It's About Investment
Sunday, December 22, 1996 by Dave Winer.
When I run these pieces, some of the true lame ducks come out of the woodwork and let me have their fantasies. People say that I should drink the Kool Aid and get with the program, but not me. I'd rather switch than go into a self-induced trance.
I've moved away from advising Apple on how to navigate the strategic minefield of the personal computer software business. It was doing no good, no matter what I said or did, Apple sang its own tune, as is their right.
But lately, quietly, there have been reconciliations. Apple webmasters are using Frontier to do websites. I'm very pleased with this and I hope they continue to do so. We're responding with new features they need. It's a win-win, our software gets stronger and better adapted, and Apple gets a more dynamic manageable web presence.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a private exchange with execs at Apple which led to the opening up of Apple's personal web server software which is due to ship soon. This means that Apple's web server will be able to do more than serve static HTML files from a user's hard disk.
We're supporting Apple's meta-content format, or MCF, in the next version of our content tools. We can do a cross-platform outliner browser for MCF, and plan to do it.
All of these are positive signs of a platform developer and a software developer working together in productive ways. But none of these positive signs relieve me from the responsibility for thinking for myself and trying to make sense of what just happened at Apple.
Before you judge me on a personal level, check out the facts. I was excited about Apple getting an evangelist like Jobs. I encouraged my friends in the press to spin positive about it. But I've never been a fan of reality-distortion. So these are my thoughts, for the eightieth time, I have no patent on the truth, nor do I claim one.
I was not excited to find out that Jobs has nothing at risk as the platform goes forward. He got a lot of cash in the deal, and apparently no stock.
This puts him at odds with others who have large investments in the Mac platform. He can afford to recommend tossing all the cards in the air. If you have an an investment in the Mac platform, they're your cards he could be tossing.
On the other hand, if Jobs got Apple stock instead of cash, it would alleviate a lot of the concern. Otherwise, he seems to have little at stake in the outcome of the Macintosh platform.
I see a pyramid, with the smallest investment at the top, with Apple's shareholders. Then come the developers, but even our investment in the platform is small compared to the investment of the installed base of users.
It's true, as some have pointed out, that you can install the current OS on all kinds of hardware, some dating back to the mid 1980s. This is an admirable investment-preserving track record.
On the other hand, every time there's a transition in the OS, we lose some software, and have to reinvest to stay in the same place. Sometimes developers fail to make the transition, and there's no opportunity for users to reinvest. There's no option but losing in that case.
So there's a cost to each upgrade. Given that many Mac developers are devoting more resources to Windows development, there has to be a lot of excitement about a new Apple platform to encourage another round of investment by developers.
The excitement wasn't there when Next was independent. Can Apple buying Next really make that much of a difference?
OK, let's assume the best, that the Next OS with full Mac OS compatibility, ships in 1997. It installs smoothly on all earlier PowerMacs. 68K users are assured that System 7 will be kept current with bugfixes and performance improvements for the forseeable future. There's an easy path for developers to work with both levels of Apple operating systems.
Apple offers a new box that's tuned to run the new OS. $2500, with a big hard drive, big screen, lots of RAM and a great net connection. It runs all the Mac software you have plus some new applications that truly take advantage of the new OS.
Here's a holiday toast -- let's hope that Apple delivers and that the users are excited about this idea and buy lots of machines!
Personally, I like what Be is doing. I encourage other developers who feel the same to continue to explore the new operating system that Be is developing.
PS: If you've used Next's WebObjects product, I would be interested in hearing how it works, if you're satisfied with it, if it's moving, performs well, etc. I admit I haven't been following this software. I'd like to know more about it. Thanks!