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Interlisp (also seen with a variety of capitalizations) was a programming environment built around a version of the Lisp programming language. Interlisp development began in 1967 at Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Cambridge, Massachusetts as BBN LISP, which ran on PDP-10 machines running the TENEX operating system. When Danny Bobrow, Warren Teitelman and Ronald Kaplan moved from BBN to Xerox PARC, it was renamed Interlisp. Interlisp became a popular Lisp development tool for AI researchers at Stanford University and elsewhere in the DARPA community. Xerox sold Lisp Machines based on InterLisp-D. Interlisp was notable for the integration of interactive development tools into the environment, such as a debugger, an automatic correction tool for simple errors (DWIM[1] - "do what I mean"), and analysis tools.



At Xerox PARC, there was an early attempt to define a virtual machine to facilitate porting, known as the "Interlisp virtual machine". However, this wasn't useful as a basis for porting.

Peter Deutsch defined for a byte-coded instruction set for Interlisp, and implemented a microcoded emulator for the Xerox Alto, and then later to the microcoded machines developed by Xerox (originally for the Mesa and Cedar language/environments). These implementations (for machines whose code names started with D) were collectively known as Interlisp-D, and branded as the Xerox 1100 (Dolphin), 1108 (Dandelion), 1186 (Daybreak), and 1132 (Dorado) "AI Workstations".

The PDP-10 version became Interlisp-10; BBN had an internal project to build Interlisp-Jericho and there was a 1982 port to the VAX resulting in Interlisp-VAX.

In 1981, Warren Teitelman and Larry Masinter published a paper on Interlisp in IEEE Computer that provides a nice overview of the system and its design philosophy.[2]

In 1985-7, a team from Fuji Xerox developed a C implementation of the microcoded bytecode interpreter, and, together with Xerox AI Systems (XAIS) in Sunnyvale, California, completed the port of the environment and emulator to the Sun Microsystems SPARC 4 architecture. In 1987, XAIS was spun off into Envos Corporation, which almost immediately failed.

In 1992, an ACM Software System Award recognized the team of Daniel G. Bobrow, Richard R. Burton, L. Peter Deutsch, Ronald Kaplan, Larry Masinter, Warren Teitelman for their pioneering work on Interlisp.


  1. Teitelman, Warren, "Do What I Mean": the programmer's assistant," Computers and Automation, pp. 8-11, April 1972.
  2. Warren Teitelman, Larry Masinter. The Interlisp Programming Environment. IEEE Computer, April 1981.


  • Warren Teitelman et al., Interlisp Reference Manual (Xerox tech report, 1974)
  • J Strother Moore, The Interlisp Virtual Machine Specification (Xerox tech report, 1976)
  • L Peter Deutsch, A LISP Machine with Very Compact Programs (Third Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 1973).
  • Kaisler, S. H. 1986 Interlisp: the Language and its Usage. Wiley-Interscience.

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