Java Java Java
Tuesday, May 21, 1996 by Dave Winer.
Hey -- I moved! Logically not physically. New tools, a new server, a new system for releasing stuff via email and the web.
It's time to change your bookmarks.
The DaveNet website is now at http://www.scripting.com/davenet/.
A great new look and structure. The front page shows you the current piece. Scan down the left edge of the page for pointers to the structure. Back-issues outlines for three years, and a page that tells you how the website works.
It's a large dynamic website. As dynamic as I can be. It's like watching an ant farm. I hope you come visit my new site. I'll be lookin for you in my log!
Let's hear a big groan for animated graphics on pages that contain text that you're supposed to read! People who put moving things on pages of prose don't have a clue how people work. Your eye can't stay with the flow of the text if stuff is moving. Animated icons are fine on structure pages -- but be aware that people are going to be distracted. Animation on web pages is as annoying as <blink>ing text.
Hey I liked the old suck interface! It was easy. Sometimes I didn't like the negativism of the Suck editorials. But it was an easy site to check out. Low bandwidth. A quick skim to see what they're talking about, check out a few of the pointers, and then onto CNN and a few other of my standard sites. Suck was part of my daily tour.
But Suck had to mess with a good thing. Not only do they have animated graphics (they're beautiful by the way, a rotating 7Up can, for example) but they also use frames! Oy I hate to k'vetch (no I don't) but how can you read a Suck piece without the Page Down key? For some reason when you have a Frame on a page, the Page Down key doesn't work in Netscape. Yuck!
So here I am trying to stay in the Suck loop, being distracted by beautiful moving graphics and having my brain cells burnt by frames. They're fighting with me! And all I did was love them... Hmmm. What do they want over there in SuckLand? Can't tell.
In the meantime, just as I'm leaving HotWired they change their home page to work the way I always wanted it to work. I'd get a scoop, like Steve Wozniak on the record about his disappointment with Apple, and HotWired has no place to put it.
Now they have a front page that's interesting, it's not just a table of contents for the website. This is the way front pages should be. Structure, of course. But room for news. That's how newspapers work. The table of contents isn't as important as the headlines. HotWired finally got it. Gambatte!
In the last piece I complimented Apple's webmasters on pulling off a great transformation in Apple's web presence. Last Monday, it seemed that all of Apple's websites changed to the new look, in one apparently synchronous switch.
I gulped! Maybe they have better tools than mine? Sounds like automation to me. No one likes to compete with the platform vendor, especially when they did it right.
Well, it turns out that they don't have automated tools. It was done with huge amounts of human labor. In the meantime, they deserve huge congratulations for having made something big happen. Big things always require great focus and committment and talent. It was really well done. Good job!
If you say Java again I'm going to puke!
Hey -- have you noticed that there's very little Java content around the web? I think people are too busy building their sites to think too much about Java. And readers are bouncing in and out. Who has the time to wait two minutes for the Java applet to load, only to find out it's some cute little icon that does NOTHING and consumes bandwidth, and pulls my attention from what I went there for?
I noticed this a few weeks ago when I was looking for an update to QualComm's Eudora emailer program. They had a link on their home page to a fancy Java version of the home page. Come look! they say. See how cool we are. Well, maybe next visit, when I have more time. Right now I just want the software.
I was once quoted in Upside, http://www.upside.com/, anonymously, saying that General Magic's MagicCap OS was like a waitress who made her personality the issue instead of the food. The metaphor was actually a bit more colorful.
The same applies to the web. I came here to get my work done; I love what I'm doing, so please don't distract me with stuff that isn't important. Gratuitous distracting glitz is no more appropriate in a website than it is in a productivity app.
So the next time someone says they have the fastest justin-time Java byte-code garbage collector, be sure to ask them what you should use Java for. I haven't heard a good answer to this question, and I've been asking. If I'm missing something, could someone please point me to a website that has pointers to ten websites with useful uses of Java. Technology demos don't count. I'm talking about real utility.
Java got a good start, but now it seems to be languishing in the same place that all software industry grand initiatives end up. Programmers understand Java, but these programmers don't grok the web. Web designers are psyched about Java because they always buy the snake oil that programmers sell. Maybe this time they won't let us down?
Nahhh. Java is just a programming language. My advice to all the proponents of Java: stop everything you're doing, and put up your own website. Make it interesting without Java. Now, tell me, why do you need or want Java?
Or, help me see the light -- visit the DaveNet site and tell me how I should be using Java. I'm definitely open to suggestions.
InfoWorld is touting yesterday's announcement of the Network Computer as historic. I'm upset because I wasn't invited to the party! Could someone please tell someone in Netscape or Sun PR that I am a journalist, even if I work on the web; or maybe especially because I work on the web. I want to cover these events, not read other reporter's accounts of them.
Never mind. I read the accounts, yes FTP, HTTP, etc are standards. If a machine supports them (what machine doesn't?) that's a good thing.
But the most interesting news of the day, for me at least, was Netscape's announcement of a "thin" Navigator. I think I'll use that one on my 64 megabyte PowerMac 9500. I'm not kidding.
The need for a thin web browser is real. I'd like websites to be calmer, more subtle, and more informative. If the majority of users didn't have a fat browser, web content people wouldn't be so distracted by fat features. We'd have more interesting content. There are still lots of great ideas out there that haven't been done yet. And maybe the money would focus on what's important.
At the Apple press conference a week ago, I asked Gil Amelio, Apple's new CEO, what makes a Macintosh different from a Windows machine. It was the usual "user experience" thing. He said that it was the way everything worked together, and how nice the whole system is, the gestalt of the thing.
Later Amelio asked what I thought the differentiator was. I didn't give him an answer. Now I'd like to.
There are two major differentiators: maturity and integration.
It's the difference between promises and benefits. The Mac delivers benefits; Windows makes promises. Maturity means the powerful integration features of the operating system are effectively exploited by developer's Internet client, content and server apps.
The other differentiator is that Apple makes both hardware and software. Microsoft understands this. Check out my report from the Windows 95 announcement, A Worldwide Trance, 8/27/95. Microsoft is always frustrated by their OEMs. When Microsoft asks them to jump, they often tell Microsoft to take a hike.
Apple, on the other hand, theoretically, can integrate features of software and hardware because the people all work for the same boss. So plug and play really works on the Mac. This is a major advantage. Even geekish users like me don't like opening the box and farting around with dip switches and mother boards. That's part of the "user experience" on Intel boxes. If I don't like animated graphics, how do you think I feel about dip switches? Hmmmm.
The assumption in the Mac community is that Microsoft is all-powerful. This is a misperception. They can be frustrated. They are fallible. Check out their claims. Sometimes they overstate their strength. It's up to Apple's CEO to spot this and let his troops, which includes users and developers, spread the word.
Apple has had five CEOs: Mike Scott, Steve Jobs, John Sculley, Mike Spindler and now Gil Amelio. Sculley is the central man. He, more than anyone, determined the character of the Apple Computer that's so deeply in trouble right now.
Sculley served the priesthood instead of vice versa. They tolerated him because he signed the checks and didn't interfere. There are horror stories about engineers who were given huge bonuses to keep them from quitting. Markets were re-directed around the immature whims of some pretty ineffective people.
They didn't have to compete in the market to have their ideas gain traction. There was a huge conflict of interest between Apple employees and their shareholders. The internal people ate the platform's seed corn, putting developers out of business for the cause of justifying their jobs.
Sculley's legacy is a wrecked market, a wasted lead, and a very sick company.There are still some vestiges of the old Apple. Believe it or not, I'm currently involved in a struggle with Apple, one that's very similar to the old struggles. They aren't paying attention to what I'm doing and are making plans to do exactly what I do. They have announced their plans to the development community. I look at their blueprint and realize that they're talking about five years of expensive development. I know because I've already done the work.
So the big question -- can Mr. Amelio get Apple's internal development people under control? Get them to respond to market needs, but most important, get them to work with, and stay out of the way of, this developer?
What more could they want from me? There is no Windows version of Frontier. We just shipped version 4.0, and quickly followed it with a 4.0.1 update. My software is free, so they couldn't possibly covet my revenue stream, there is none! It's true, the ideas are compelling (thanks!) but why should they compete with me? And why should they waste their R&D money on benefits that can only come years from now, when the market and software are ready right now? It's the classic Apple-developer struggle. In the context of 1996's disastrous losses.
So far it sounds like it's an OpenDoc thing. I'm vocal about not wanting to invest in OpenDoc personally. I live in a bigger world, or a different one. The Mac is my machine, but Apple is not my religion. I'm independent in the truest sense. I make up my own mind. But this makes them want to FUD me. Who does he think he is! they scream. We'll show him!
Hey -- my opinions are my own, and my money is mine to invest where I choose. But Frontier tends to not care whether it's being used to script OpenDoc or AppleScript or ActiveX or Java or Netscape or MSIE or WebStar or Eudora or whatever anyone may come up with.
Just because I don't choose to invest in OpenDoc, doesn't mean Apple can't make Frontier drive OpenDoc apps. We generally tend to listen to people who invest in our platform. So if Apple needs some tweaks or extensions to make this work, we'd be inclined to make them. Especially if they threw us a few bucks to do the work. A lot less money than Chris Espinosa wants for his all-new AppleScript team.
I made a promise to myself and to Amelio. No more lies. I'm not happy because Apple is validating my market. That's software industry BS. Their interference in my business is not welcome. After all I've done for the Macintosh, I'd like them to at least evaluate my software before deciding it's irrelevent. I'm humbled, OK? Now let's get some work done!
Cool. Glad to get that off my chest.
I'm treating this as a case study in Amelio. I will include you and Apple's shareholders in the loop. There's a difference this time around the infinite loop. I have a voice. How is Apple is spending their R&D money? How much reality there is in their words of support for Mac developers? Are they serving the interests of their shareholders or serving their personal fears? I'll let you know.
I can tell you this much -- a $740 million loss and a new CEO hasn't managed to penetrate the consciousness of some of Apple's internal development people. They appear to still think it's about them. They need a wakeup call, and if Gil doesn't deliver it, where is Apple?
From the artist in me -- why bother struggling with the Mac platform when the platform vendor seems still to have to prove that it's their brilliance that makes the lights shine in this world?
In other words, why take any creative risks when they're going to claim all the credit?
I'm asking myself these questions right now. And in the tradition of this column, I will, of course, share my experiences with you.
I'm not going to blast at Amelio in public right now, I'm going to give him a chance to make the difference that no Apple CEO has ever been able to make so far: to get Apple's internal people to respect and work with Macintosh developers.
PS: Something Apple could do: make the filesystem faster. It's the performance bottleneck of Mac web servers and content systems. It's still 68K, multiple layers of legacy code. Rather than inventing new metaphors, Apple people could roll up their sleeves and come up with a fast native storage system, or license one. (Clue: I have one.)
PPS: My terseness has become an issue on various mailing lists. I'm always terse in email. Gotta be. Saves the writing energy for Frontier docs and DaveNets. I do the best I can with the time I have. Respectfully, I hope this is cool.