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Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom

Saturday, November 26, 1994 by Dave Winer.

I'm back from my breather. Aired out. Well-fed both emotionally and physically. The body-surfing at Maui was fantastic. Had a shiatsu on Wednesday. Life is just great. Back to writing software, and back to writing essays! Yeah.

Dave Nagel's reply to my Chinese Household piece arrived just as I was rushing to get on the plane to Hawaii. When I got back, I re-read it. I had a choice, I could let the debate on Apple-and-developers end there. Or I could re-stoke it.

I decided to add fuel to the fire. An opposing viewpoint. A humor-filled dialog with a demagogue. Let's have some fun!

It's an old joke, but it's still funny.

Apple is looking inward for its answer. They're going to try to dig out by doing more development.

I've heard this before. There was Family Farm, Pink (now called Taligent), The Comm Toolbox, AOCE, AppleScript, Object Model, Balloon Help, Kaleida, QuickDraw GX, QuickTime, on and on. I stopped paying attention about a year ago, so there may be more now. Did any of these have major impact, could they have dug Apple out of a deep hole? No way.

Instead Apple should be changing the economics of the platform.

Dave: Apple should stop looking inward for the answer. Do your software shopping in the developer world. You get there sooner and it costs less.

An example...

How much did AppleScript cost Apple to develop? Frontier cost less than $1 million. I'll bet you a lunch at Siam Garden that AppleScript cost considerably more. Even if you spent *exactly* what we spent, MacWEEK says we got more bang-per-buck, by a very wide margin: we got 4 stars on value compared to 3 stars for AppleScript. Ours costs $495, yours costs $189. [The comparative review appeared in the 4/11/94 issue.]

A similar economy could have been formed by substituting QuickMail for AOCE. Director for QuickTime. Display PostScript for QuickDraw GX. MicroPhone for the Comm Toolbox. The economics of third party software are far more favorable than the economics of internal development at Apple.

Plus you'd have gotten the competitive advantage of not having held up the market while your engineers got their software ready. To this day, if Apple found a way to make Frontier acceptable (for example) you'd be adding a nice hurdle for the other guys to climb over. In shipping software, not in vapor or vague promises. [How about doing deal with MacroMedia instead of making QuickTime competitive with it?]

Now, when a developer moves into an area, someone at Apple stands up and says "I just had a great idea!" Immediately it seems, that idea is telegraphed to the world. And the developer has big problems. I speak from experience.

[Try it in SimCity. Build a small town. Demolish the power plant. Note that the lights go out.]

I want to stop shaking my head about this. Apple is like a slow car hogging the fast lane. They're spoiling all the fun of a growing platform. I'd like to see that change.

Another joke, this time with no punchline.

Q: Why is Lotus Notes a PC phenomenon? The PC platform has totally random networking. Mac has built-in standardized networking. Mac should be the platform of choice for networked PCs. Why isn't it?

A: Developers were scared off by rumors of AppleMail, which turned out to be a total disappointment, years late, incredibly expensive to develop, and strategically disastrous because it killed the Macintosh network apps market before it had a chance to start. [BTW, because of TCP/IP, we get another shot at a vibrant networking market for the Mac. We don't have to worry about Apple because they don't "own" the standard. Whew!]

Dave: When you shut down developers, you're cutting off the life support system for users. That's an important reason your margins are shrinking. No one will pay a premium for a platform with a slow-growth app base. Especially when the competition has a high-growth app base, and isn't premium priced.

You imply in your message that market share is what it's about. I still disagree. Today's Mac market is bigger than the DOS market was back in the mid-80s. If the economics were tweaked, if Apple got out of the way, the market would be creating millionaires again.

You seem to be more focused on Apple-the-company than Mac-the-platform. I see the interests of today's Apple as often being counter to the interests of the platform. Apple wants to employ more people. The platform wants more software choices. As brutal as it may sound, I think that Apple's downsizing its R&D could be a great thing for the platform. As you pull back from areas, let us know, do stuff to encourage developers and other investors to start new projects in those areas.

Kawasaki had one thing right -- his motto for evangelism was Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom. There are the flowers again! [Compare this with Steve Job's motto: "We can't let just *anyone* develop for this machine." Another Steve Jobs-ism, uttered by the top evangelist at General Magic: "We have room for 10 developers in our program, and we already have 10." Compare this to a statement made by an Apple guy -- "We're not trying to crush you." Try saying that to your girlfriend. When I got pissed, he reminded me that he said *not*. Ohhh that made me feel **much** better!]

To Dave Nagel -- let's shake it up, rock and roll, let's have fun! Make Apple lean and mean, stick to enhancing the basic components of the Macintosh: the Menu Manager, Window Manager, Standard File, TextEdit, ResEdit, etc. (but don't break apps!); produce lots more clean sample code, and leave the speculative stuff to developers.

It's time to shake up the basic assumption at Apple -- that the Mac depends on Apple to develop smashing new software. It doesn't. It depends on people other than Apple. Until your economics reflect that, and Apple people stop thinking they're the focal point of this software economy, the platform will be sick, and Apple will sink.

There's an even bigger reason to turn the Macintosh into the ultimate developer-friendly platfrom. It's a feature Microsoft can never implement for Windows. No matter how well they communicate with developers (they're absolutely tops), they also dominate the app market on their own platform. Mac could become the platform where users have real choices. Because developers love it there.

Ooops, it got back to LOVE! (Please just send flowers Dave...)

Dave Winer

PS: Postscript to Bill Gates and his flowers -- it turns out that I have to sign a NDA to be one of 50,000 people to get an official beta of Windows 95. I hate NDAs, and only sign them when I think there's a reasonable chance that I don't compete with the person/company that requests it. Otherwise I wait. Maybe we can get rid of gratuitous NDAs if developers were more reluctant to sign them? They aren't without cost. I once had a product release killed because of a NDA I signed with a competitor. Did you know that Digital Research's GEM operating system was killed because of an NDA? Windows 95 is not a secret. I'd sign a letter that said that anytime I wrote about it, I'd mention that it isn't a shipping product. That seems reasonable. But I've already seen reviews comparing it to OS/2 Warp, which *is* shipping (and getting great reviews -- congrats to IBM).

PPS: I skipped Comdex, so I haven't seen a demo of Microsoft Network yet. I'd love to assemble a set of quotes and facts about it, happy to release it as a seasons greeting. I hear it doesn't build on the Internet any more than AOL or CompuServe, i.e. you can send email over the net, but you can't browse web pages, or access their libraries thru FTP, or browse UseNet groups. What else is significant about Microsoft Network? Does it seems a bit unfair to AOL and CompuServe that it will be bundled with Windows 95? Will they have a Macintosh client? This one definitely seems to be a power grab, Microsoft seems to be using their monopoly in operating systems to diminish competition in another market.

PPPS: Does either PC WEEK or InfoWorld have a web-site that contains all its past reviews? Any of the other trades? Please send URLs. Thanks!

PPPPPS: To Dave Nagel, again: does it bother you that Jerry Michalski uses a PC clone to surf the Internet? It bothers me.

PPPPPS: Please excuse this sentimental digression. I used to have a dog named BonBon (a Black Lab) who greeted every guest with total Lab-like enthusiasm. I imagined she was saying "Welcome to PuppyLand. And by the way... I'm the puppy!" I'd love to welcome new developers to the Mac platform the same way BonBon welcomed visitors to our house.

PPPPPPS: As always, if you aren't interested in this kind of stuff, send me email and I'll happily delete your name from the list. And it's OK to forward it or repost it anywhere you like. The list is expanding -- I'm always happy to add new names.


Approximately 2,380,237 shopping seconds before Christmas

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."