become unimplementable, or has Xanadu simply been unlucky?

    Complicated software that works pretty much always derives from something
    simple that works, not something complicated that doesn't work.

    OOP is overrated, it's useful, but PHBs tend to forget that it's just even easier to write
    complete crap using OOP. There's this laugable notion: OOP == Good, !OOP == !good.
    I believe that the problem with the smalltalk version
    is that it is Xerox parc smalltalk which is not a commonly
    supported development environment. The C++ is auto-generated, so unlikely
    to be very readable.
  • Wired covered the Xanadu project a couple of years ago. Sounded quite interesting in parts, although it had a real vapourware whiff about it.

    Some parts of the tech seem pretty cool - in the Wired article, Nelson went on about a 'revolutionary' new method of indexing & searching textual information which was several orders of maginitude faster than anything else around. This sounded great, but the team's attitude was highly secretive and they refused to even give a demo, never mind release the source code.

    Frankly their 'if we told you we'd have to kill you' schtick gave the impression that this was just so much talk which they had cooked up over a few bong hits and that they hadn't gotten around to installing their compilers yet, much less started to code.

    Ted Nelson also gave the impression that he had slept through most of the WWW development that had taken place during his time on the Xanadu project. He envisaged a world of micropayments, tightly controlled data and strong copyright controls - basically the exact opposite of the way the Net seems to be going.

    So, it is good to see something concrete after all this time - hopefully open sourcing the code will let somebody with a little more programming nouse give them a hand. It would be a shame to see whatever good ideas and models they have developed so far go to waste, but I doubt if Xanadu is ever going to come to fruition exactly as it was originally intended. We just arent working in that kind of world anymore.

  • by Cptn Proton ( 29372 ) on Wednesday August 25, 1999 @01:44AM (#1727288)
    The World Wide Web was created before the deluge of software patenting and after hypertext linking had been invented. The Government, as much as we like to complain about it, had a redundant network in place that could handle hypertext linking ARPANET. Most importantly, in 1990 Tim Berners-Lee was coding the World Wide Web on his NeXT machine at Cern while Ted Nelson was XEROXing literary machines 90.1.

    If any of this had of hapenned out of step, Ted Nelson could have invented the web, patented his software, making his system the standard. Thusly turning your PC into an


    Think I'm out of bounds???? Students, please turn to page 5/13 of Literary Mchines 90.1:


    amongst are for those who do not have a copy;

    a royalty for every byte delivered.

    a royalty for links to other documents.

    if that wasn't enough, how about a

    a royalty for everything delivered to the network. If publisher owns material, he gets rebated. Otherwise TAX would be appropriate description.

    Let me put it visually for you. You know that little counter you get at KINKO's to make copies with?? Imagine that plugged into your PC. And imagine it spinning really fast.

    You thought the RIAA is bad with MP3s?? Well how much music do you listen to as to compared to digging for info on the Web??

    Don't get me wrong. I believe in giving every author, written, electronic, musically or otherwise not only their just due, but their asking price for the work they offer. I don't mind a bit going to a secure server and paying for content, no matter what it is.

    What I do mind is automatic collection, another opportunity for an unjustified tax by a chrony politician, and exorbitant fees for material that I don't need or want to buy.

    As I see it, I don't mind buying the beer, but clean water is everbody's right.

    Thanks to the way history is we have the possibility of new revolutions in things seemingly unrelated as computer chips and medicine, or network redundancy and rainforest conservation, all due to the free flow of information.

    Do not forget that the goal of Xanadu was and is to be an advanced fee collection system. Because history hapenned right, Xanadu almost seems to be a technological afterthought. It is a curiosity to be examined and avoided.
  • The problem is VW Smalltalk, not OOP. Its very hard to disentangle apps written in Smalltalk from their development environment for shipment, and the process is encumbered by PPD's clumsy licensing schemes.

    I still think VW Smalltalk is the best development environment ever, and still manages to be faster then Java in spite of the obstacles, but thats another issue.
  • Satan drove a snowmobile to work this morning ;-)

    This wired story has a bit of history of the Xanadu project. Very good read. Xanadu must be one of the largest software disasters known to mandkind. Kind of quite sad really.

    The Curse of Xanadu []

    Being in the electronic publishing industry does however make some of the ideas behind xanadu quite interesting for me. Most the ideas were good. But good ideas are just the beginning.

  • I am not sure if anything at all in technology has succeeded because it was technically better. This may sound cynical, but just look at history:

    DOS vs. Mac - DOS wins.

    Windows vs. OS/2 - Windows wins.

    NeXT vs. everything else - NeXt loses.

    klunky 101 keyboard vs. better alternatives - 101 wins.

    CISC vs. RISC - Intel bunnies win everything in sight.

    Basically, any established technology which does the job in a simple way wins so long as the people behind it keep up the marketing momentum.

    And then, the installed base takes care of its own. Nobody would quit windows or linux if a far better OS suddenly appeared. Nobody ever thinks about changing their keyboard layout. And just imagine what would happen if a better alternative to mp3 came along - it would have to be compelling enough to reduce space by a huge amount to justify changing a well-established standard.

    As a side note: I believe B&W TV became the standard even though color was around at the time - this was because of political reasons, since David Sarnoff was the chairman of some committee or the other. So there you have it - political power, an installed base, and sheer inertia - the formula for success in establishing standards.


  • Just say No to Centralization.
  • Ted wanted to have the RIAA model in place, but the actual implementors were working mainly on other issues and hadn't gotten around to putting in royalty hooks.

    They hadn't put them into "gold" as of the point where Autodesk bailed out, and I don't think they were in "green" at the point where it was sheleved in favor of work on "gold".

  • by Anonymous Coward
    from (Roger Gregory)

    Some enfilades are in the code. The theory isn't written up in a form that is publishable yet.

    A short form is:
    an enfilade is a tree data structure where the contents in a subtree are abstracted into a width-like quantity, possibly multimentional,called a "wid",and the relationship of the subtree to the whole is charictized by a displacementlike quantity called a "dsp".

    This enables moving large chunks of data with respect to the rest mearly by changing displacements. Thus operations can be on entire subtrees. Editing becomes log. The major structures in GREEN are 2 dimensional permutation matrices.
  • Those who believe that Xanadu's prime purpose is to incorporate all of human knowledge, and that its careful attention to royalties is an afterthought to attract those who would not otherwise use it, have not been listening to what Ted Nelson has been saying for the last thirty years.

    I knew Ted back when he was writing Computer Lib/Dream Machines (I'm in it several times). He's a wonderful visionary. His visions are about literature, primarily. He also has visions about the literary uses of computers, because he's a good visionary. But he is, first and foremost, a writer, and royalties are of prime importance to him. Ted, and I kid you not, loves to scribble his ideas on 3x5 cards or 4x6 cards while he's explaining his latest ideas. Diagrams, arrows, labels, cute pictures, man, he's great at it. And absolutely every single last one of these cards gets 'C'-in-a-circle Copyright 19xx written on it, and it goes back into his pocket. His vision of Xanadu is of a system where absolutely everybody retains eternal rights to whatever they create, and gets paid royalties every time it's used. Period. Don't think otherwise. Is this a good thing? Yes. Is it a feature which will lead to its adoption by the masses? Hell no. The Web exploded because the Web is free. Don't fool yourself on that one.

    I find it ironic that some of the most immediate barriers to Xanadu's widespread adoption come from the principle it most espouses: protection of intellectual property rights. It has been wrapped in trade secrecy protection until today, when it is (probably) too late to be widely adopted by anyone. Open Source release doesn't mean something will succeed, it only increases the chances. Look at Concurrent Virtual Workspaces, CVW, which Mitre of all people recently open-sourced. A kick-ass collaborative system with multicast support, but people haven't been beating down the doors.

    The other intellectual property problem was with ParcPlace Smalltalk. I mean, banking and brokerage houses use this system a LOT because they don't give a flying damn about standards and because design-to-deployment times are shorter with PPS than with anything else, if the implementors are already expert in it. And for these customers, time is everything. However, all such systems are proprietary from the get-go and forever. ParcPlace tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out how to do intellectual property protection while allowing widespread deployment of products written in PPS. They failed big-time. Smalltalk was always designed as an open system, and when it was made a product by ParcPlace, it turned out to be next door to impossible to make some of it open and some of it closed. Hence, Xanadu got bit.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    As usual /. is full of insight and warmth, as wells as some misunderstanding and confusion.

    I'll try to comment on several questions raised in /. today. I've been busy trying to get bandwidth back after all we got slashdoted today!

    Acutaly we are stuck in ParcPlace 2.5 (I believe) which keeps us stuck in SunOs because it requires sunview. There is hope, a modified squeak should be enough to read our smalltalk code and preserver the trivial systax changes we require to carry C++ type info.

    The Green C version was coded from 1979-88, and is released as it was in 1989. It was decided to shelve GREEN and proceed with a much improved design. This design, "GOLD" is a SMALLTALK == C++ version with breathtaking power and scope. And isn't usable. My contention is that SMALLTALK and C++ are the same language, and I can show that with the C++ code we have. The surprising thing thats appropriate to say here is that the generated C++ is the SAME as the handwritten C++. It reads identically and is indistinguishable from the stuff we wrote by hand. This is astounding enough that I bother to mention it.

    But development tools being better, perhaps. But in 1981 a unix system was within the reach of any starving hippy who set it as his priority. I bought my second unix machine in 1982 a sun 100u. Are the tools better now? Unquestionably, but if you don't aim high with good tools, you still produce the same kind of stuff that everyone else makes.

    Can it be layered over the web? Probably. An Anonymous Coward claims that every version must be kept because the naming system can't handle changes in the referenced text. This is exactly backwards. The internal mechanism for keeping versions is cheap and clever, involving shared subtrees of data structures, so it is used as a method of handling changing text.

    In a more direct way it can be layered in. It will be fairly simple to effect read only access to htmlized Udanax documents. I expect it to be 100 lines of perl. It's on my list, right after getting a GREEN server connected via some reliable bandwidth.

  • from

    Thank you Mr Protocol:
    call me if you are interested in pursuing this off line! You are right, as usual.

    First of all, the issue of the pay-per byte model. That's Ted's model and there are reasons for it. Someone has to pay for bit storage, transmission and production. The current method just transfer who pays in a way that ensures a certain amount of "market failure". "Slashdoting" a site is a direct consequence of the peculiar way the payments are set up now. Provider pays, is a method that only somewhat works. The miracle is that it works as well as it does. The surprising thing to me is that advertising got to be such big bucks so fast. The CPM on the average page is a lot higher than we contemplated as a use charge.

    Anyway the opensourced code has no such restriction requiring it to be used in Ted's way. That is why it can't be called "Xanadu", a registered trademark of Ted Nelson. So we released it as Udanax TM of, a religiously free source development, thus the choice of the X11 license, that paradoxically we hope will allow a large amount of commercial success.

    BTW I tried to register hours ago, so I'm forced to post as AC, too bad! No password yet, maybe our mailserver in oz got slashdoted too.
  • by jukervin ( 8659 ) on Wednesday August 25, 1999 @04:57AM (#1727306)

    The name has changed since: HG is now known as Hyperwave Information Server and it is a commercial product. More info at []

    I have tinkered with HWIS 4.0 and think it is really nice system to implement intra/extranets and it runs on several architectures including Linux. If you don't want to customize the interface it is fast to get up and running.

    Some of the features include

    • documents are stored to database (native or oracle
    • links are separated from text/html and their integrity is automatically maintaned
    • dynamic navigation structures
    • rights management
    • integrated verity search engine
    • ODMA support (save from apps to server directly)
    • Windows Explorer extensions (HWIS looks like a network neighborhood)
    • SSL
    • NT / Unix authentication gateway
    • Multilangage support
    • Saveable searchobjects that notify changes by email
    • Server clustering
    • Annotation for any object
    • Workflow

    New 5.0 version includes messageboards and mail.Haven't tested it yet though

  • OK,

    Hook onto the server and wouldn't you have a collaborative version control system?

    If I understood the description on Byte linked to by the first post, you could do the following:

    • Edit include files in place or view them from your .c file. Question is, would this be useful
    • Know which file reference which without writing a brute force Perl code parser
    • Editing and browsing are really combined, aren't they?
    • Move code around without breaking the app.
    • Strange and wonderful new compiler directives: "Compile the app as it was 2 days ago" or "Compile everything that links to this piece of code"
    • Diffs over time without dipping into CVS

    Of course, I wouldn't like to write the compiler for this system... :/
  • Here's a link at Wired for lots of stuff about Ted Nelson, including the article about him and Xanadu mentioned above. chive/people/ted_nelson/ []
  • ftp://ftp.ospreysolutions. com/xanadu/xanadu0822rel.tar.z []

    Spread it around, its Free []©. (thx RMS)

    ok, mebbe a little bit more religious rant:

    Ted Nelson's ideas have influenced a whole gaggle of software developers and such. He seems to have influenced some of the XML spec. His ideas are worth examining, especially his tumbler arithmetic. Sure, he is eccentric. I aspire to be that eccentric. :)

    I'm not going to print any t-shirts that propose to remake the Web in Xanadu's image. I'm merely looking at the ideas of a pioneer.

    On a tangent: there seems to be more noise than signal on /. as of late. Guess it comes with popularity. Let's not forget that we do this because it is fun and interesting, right?
  • by acb ( 2797 )
    Does this mean we finally find out what an enfilade is, and whether Ted Nelson really did invent an unprecedentedly brilliant data structure in the 1960s or whether he was bluffing?
  • I don't really agree with you on this point. I believe that Ted Nelson's idea was that EVERYONE would become publishers, hence a certain amount of reciprocity would be in the system. Imagine if you will the copycounter at Kinkos spinning wildly in either direction, possibly turning into your favor if you choose to be a provider. Basically, if you become an active participant in this system you can more or less get away even, if not profit some. The only time that you might really lose, is if you contribute nothing and consume everything. If I recall correctly Nelson also had mechanisms in place for people who wanted to NOT charge for their information. Either way you don't really lose if you are a participant. Whilst clean water may be everybody's right, sitting on the tap with your lips wrapped around it guzzling it all down may not be. Maybe people who would like to guzzle off the free information should think of switching to beer.
  • However, now that HTML has such a hold it is doubtful that Xanadu can ever make much of an impact.

    Why is it I recall the same thing being said about HTML??? I believe I once nievely stated that HTML was useless, because everyone had already put so much material on gopher. Doh!!!

    Having said that, the release of Xanadu, I firmly believe is a sign of the oncoming apocalypse.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday August 25, 1999 @04:13PM (#1727313) Journal
    It can't be layered as such.

    The system Ted Nelson invented is a global naming system for very large data sets; not unlike the Dewey decimal system some libraries use for indexing books.

    Sadly the naming system can't handle changes to the referenced text, so in order not to break the references, every version of the document that was ever created has to be kept.

    Not really. (You're thinking of his early descriptions of the concept.)

    In "gold" the issues of location and labeling were separated, as was version tracking. You can inquire about intermediate versions of a document, but if no server you can reach happens to have saved a copy of them them you can't read them. Servers can in principle "burn all the copies" of a published version, archive them and lose the archive, and so on.

    For some kinds of content the server can compute it on the fly, so nobody ever has to save a copy (though other servers might cache it). This corresponds to documents with dynamic content, such as query retrievals and other CGI-generated stuff.

    The web also has a hierarchical global naming system, and while it can't index down to a specific paragraph in a document, it can index as far as a well-known entry point within a document.

    While the web does have problems with global names, those problems would only be worse with a system like Xanadu.

    Again you're confusing indexing with identity. "Gold" handles identity as a separate item. The identity of a document is a history track across versions. "The current issue of Wired magazine" would be one such identity, as would "the latest rough of the December 1999 issue of Wired magazine". You "Publish" the December issue by "hopping the bert" of the current issue onto the same version as the "bert" of the rough of the December issue, creating a new entry in the issue history with exactly the same content as the rough.

    The history of the "current issue" bert is thus the set of published issues, while the history of the "December 1999 rough" is the history of the assembly of the issue. The current state of the "current issue" bert is the copy on the newsstand, you can see the publishing history by viewing the bert history, and you can read the back issues (if somebody saved the bits and will serve them to you) by viewing through the previous states of the bert.

    As for importing the whole web, "gold" lets you create a placeholder for an external document. Initially you can view the external document through the placeholder - and your server will compose a query to the external system if possible, or tell you that you can't view it yet. Later, if the external document can be and is imported into the system, the owner of the placeholder can "unify" it to the on-system version, declaring the on-system verson to be canonical and giving up his ownership rights to the owner of the canonical version.

  • That's fair. Perhaps I was too rushed in my judgement of the previous poster. :-)

    Xanadu is (essentially) a hypertext system which makes the protocols used to build the WWW look like a bit of cotton lint.

    Xanadu _will_ be used in a number of applications, and it's likely that those applications will be able to use the current web. Eventually (slowly, perhaps) Xanadu content might come to sit where web content is now.

    Perhaps. It's technically good enough.

    OTOH, some of the really interesting stuff here is technical details -- I would expect a lot of other projects to borrow stuff from the Udanax implementation. For example, Bitkeeper (the potential version control system for Linux kernel development) could use its version mapping and coloring.

  • The Python code seems to be VERY clear, more so than a lot of Python code I see. You might want to use it to help you get a grip on the rest.

    Even if you don't know Python it's very readable.

    You know, it would be really cool to have Xanadu's source entered into Xanadu, with appropriate hyperlinks automatically (etags, versions, email references) and manually (explanations) entered.

  • Thanks for the rundown. It reminds me of cords, tree-structured string representations with fast concatenation,
    substring extraction, etc. (See

    Is there any explanation of the Ent structure out there? I found the Gold source code fairly daunting.
  • Hypwerwave also had some other interesting features such as 3-D navigation of the information space.

    The versions I used back in 1997 were kind of buggy, hopefully this has improved since then.

    Also back in '97, it was quite expensive. No mention of prices on their current web site.

  • David Sarnoff was the CEO/President (or whatever) of RCA which is the company that started NBC and pushed radio and television into our homes.
  • 337540
  • >Do not forget that the goal of Xanadu was and is to be an advanced fee collection system.

    You don't actually know any of the Xanadudes, do you?

    The purpose of Xanadu was to make possible the electronic publication and indexing of the sum total of human knowledge.

    The ability to track royalties is the least of its abilities, but the facility was there to ensure that even the people (like the RIAA) who insisted on collecting every last milli-cent would have no reason to refuse to make their works available on line.

    Claiming that this was the whole purpose of Xanadu is nothing but a snotty attempt to belittle the work of a group of truly great hackers.


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