Depend on Developers
Tuesday, December 24, 1996 by Dave Winer.
I'm glad I work for a publication with a very short lead-time! I hope this doesn't sound too cliche, but the Internet changes the way writers work. For example, yesterday afternoon, I rushed to get my report on Apple's press conference onto the net. It took 20 minutes, from the end of the conference to a report in DaveNet subscribers' mailboxes. Only radio or TV could have done it more quickly. This makes me want to do radio or TV. I like instant news and opinion.
I can't beat other media every time. I tuned into this story because I have contacts at Apple and elsewhere in the software industry. But the Internet reaches everywhere, into every profession, human activity, all our passions and obsessions. With a little more organization, information will flow faster over the new wires, and in a much more diverse pattern.
At 5:55:44 PM on Friday, we had confirmation of the Apple/Next deal. I heard radio reports on the Apple/Next deal while I was driving to the Apple press conference a half hour later. I look forward to the day when I hear on the radio "According a report on DaveNet..." Don't laugh! Oh go ahead. It's OK.
I heard complaints from people who believe that I should have waited. My opinions can change as new facts come into evidence, and as I learn. DaveNet has always been a medium of real-time learning. If I waited until I was sure about everything it wouldn't be interesting. I'd never get to say anything!
An Apple PR person exclaims: "We announced an acquisition, not an OS strategy!" Yes, that's true, but it suggested a new OS strategy, and without details, there's certain to be speculation. It's not wrong. It's the way human beings process big changes.
We've just seen a huge shift in the power structure in the Mac community, a smaller shift in the larger software world. In the transition, new fortunes are possible. I had to nail a few things down before it was clear how to proceed. In the last few DaveNets I asked enough questions and received enough answers so I think I have it much better parsed now.
When I thought I understood, I read Henry Norr's column on the MacWEEK website that was posted late yesterday afternoon. Henry had been digging very thoroughly, no surprise there, and provided important information that I didn't have at that time. Henry, thank you very much.
A link to Norr's piece is on my "News & Updates" page.
I've been emailing with engineers at Next. It's pretty clear at this point what WebObjects is and isn't. It's also clear what the transition will look like.
First, a caveat -- this is just a story. It's based on information provided by other sources as assimilated by me. If any of the facts are wrong, the conclusions will be wrong too. But, for the most part, my conclusions are based on unequivocal statements from Apple people, so I give them a high degree of reliability. Even so, a grain of salt, please.
NextStep is Apple's operating system. Get used to that idea.
Apple is transitioning to this system with the same degree of committment with which Microsoft switched to the Win32 API over the last few years. With an eye towards the past, the investments already made, they must carefully manage the installed base of applications and users thru what must be a multiple-year transition.
There will be an initial Apple release of the NextStep system to give developers something to shoot for. It will behave almost exactly like the system software that Next is currently shipping -- so much so that developers can start developing for NextStep right now and be on the path to compatibility with Apple's operating system. A subsequent release of NextStep will be able to run Macintosh software.
Technical realities will make the transition happen slowly. Someone is going to have to figure out how to map QuickDraw onto Display Postscript, or vice versa. That could be Apple, or it could be every developer, or maybe Metrowerks or Symantec can help.
It's not clear if the Macintosh application model can be directly supported on NextStep. Macintosh and Windows apps are event based, and NextStep apps are class hierarchies. Cross-platform apps will have an easier transition than apps that are coded for either Windows or Macintosh.
What does the interapplication communication model on NextStep look like? Again in this case, higher level systems are going to have an advantage. It's easy to map a high-level interapplication model onto a lower one. I'm looking forward to learning more here.
With the Next deal, Apple has acquired WebObjects, a powerful server-side development system for web applications. It will fit well into the already strong Macintosh market for dynamic web server applications.
We look for new connections to enterprise databases thru WebObjects. Remember that websites are LANs, so the porting issues are much less of a concern. A Mac-based server running WebSTAR, NetPresenz or Quid Pro Quo, or Apple's new server, can easily connect to a WebObjects server running on a NextStep system.
This represents a new opportunity for activism in the Macintosh web developer community. An interesting demo for MacWorld Expo is totally do-able, even though there are only -3681 days before the keynote session on January 7.
A committment from Netscape to produce a NextStep version of their browser, followed by quick release, would give NextStep the traction it needs to be a serious web content development platform. Without Netscape, it's going to be limited as a web client and therefore limited as a content platform, since developers have to preview content as they are developing.
Although Microsoft has made no announcement, I believe they will quickly produce a NextStep version of their Internet Explorer web browser. It's consistent with the way they parse the world. If they fail to produce one, they would be making a clear judgement on Apple's direction. I don't think it's worth it to Microsoft to challenge Apple on this level. To be clear, this part is pure speculation.
I understand that Next already has an excellent email client. Connecting it with other net-based apps will be a high priority. I wonder if Eudora and Claris's email products will be ported?
To win, Apple must continue to make it clear that the Mac platform has their full support. The stronger the connection the safer Apple will be. Some energy is sure to dissipate. Apple's mission must be to minimize the dissipation.
Learn from history. Apple was able to transition much of the Apple II installed base to the Macintosh. Apple also smoothly transitioned from 68K to PowerPC. But the System 7 transition took more than three years. Very few Mac users are using Newton. IBM and Microsoft weren't able to transition PC-DOS users to OS/2. Windows NT is very slowly making inroads into the Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 markets.
It's a time of great risk at Apple and in MacLand. The power is with the users. It's always been there, but this transition wakes them up. It's time for clear thinking among Macintosh users. Make realistic demands on developers. They're going to be offering Macintosh software for quite some time to come. Many developers depend on people buying and using that software. If you depend on the software, please set your expectations realistically.
It's a time of great risk, but it's also a time of great opportunity. Few people doubt that NextStep is a more powerful modern basis than the Macintosh OS. The trick is going to be in building energy behind that system, and staying balanced. Careful platform management at this point will make the difference.
Apple's first public statements were cause for concern, but their response has been appropriate. On Saturday I said communication was needed, and on Monday communication happened. I'm going to expect the best possible outcome, that Apple will continue to show appreciation for user and developer investments, as they ask us to reinvest.
Apple must set realistic goals for developers and make realistic promises to users. Understand mistakes of the past. When Apple says SuperStuff is the hot new thing, users repeat the mantra to developers, setting expectations, distracting investment. If SuperStuff fails to materialize as an economic system, energy is lost, money is lost, Mac developers are less competitive with developers on other platforms, some even go out of business.
This is an old plea, from developer to platform vendor, but now we have the attention of a vendor. I believe they will listen in 1997 as they never have before. If NextStep becomes a great developer platform, Apple wins and developers win. They need us now, and I bet they know it. Apple of the past has had an uncomfortable relationship with developers. Now comfort is the only way they can continue.
The only prudent path for Apple is bilateral. Macintosh forever. NextStep in the future. They must trust and depend on developers. Wipe as many slates clean as possible. Keep Apple's to-do list manageable. Depend on developers. Depend on developers. Depend on developers.
One more time...
Depend on developers.
I'm remembering the lessons of Accept & Respect, 12/13/96, and giving Apple the opportunity to be a positive platform vendor. I ask Apple to recognize what Mac developers have already accomplished in server, content tools and client software. In return, we can provide them with the heat necessary to make the new platform happen. We need assurances, with teeth, that Apple will let competitive markets develop without interference.
Now more than ever, it's necessary for the vestigial arrogance of the Mac to fall away. We can't work together with all that religious noise. Drinking the Kool Aid is not the answer. Being thoughtful, realistic and respectful is the only way forward.
See The Arrogance of the Mac, 11/10/96.
I've been very pleased with the attitude of Next people so far. They've been outgoing, humble, inquisitive and very respectful. It's not surprising, given the difficulties they've had. They don't expect it to be easy. They've not had an easy time so far. This gives them a calmness that's refreshing.
Working with Next people is not at all like working with Steve Jobs' Apple of the 1980s. It's clearly not an infinite loop. We're going somewhere new.
So much music is written about Christmas! Everyone has their favorite song. Mine is John Lennon's Christmas Song, sung with his wife Yoko Ono, and his children. It goes like this...
"So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun. And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun! The near and the dear ones, the old and the young. A very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Let's hope it's good one, without any fear.
"And so this is Christmas (war is over) for weak and for strong (if you want it). The rich and the poor ones, the world is so young! And so Happy Christmas for black and for white, for yellow and red ones, let's stop all the fight! A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, let's hope it's a good one without any fear."
As a very young man, I looked up to John Lennon. A funny guy, he had an ironic sense of humor, and sense of himself. He taught me a lot. He stated the obvious and accepted the consequences. Many people didn't want to hear what he had to say. But as a young man, I did. And as a more mature man, I still do.
His song is more poignant because John Lennon is gone. But even after his death, we can accept his love, and rejoice in the music he gave us. He asked us to appreciate each other. And, if we can do that, war is over! You can't kill someone you truly appreciate.
If you have a few minutes over the holiday, I highly recommend reading the 1981 Playboy interview with John and Yoko.
I'm taking the next three days off, so if any news happens, I'll miss it.
I'm totally surrounding myself with love this holiday! And looking forward to a very exciting final week of 1997, and a great new beginning the week after that.
And so this is Christmas. You're the gift! Don't forget that. Be kind to those who are close. And be kind to yourself.
Let's have fun in 1997!