Remembering the Viet Cong!
Saturday, October 12, 1996 by Dave Winer.
Another good morning to you!
Yesterday I wrote about the new keyboard I bought to celebrate the shipment of Frontier 41 But the keyboard has a problem The period key doesn't work now!
That offers me new choices when ending a sentence! I could make every one end in an exclamation point! At least that way you'd know when one ends and the other begins!
Or perhaps I should end every sentence with a question mark? Well, that wouldn't work very well!
What other choices do I have? Hmmm!
OK! That was funny! Now onto the business of the day!
I wrote about the MacHack conference in Picky Crabb 6/8/96!
In July I went to Detroit, Michigan of all places, to be the keynote speaker for the MacHack conference. There I met with Paulina Borsook, firstname.lastname@example.org, who was covering the conference for Upside Magazine, as part of a piece she was doing about the Macintosh developer community.
Her piece is out now, in the November issue of Upside; it's beautifully written, really interesting, so I asked for permission to run it thru DaveNet, and now here it is.
Hegel had it right: First you have thesis (Apple Computer Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., can do no wrong and is the most adorable and infallible computer company in the history of the universe); then antithesis (Apple has hopelessly tanked, can do nothing right and is being abandoned by all sentient beings). But history doesn't stop until you get synthesis (Apple has a little-known resource in its loyal, if unruly, developer community, that will play a key role in the company's turnaround).
In the same way that third-party developer Adobe Systems Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., rescued Apple more than a decade ago with the invention of desktop publishing and a natural captive market for the Macintosh, there is still a chance--indeed, even increasing acknowledgment of the possibility by Apple executives--that developers could yet save the company's butt.
For the many critics who think the Mac is doomed to become the Amiga of the '90s, remember what the Viet Cong, driven by fierce attachment to their home platform and their spirit of independence, were able to do to France and the United States. Passion can often accomplish what mere business interest cannot. And the motivating force of Apple's developers has far more to do with passion than it does with business.
If that force can be channeled and not abused, Apple may very well survive and even flourish, though perhaps in a changed form. Some developers believe that if Apple would get out of their way, everyone's fortunes would improve ("For God's sake, hold thy tongue and let us love").
It happens over and over again. Two years ago, it was a developer, not Apple, that made it possible for the company to go forward with its strategic new hardware platform. Macintosh toolmaker Metrowerks Inc. of Austin, Texas, released Code Warrior, a developer's toolkit for the Power PC, when Apple had none. Today, Code Warrior is used by the vast majority of Apple Power PC developers, from Adobe to solo practitioners.
Developers are a platform's distant early warning system. If they are disaffected, listless, off their feed and reluctant to write for a platform, the platform is doomed. Alternatively, if they are jumping all over themselves to write for it, there is hope. Given this, it is interesting to note that The Programming Starter Kit for the Macintosh (Hayden Books), written by Jim Trudeau, a Metrowerks employee, is selling as well as any guide to the far trendier Java. It's also worth noting that, as of second quarter '96, Metrowerks, a company that has linked its corporate existence to Apple's since the middle '80s, hasn't had a downturn since its fortunes really began to rise with the debut of the Power PC platform.
The relationship between Apple and its developers is best characterized as a loving but screwed-up marriage, or a summer camp where the counselors and the campers swap roles but keep coming back year after year. It is a human ecology with a unique set of drivers that distinguish it from the Wintel or Unix communities. It is a dysfunctional family that can be either healed or split apart.
As in any troubled, intense relationship characterized more by love than by pragmatism, complaints are bitter. But nobody wants to leave. Developers often say they love the technology but not the company, which is not very far from saying they love the sinner but not the sin, or the drinker but not the alcohol. It's a fractious, exasperated but engaged extended family. Former Apple employees leave to become developers at Adobe or Macromedia Inc., San Francisco, or even at Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., or form countless startups. And formerly independent developers become Apple employees. Folks change name badges, but they're really just wandering to different parts of the community.
The sense of community among Mac developers is inconceivable in the Wintel world. Contrast it with Corel Corp. of Ottawa, Ontario, the graphics market leader in the Wintel world. It decided in the summer of 1996 to release its first Mac software because Macs are where visual-arts types work and play. But if it doesn't work, Corel will drop the Mac market, with no sentiment and no hair-tearing. This is not the attitude of Mac developers, some of whom may, by market exigencies, feel they may no longer be able to offer Mac versions of products but will anguish about not doing so. And they may continue to develop Mac versions in-house, for personal use, because they find the platform so damned sweet and elegant and better to develop on.
Amid all the squalor and the bickering there is still tremendous enthusiasm among Macintosh developers for the Mac platform to succeed, despite their current righteous and vocal indignation at Apple's many stumbles and its arrogance. And the company's relationship with its developers, which was improving even before Apple CEO Gil Amelio and Vice President of Developer Relations Heidi Roizen came onboard in the past year, is improving even more quickly under the new regime. The adorable side of Apple still appeals to the faithful, even as the incompetent side has, at times, seemed to drive them away.
All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Many in the Apple developer community lament the errant ways of the mother ship. Yet many of the offenses developers feel Apple has committed--announcing technologies and strategies that never happen or are very late; competing with developers, often with inferior programs developed in-house; generally being a mercurial and maddening partner--are crimes all computer companies commit (similar transgressions haven't hurt the success of Microsoft Windows).
But feelings run stronger and grievances are deeper with Apple. Perhaps expectations for deportment are higher since a) Apple is family, and while you expect to get screwed over in the Hobbesian world of business, you don't necessarily expect to get screwed in a relationship where you identify or feel a kind of unity with your partner, and b) Apple is the company of "computing for the rest of us."
Where but in the Apple community could there be an institution such as MacHack, the annual independent jamboree of Mac programmers held in Dearborn, Mich.? Going into its 12th year, MacHack has flourished, until recently, largely without Apple's support (although the company traditionally cruises the programmer hoedown for potential hires) and has created a culture rivaling the Net's in richness of folklore, drama, rivalries, villains, geniuses, heroes and catchphrases.
The most famous aphorism is, "It's Jordan's fault," referring to Jordan Mattson, the first Apple employee who made a major but unofficial commitment years ago to participate in MacHack in an active way. Since Mattson, a rank-and-file Apple engineer, was at the start the sole representative of the love thing that MacHackers' loved to hate, he became the object of their complaints and thwarted desires. At first in a casual way, and then in a more official capacity, Mattson tried to bring developer concerns back to Apple. Therefore, as a joke, as hyperbole, all things related to Apple-the-company are said to be "Jordan's fault."
One MacHack institution is the Bash Apple session, where folks line up in front of a microphone to complain. At the 1996 MacHack XI last June, the Bash Apple session raised questions ranging from the annoying (Why are developer discounts less than what's available through mail order?) to the seriously puzzling (Why has Apple appeared to have abandoned the university market to IBM?) to the philosophical (When is Apple going to stop competing with its developers and concentrate on core technologies?).
The mood among the MacHack Apple bashers ran the gamut, from playful to irate to painfully sincere, but they care enough to want to be heard, and they believe in Apple enough to feel it is worth making the effort to speak up. It is not so much an atmosphere of animosity and antipathy as it is one of "We are all in this together, trying to preserve this thing we love." Think of a cousins' club argument about the decaying summer house in New Hampshire. It is not akin, say, to fleeced pensioners going after Charles Keating or to pro- and anti-gun-control fanatics screaming at each other.
MacHack has formalized its complaint session with a "Top Issues for Apple" ballot, where attendees vote on the 10 issues they feel Apple must pay attention to. ("Raise Jordan's pay," with the explanation that "It's all his fault, anyway" was one of the sample issues on the 1996 ballot.)
The kind of complaining and snorting accompanied with eye rolling and endless inventories of past grievances and private language bespeaking long intimacy overheard at MacHack is precisely what goes on in any messed-up love relationship. The pain of being together is not greater than the pain of being apart; the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Mac developers need requiting.
Perhaps the most notorious of the disgruntled Apple developers is Dave Winer, who delivered the keynote at the 1996 MacHack. His DaveNet list-serv tells the world what he thinks Apple ought to be doing and reminds his readers how Apple has done him and others wrong. A classic DaveNet rant from October 1994: "A platform is a Chinese household. One rich husband. Lots of wives. If the husband abuses one wife, it hurts all the wives. All of a sudden food starts getting cold. The bed is empty. All of a sudden the husband isn't so rich."
Winer, who made his fortune in the 1980s with More, an outlining program for the Mac, didn't meet with similar success when his Frontier scripting language came out around the same time Apple was pushing its competing and more successful AppleScript, developed in-house. The ensuing debate has become an urban legend on the order of Kentucky Fried rats and black widow spiders hatching in never-washed bouffant hairdos. Did Apple screw over one of its developers by creating an inferior competitive product? Or was Frontier never destined for mass-market success because it was more technologically sophisticated than the average Mac user wanted? Or was AppleScript's success relative to Frontier some nonlinear mix of the two? Whichever, Winer for years has been trading on his misfortune, a prophet without honor in his own country, Apple. But he still expects Gil and Heidi to take his calls promptly and his admonitions to heart. His is a sort of familial pay-attention- to-me-I'm-yelling-at-you-for- your-own-good attitude.
Winer's endless scolding is typical of a certain mentality in the Apple developer community. May 1, 1996, DaveNet, re: Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki: "It's coooool. Yeah. Gooood Morning! Hey, Guy Kawasaki is in the Wall Street Journal. Upppfh! He says Apple is a cause. No, Guy, Apple is a company. It's a great computer. But that's all. Apple is a mediocre company. It's made every mistake it possibly could, missed every wake-up call. There's no love for the company because it has no love for us. The community is worth fighting for. But I won't fight for Guy's job. Sorry man." If it's so awful, Dave, then leave. But nah. As many other developers seem to feel, it's just not the same with anyone else.
In his August 23, 1996, DaveNet, Winer shocked the Mac community by announcing his intention to go cross-platform, something all Mac developers must do to survive in the 1990s. "I'm not saying good-bye to the Mac, but saying hello to Windows," is how he phrased it.
However, times are changing. Mattson, the first MacHack visitor from Apple, is now Apple's business development manager for Internet development tools. Jordon's fault has now become Apple's policy. Even at a place as chaotic as Apple (compare Apple's address, One Infinite Loop, no adult supervision, to Microsoft's address, One Microsoft Way, everyone on Bill's page), the advent of Gil and Heidi has brought a re-emergence of a strategic commitment to developers.
At MacHack XI, Roizen arranged individual videoconferences from Cupertino for anyone who wanted one (family obligations kept her in California). Easy access to Heidi, whom the MacHackers trust, signifies that, yes, Apple is really trying to change its evil ways.
On the stage of the Bash Apple session this year, facing the questions from the audience, were scores of Apple employees, some of whom had flown in at their own expense. Their responses to complaints ranged from joking to sheepish to concerned to, "Yeah, it's a mess, and we're trying to change it." Apple's new management wants to revamp its reputation as a 500-pound gorilla with epilepsy: a large, dangerous, semi-intelligent organism inclined to fits and disorganization. It has thus promised several new programs for developers.
Promises have been made and broken before. Developers have long complained about having a decent relationship with an Apple employee, program or technology, only to have that relationship go to hell when the employee leaves or goes elsewhere within the company; or when the program is killed in some internecine Apple battle; or when the technology is flubbed, ignored or stalled because of a lack of consistent corporate vision. These developer nightmares may go away once some of the tendency toward city-republics and independent principalities within Apple have been reined in.
Still, will solving these nightmares create others? What developers rightfully want and need may be tricky to obtain precisely because the same things that made Apple distinctive also drove it to the perilous straits the company now finds itself occupying. You needed a high opinion of yourself and your originality to want to work at Apple; Apple did innovative stuff because it attracted folks with that personality type and often left them alone. Yet the result was a hermetic smugness and lack of attention to the Great World Outside and an absence of consistent corporate vision. In other words, the place of the Insanely Great has also been the place of the Spent Genius and the I'm So Cool I Can't Stand Myself. If discipline is asserted and some corporate consistency created, will Apple still be the breeding ground for what developers and consumers consider cool?
And Apple must be cool to survive and be Apple. It must keep coming up with its own private and innovative technology solutions. Otherwise, why and how should it continue to exist?
The debate over whether Apple still has what it takes often takes the form of the quandary all lovers face: The stuff you love is the flip side of the stuff you hate; they are two sides of the same coin. Were Powertalk communications technology and GX printer technology (both developed by Apple) examples of the technically interesting, even elegant, stuff that was developed despite what the market wanted (Powertalk has been canceled and Adobe already had PostScript), or do they demonstrate the Apple engineering gift for creating better stuff, which sometimes the market recognizes and validates, and sometimes it does not? Is today's CyberDog Internet technology yet another example of the nifty stuff that Apple is famous for coming up with that can't and won't be adopted by the market? Will Apple's bet-the-company investment in Open Doc (another elegant technology), its object-oriented component-software answer to Microsoft's OLE technology, pay off? With all these technologies, developers ask: Do we need them? Are these examples of the cutting-edge stuff that Apple has historically done best--and why we want to continue to program for it--or are they simply technically interesting rat holes we don't want to get into?
One sign that things may not have changed is Vice President and Chief Scientist Larry Tesler, one of the more controversial survivors of the Apple regime. Yet another guy with noble-PARC-in-its-glory-days lineage, Tesler's involvement at Apple has included the Lisa, the Newton and eWorld. Not a great track record. Tesler historically has not had strong links to the Internet technical community, the most important group of developers today. But now he's in charge of AppleNet, the Apple division responsible for ensuring that products are fully Internet-capable.
Like everyone else, Apple's future is tied to the Internet. In Apple's case, maybe more so. For one thing, the Mac probably has far greater market penetration (50 percent or so, depending on whom you talk to) in both Web servers and content-creation platforms than it does in any other industry sector, except for media/publishing/graphics. If Apple can capitalize on this, make nice to the latest generation of Apple developers, who are immersed in internal Web development projects, the company will come out just fine, thank you.
But the question of Apple's own Internet development effort is a sticky one. For one, Internet development has gone to a program office, which some folks would say is the kiss of death because, as is typical in most engineering environments, the best stuff is done in small skunkworks.
Apple could even get left behind through no fault of its own. The browser wars between Microsoft and Netscape Communications Inc., Mountain View, Calif., may have an inadvertent pernicious effect on Apple and its developer community if, in an era of Web weeks, Netscape and Microsoft don't simultaneously release Mac versions of their dueling browser upgrades. Even though Microsoft has expressed a strong commitment to supporting the Mac (hiring lots of old Claris and Apple hands, offering to fund interesting Mac developers and simply remaining the biggest seller of Mac applications on the planet), in its push to overwhelm Netscape and own the Internet, it could drive Apple into the ground.
Finally, Apple has not historically been involved with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the standards body determining the technology future of the Net, while Microsoft has. With luck, this may change in December, when the IETF returns once again to San Jose, and Apple should be able to send folks to the meeting.
If the company is to survive, developers must continue to be thrilled by the joy of writing for the Mac. That means Apple must continue to develop new technologies, but they must be divorced from Apple's Not Invented Here Syndrome and self-centered conceit, and yet not be estranged from market realities. It's going to be a hard stunt for Apple to pull off, yet a different one from the better-known necessities of getting its manufacturing and financial houses in order. The problem is that no one knows if this will sanitize the noble rot that has made the Mac a platform developers so dearly love.
If Gil and Heidi can find that balance, there is hope. Small developers know that the cost of entry into the Mac marketplace is far lower than into Wintel's, and that in all niches of the Wintel marketplace, especially the interesting ones, they will have to go up against Microsoft. Since the prospect of a world without the Mac is so foreboding, many developers continue to hang with Apple, providing the company with its best chance of success.
A postscript. I hope DaveNet readers have noticed that since the formation of MIDAS, I haven't been airing strong opinions about Apple in DaveNet. I don't know if Apple has any more of a clue about what's going on, or if there's real teeth in their stated intention to stay out of our way, but the net-effect is the one we were looking for.
Our stuff rolls forward, Apple is focused on its own problems. The world looks less and less to Apple to solve the problems in the Macintosh world, and that feels right.
PS: Ms. Borsook has a website at http://www.transaction.net/people/paulina.html.
PPS: Upside has a website at http://www.upside.com/.
PPPS: The numeric keypad has a period key.