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Jim Gable on OpenDoc

Wednesday, July 24, 1996 by Dave Winer.

In Spider Web, 7/12/96, I blasted at Apple about OpenDoc, asking...

"Would someone at Apple concisely and respectfully explain why they continue to invest in OpenDoc? Are they still viewing Windows as competiton? What will it take for them to let go of this idea? Realistically, there's no chance that the Macintosh will displace Windows as the dominant desktop operating system. We still have a strong position in content tools. But if Apple insists on competing with Windows, we may not have that position much longer."

Jim Gable, gable@applelink.apple.com, is vice-president of marketing at the AppleSoft division of Apple Computer. He responds.

Jim Gable on OpenDoc Permalink to Jim Gable on OpenDoc

I saw your DaveNet about OpenDoc and obviously felt I should respond. Here it is. The reason why we're doing OpenDoc is to make it easy to put software together. The benefits are direct for Mac users regardless of what Windows does.

This doesn't necessarily include a professional programmer like you. Dave Winer can sit down and fire off a script to do incredible stuff. And if that doesn't work, Dave Winer can fire up Metrowerks and write a great app. The vast majority of users can't. Hell, I can't! But I can add Netscape plug-ins to a Clarisworks document by dragging them in. I can add a Java applet (or Bean!) by dragging it in. I can add other OpenDoc parts. OpenDoc is like a universal plug-in system for the Mac OS. That's cool.

Professional developers certainly can take advantage too. Digital Harbor is working on a product that is going to have lots of Internet connectivity built-in but they did very little of the Internet coding. They just include Cyberdog and other Net parts. But it looks like one product. The next version of Clarisworks will be very Net savvy, but again without as much coding. Apple will be offering a lot of Internet features in our next release of Mac OS and many of them will come through parts. Some of these parts may come from developers outside Apple, but it's easier for us to integrate their work now. It gets us away from re-compiling thousands of lines when we only need to upgrade a single feature. The end user doesn't even have to know. That's pretty cool.

In house developers (and this means schools with Macintosh at least as much as big companies) are extremely interested. It's easy to build an information 'dashboard' with OpenDoc parts and Java applets and other elements. After showing this to a group of analysts from one of the major corporate consulting firms, they simply said, "You can't do anything like this on Windows." We have demo pages from schools and businesses that show the progress. You'll see it at MacWorld. Some people are even talking about building custom applications for given markets or even specific groups. That's quite cool.

Like all projects, we have wins and loses. I don't mean to say that everything is perfect. Implementing parts is too hard unless you use the OpenDoc Frameworks (ODF). Denali will help some people a lot with a visual tool for building parts. Implementing containers remains too hard. Claris is helping by making their library available. That will help. Our team is working on easier versions as well. Like any software project, you get it shipping and you make it better as you go.

I know OpenDoc is not your favorite project, but there are hundreds of developers working on OpenDoc today and over 2,000 firms have joined ci Labs. They're not all nuts. There is good technology here. SOM (the System Object Model from IBM) allows developers to use parts written in different languages and offers insulation between version releases. A document using OpenDoc parts will typically be vastly smaller than a similar document using OLE parts. It works well for moving components of software across the Net. The Windows version just went Beta. Things are happening!

I don't pretend that a short note will change your opinion, but I hope after MacWorld you feel safe concluding that it's got interesting angles. At least!

A few comments Permalink to A few comments

First, thanks Jim for participating in this discussion.

I can already see what will happen at MacWorld by talking with my friends in the developer community. They're trading booth space for Apple's support. As often has been the case, Apple has made enticing propositions to developers. My concern is bigger than OpenDoc, I believe Apple should be listening to enticing propositions *from* developers.

I also think that developers who trade features for booth space are taking the short view; such expedient development should not be encouraged. My community, script writers, webmasters, content developers and sysops, haven't been offered any booth space by Apple. It was pretty clear. If we want Apple's support, get busy implementing OpenDoc. When we look back a couple of years from now, I think we'll see the folly of this. Delivered software counts more than technology demos. But I could be wrong! So...

I'm glad that Apple is finally making the big pitch for OpenDoc to end users. This is it. Either it works or it doesn't. If the market doesn't develop in a reasonable amount of time, we can hope that Apple will stop hogging the PR channels, quiet down and let developers make new markets happen, as we have been, whether or not we build on Apple's latest developer framework. This OpenDoc stuff is quite distracting, at a time when we need to focus the press and customers on what really is being accomplished in the Mac development community, OpenDoc has been a summary of what has not yet been accomplished. That's changing. I'm happy!

Another perspective, while OpenDoc was in development, Apple went from being a leader in the desktop computing market to being something other than a leader. OpenDoc may be better than OLE, I don't know, but that isn't the issue anymore. OpenDoc seems to have been usurped by the web browsers, Netscape, Microsoft, and others.

Is OpenDoc/Cyberdog more exciting than Nashville? Microsoft is porting Nashville to the Mac. (John Markoff, take note!) What does Apple think of this? People like Nashville. I say it's time to put religion to the side and for Apple to apply the elegant Embrace and Extend tactic that Microsoft uses so effectively.

Dave Winer

PS: Gable may be missing an important point. I can fire up a script that other people can use. See the "ShipShop" suite. It's becoming popular among people who maintain an FTP site from a Mac desktop. It's just an example. We add over 40 new commands to the Finder's menu bar.

PPS: For other perspectives, see What is a Platform?, 8/22/95; Embrace & Extend, 5/23/96; "FUD", 5/24/96.

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