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Sheng Liang’s Acorn Labs Drops Its Runtime for GPTScript

Sheng Liang
Acorn Labs co-founder and CEO Sheng Liang.

Acorn Labs CEO announces that the company is suddenly dropping its flagship product to focus on GPTScript, an AI scripting language.

Things just got weird.

This morning while going through the FOSS Force News Wire and posting links to news items on various social sites, I ran across a post from Sheng Liang on LinkedIn that read: “Acorn Labs will shift focus to developing an LLM app platform based on the GPTScript technology.” The post linked to an article by Liang on Acorn Labs’ website.

Odd, I thought, since I wasn’t aware that Liang’s Acorn Labs startup was even into LLMs or generative AI.

Although I hadn’t looked into what Acorn was doing for a while, I followed them kinda closely for a few months back in 2022 when the company got going. Like Liang, Acorn Labs was all about Kubernetes and ways to make it easier for enterprises adopt and manage it, so I figured that by “shift focus” he meant that the company was jumping on the ChatGPT bandwagon, and alongside its other stuff, it was going to be seriously jumping into generative AI.

Wrong. Unless I’m not reading something right, which is always a possibility, Liang is completely jumping into generative AI and large language models at the expense of all the Kubernetes stuff that has been Acorn’s and Liang’s bread and butter. By following the link on the social post I came to an article by Liang that opened with this:

“Going forward Acorn Labs will focus entirely on developing an open source LLM stack based on the GPTScript technology. We will close down the existing Acorn beta service and archive the open source Acorn runtime project.”

“Focus entirely,” eh?

The Acorn Runtime project was basically what the startup was about. The “GPTScript technology,” it turns out, is something the company had introduced in a tweet on Thursday and expounded upon on Friday, some time before Liang put up his post. The GPTScript article was penned by Darren Shepherd, a co-founder at Acorn Labs and the startup’s chief architect. He was also Liang’s CTO at Rancher Labs, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of GPTScript, a cutting-edge scripting language designed to redefine the way we interact with Large Language Models (LLMs), particularly with OpenAI’s powerful engines. GPTScript embodies the future of programming by merging the simplicity of natural language with the robustness of traditional scripting, creating a seamless and user-friendly programming experience.”

All of this has knocked me for a loop. If you don’t know, Sheng Liang is a Kubernetes guy, and something of a legend within the Kubernetes and cloud-native communities. He was a co-founder at Rancher Labs, a startup that did amazingly well with a Kubernetes platform, which he led from its beginning in 2014 as CEO, and which was purchased by SUSE in 2020 for a reported $600 million to $700 million. After the sale, he stayed on at SUSE as the company’s president of engineering and innovation, quitting the company in 2022 to co-found Acorn Labs, where he serves as CEO.

Although Acorn Runtime had garnered a dedicated following from the start, I’m guessing, mainly based on Liang’s words, that interest in the project hasn’t been growing quick enough for Liang & Company to see the sort of rapid success they had with Rancher in their future, and that early interest in GPTScript has been encouraging.

“We first introduced GPTScript a few weeks ago. We are particularly excited about the enthusiastic response we received from developers, both in and outside of the AI community. Many developers have told us this is the first time they have been able to leverage LLMs in their applications or projects.

“The natural next step is to build an open source LLM application stack based on the GPTScript technology. As great as Acorn Runtime is, we believe GPTScript will have a much bigger impact. If you are a supporter of Acorn runtime or participated in the Acorn beta service, we appreciate all your support over the last 18 months. We hope you can continue to travel with us towards the next stage of building LLM applications.”

What I know for sure is that I’m definitely going to keep my eye on this. And I think I’ll see if I can get Sheng to sit down for a talk so I can find out what’s going on straight from the CEO’s mouth.

Also, while almost all of this is out-of-the-blue unexpected…one aspect of this story fits my expectations about Liang and the other old Rancher alumni who largely make up Acorn — GPTScript is open-source, licensed under Apache v2.

Meanwhile, when I know more, you’ll know more.

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