Sell What You Have
Sunday, January 5, 1997 by Dave Winer.
I have a couple of extra hours to write this morning after closing the MacWEEK developer survey, freezing the numbers and graphs, and distributing the scripts.
1361 total responses, and two unmistakeable conclusions. Many current Macintosh developers would be happy to continue developing for the Macintosh OS as-is. And if the story is good enough, many will follow Apple to NextStep.
Looking at the numbers graphically, it's clear that the only difference in the way developers feel about NextStep is a doubled Unsure rating. The No rating for both platforms is a tiny 5 percent.
Spend a few minutes with the numbers, let them sink in, and remember your conclusions. We're going to do another survey next week to test the developer waters after Apple tells its story at MacWorld Expo. The new survey will probably start on Thursday or Friday.
I remember a conversation with Jean-Louis Gassee in 1989, when he was head of Apple's product development. We were talking about the scripting software I was developing, which eventually became Frontier.
We also talked about HyperCard, which was then the most powerful scripting software for the Macintosh. I said (of course) that our software would be much more sophisticated than HyperCard, more for geeks, but simpler, deeper, faster, more useful. Jean-Louis encouraged me to tell him more. I did. I like talking to JLG because he likes geek talk.
So then he asked me a question that I still think about. He asked, "Would it be all right with you, if in the meantime, we continued to sell HyperCard?" I laughed! I'm laughing now. It's a funny question!
"Yes, of course," I said; secretly wishing that he would immediately lose interest in HyperCard, and commit fully to my new system scripting design. I'm just a human being, looking for the easier path, for me, of course.
His question is still teaching me lessons, and looking at the history of Apple, which is anything but Sell What You Have, it seems, based on reading tea leaves, that we are probably going to get a chance to learn more about this next week.
I think Jean-Louis was fair in insisting on staying faithful to HyperCard and its users. We may have had better technology, but we hadn't delivered. We also had to overcome HyperCard's popularity in the marketplace. He wouldn't grant us Apple's attention until we delivered. Right on.
Unfortunately, Jean-Louis was never fully empowered at Apple, and the deeply-ingrained Apple way to do things is to hype the future -- massively and with passion.
The list of promises is legendary -- ProDOS, The P-system, Apple II Forever, Lisa, Macintosh, 1984, AppleTalk, LaserWriters, Lemmings, Taligent, Kaleida, Claris, heli-cars, AppleMail, eWorld, Newton, OpenDoc, CyberDog, Copland, NextStep.
Some of these promises delivered, but most of them didn't. That's just the way it is with software. It doesn't say anything bad about Apple to say that they tried new ideas that didn't make it, either as technologies, or in the market. But, it is a basic business mistake, I think, to not observe this trend, and account for it in future marketing.
The odds that NextStep will gain traction, no matter how good the developer numbers, and no matter how good the Next people are, the odds are still against it working. Look at the track record. If you're a betting man, as I am, bet on the things that work, and hedge on the ones that haven't delivered yet.
My father taught me that the best algorithm for predicting the weather on Day N is to predict the same weather as Day N-1. The meteorologists that use this algorithm (none do, it's insulting to meteorology!) get it right more often than those who use fancier algorithms. Applying the same logic to software, I think if people use Eudora, Netscape and WebSTAR in 1997, that's probably what they're going to be using in 1998 too.
There's a cost to selling against the installed base, it makes it harder for developers to raise capital to grow and build service oriented businesses that keep customers happy. Lots of users want lots more support. I hear that every day from the Frontier community. But when the attention is focused away from what's delivered, investors are unsure, and when they're unsure, they don't invest.
Now back to Apple. What do they own, that's worth anything, other than the Mac OS and the base of software that runs on it? My opinion, nothing. They're just like Be. My bet, if I were Apple -- make the Mac OS work. Start building relationships around it as if your company depended on it. Cut everything else. Pay the price now. It's time to really work together, to invest together, compatibly, not cross-purposes.
My opinion, of course.
So, on the eve of MacWorld Expo, I'd like to send a brief respectful message to Gil Amelio, the chairman of Apple Computer, and to anyone that's going to evaluate Apple's new direction. The message is simple.
It's best to sell what you have.