Quorum and Altura
Sunday, January 26, 1997 by Dave Winer.
It's SuperBowl Sunday in the USA. I'm not a big football fan. When the Niners make it, I watch and I like it. This year it's the Packers versus the Patriots. Can I get excited? Well, hmmm, no. Sorry!
To all those that love the SuperBowl, have fun.
I'm going skiing!
In the early 90s, around the time Mac System 7 was shipping, there was a company called Quorum that had done something remarkable and very powerful -- they made it easy for Macintosh applications to port to various flavors of Unix, including ones from Sun, HP and SGI.
But I doubted if they could really make it work, and even if they could, I doubted if Apple would let them do it.
My first doubt was quashed, Adobe used Quorum's software to get PhotoShop, Illustrator and Premiere to SGI. I heard that Quark XPress was running on an SGI box using Quorum's stuff.
But Apple sued, effectively shutting them down. It was the Roger Heinen era, Apple didn't want anyone else porting the Mac APIs to other platforms. I objected, but there was no response from Apple.
Quorum became a dead company with software product that would become valuble when Apple became a Unix company. And, as you know, Apple has become a Unix company.
Quorum promises that the route to Rhapsody is assured. It gives Apple all the time in the world to get it right. It's a boost for the Mac OS. We should be able to produce native Rhapsody apps, not blue-box stuff, without having to move too far, or invest too much. It gives us time to work with Apple to create an easy transition for system managers and web developers.
Quorum also promises that we will be able to produce Unix versions of our software relatively easily. We want to do that, very much, to get into position behind Java on lots of different platforms. All the servers, clients, content tools could move. System managers and web developers will invest more easily knowing that app developers have the option to move.
Quorum is a good deal for the Mac development community, if the economics worked better. But first...
Altura Software, based in Pacific Grove, has a slightly different vision.
They offer Mac2Win which speeds the porting of Macintosh applications to Windows. They have announced Mac2NeXT, similar porting technology that would allow Mac apps to be ported to Rhapsody.
I've met Lee Lorenzen, the president of Altura, several times. He's a good guy, and Altura has an impressive list of products that they've already moved including Fractal Design Painter and related products, ClarisWorks, and MacroMedia Director.
Both Quorum and Altura have made substantial investments in the value of Macintosh software, but the economic system of the software business hasn't allowed much cash to flow into these two companies. It's remarkable that they stayed with it thru some very dry years.
Apple saw Quorum and Altura as counter to their interests, when it was clearly very much in their interest to support them. The real legacy of the Macintosh is the API, and the right to move it forward. Quorum and Altura supported that.
The ability to move software developers -- that, and the six-color logo, were the only things that Apple owned that had real value. Quorum and Altura were an insurance policy for the Macintosh API. Either one (or both!) help developers feel safer in betting on the Mac.
To understand this, you have to understand developer psychology. Heinen's Apple didn't understand how our economics worked, or didn't care, so they marketed against Q&A, thereby forcing some Mac developers to switch to the Windows API. Every time that happened, the Mac platform weakened, Apple lost value, we lost value.
Instead, Apple could have given Quorum and Altura a budget of $25 million per year to keep improving the technology. And it could have been provided to developers for a reasonably low per-seat price and no runtime royalty. In hindsight, the Mac platform would have weathered the storm of 1993-96 much better if these technologies had been funded and free.
An analogy, Quorum and Altura were roofs. The party was happening inside. With a strong roof, it would have been a much better party, as it turned out, because there was a terrible rainstorm going on outside.
Oh well. Live and learn!
PS: How different history might be if Q&A had flourished. Unix people would have gotten to know Mac software. I bet Unix would have been better for it; probably Java too. We would have met each other sooner. I wish it had happened that way.
PS: There will be no DaveNets or new versions of Frontier this week. Don't worry, I'm fine, you're fine, just taking a little time off. Thanks!