Canary in a Coalmine
Wednesday, February 12, 1997 by Dave Winer.
This morning's DaveNet is brought to you by Sting, the great lyricist and singer of The Police. The song is Canary in a Coalmine. Oh yeah!
"First to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect, your sensibilities are shaken by the slightest defect! You live your life like a canary in a coalmine. You get so dizzy even walking in a straight line."
Sting was writing about a friend of his.
I'm writing about the canary.
A canary is a small bird that can fit in your pocket. Coalminers bring canaries with them because they have more delicate systems than coalminers. If the canary dies, it's time to get out of the coalmine.
It's a beautiful song.
I've learned to monitor flow on my website. When I write about Apple, or run news from Apple, I get a deluge of hits. Look at today's log digest for scripting.com:
The song about Heidi leaving Apple was number one yesterday, with more hits than the home page of the whole site. A few days ago, in the flow of the Rick Smolan site (also very popular) the Twenty Four hours site (not as popular) and lots of scripting snippets, I ran a piece by Amy Wohl, a famous analyst, about Apple:
It was a major hit.
Everyone wants to hear about Apple.
Gil Amelio didn't know what he was getting into last year when he took charge of Apple. "Another Silicon Valley company!" he said. "I'll fix it." Uh huh.
No way. Apple is a legend, not a company. Two guys in a garage. Up down up down. The dreams of a generation. When Amelio finally figured it out he brought back the two guys! The man learns. But it is too late now.
Apple was pointing totally in the wrong direction when Amelio took over. I put my stake in the ground, just before Amelio took over. It's worth a read.
Skip over the name badge stuff and the music. It's too late for that. Look at how I was going to structure Apple -- around developers. It was the only way forward then, and it still is.
Apple concentrated the risk in its internal developers, its employees, and lost. Apple's initiatives, the list is famous, required evangelists to twist the arms of developers to support them. If they were the right initiatives, no evangelists would have been needed.
Software is spiritual stuff. No way you can head-trip your way thru it. Who could have predicted an Internet boom? But Apple was so into its own loops that at first it didn't notice it, then it went into denial, and then it looked inward again, when the answer was outside.
Another Police song. "There is no political solution to our troubled evolution. Have no faith in constitution. There is no bloody revolution."
Amelio was the agent of business as usual. He didn't understand the context. His first year on the job proved that there was no more time when he started, and he acted as if there was nothing but time. The fundamental rules of the software and publishing industries had changed, and Amelio didn't even understand the rules of the old world.
All the cards go into the air now, there's no way to postpone it. If you think the last couple of months have been amazing, just wait. It's about to get much more interesting.
Apple, believe it or not, was positioned to re-attain dominance in the personal computer software business in late 1994, when it seemed as if it was over (it *always* seems like it's over at Apple, btw, always has, always will).
The web is what's happening, right? All the new initiatives, the stuff that fills the pages of the Weeks, are still speculative, right? Does the web have a lot more growing to do? Yes. Has the shakeout happened? No. It's still a long way off.
The web is a publishing market. The technology in this market is going to follow the flow of print publishing systems. It's so simple, it's so easy to see!
Layout, graphics, writing, publishing systems.
Where have we seen this before?
Quark XPress, the installed-base leader in the layout segment of the publishing industry, will get web layout features. It's going to own the market that NetObjects Fusion is camped in, because it already owns the market.
With Netscape 4.0, the web will get layout features. At that time, designers will use XPress to design the look of pages on websites.
GIFs, JPEGs. Pretty pictures. PhotoShop is the big product in this space, but there's room for an easy-to-use text-effects graphics program. A big opportunity in the low end. A market dominator at the high end.
The vast majority of people involved in building websites are writers. They need excellent writing tools with spell-checkers and easy user interfaces. Programs that run on laptops, work on a small screen, text that's easily emailable and FTPable. Some support for HTML is helpful, but not crucial. The goal of writing tools is to facilitate writing, not layout.
New tools such as PageMill, FrontPage and HomePage will prove to be historic anomalies. They are not great design tools, and they are not great writing tools either. They are serving a temporary small market, they must grow in features to remain competitive, and there's no way to grow those products' functionality without becoming word processors and outliners.
Simple text editing is what this market needs. The leader, right now, by the way, is BBEdit. I think email programs such as Eudora are well positioned in this market, since they are adequate writing tools with great communications built-in.
Tying layout, graphic and writing tools together is publishing system software. That's what UserLand does. I've written several pieces about this.
It's taken a lot of courage for me to see this one, but in the publishing world, AppleScript has become a critical piece of software. A huge, strategic installed base of user-scriptwriters in a market dominated by Macs. Here's what one looks like...
The server market is wide open and inherently cross-platform. Many Mac-developed websites are served using other operating systems. The open standard of the Internet, FTP, has made this possible.
The evolution of scripting and database environments for web servers is in rapid evolution, and is quite confusing. The shakeout hasn't happened here yet.
Ask the folks at Seybold Seminars (I can't call them Seybold as many people do because I have an official capacity there now, details in an upcoming piece).
The Mac is totally dominant in the publishing systems market. Microsoft wants to own this market, but they don't.
It's the one big-money market that the Mac still owns.
Let's own it.
Here's what I want Apple to do.
Shrink the hardware line down to three configurations, a desktop client, a laptop and a server. Strip the system software to a bare minimum. Buy some server capacity (I recommend ConXion, Microsoft uses them, so do I) and distribute the extra software for free via the net.
Commit to supporting the 68K for the forseeable future. To be sure this is possible, I run a modern web server, www.scripting.com, on a Quadra 850. There's no need to break this link. The publishing industry is very conservative on new hardware purchases. They want all their hardware to be useful, even old stuff. We have to include 68K machines in the plan.
Developers will put together competing toolkits for server and authoring software to be distributed on CD and over the net. Apple has proposed that they put together the CD bundles, but this is not a good idea. We need a competitive market in order for it to work.
In every opportunity Apple has to communicate with the press and users, they should tell this story. Layout, writing tools, graphic tools, publishing system software.
Apple makes hardware systems, developers make the market. Repeat it over and over. Be patient, it will take time for it to sink in.
There are people in Cupertino who get it, who understand what the publishing market wants, and how to sell to it. Clear the path for them to lead.
And, even though patience is required, there's no time to wring our hands, or to deploy a new operating system.
Here's what I want the press to do.
Recognize that the Internet happened. Lots of Internet authoring happens on Macs. That isn't likely to change. A dislocation, a bankruptcy at Apple, will hurt lots of people, including many people in the press who use Macs. But the worst thing possible is the perpetual state of almost being bankrupt. Let's move beyond that, please!
Write Apple off now and stick to it. Write one more "the end is here" piece and then go cold turkey. The movement in the net has nothing to do with Apple even if it has everything to do with the Mac. It's hard to parse the contradiction, but that's the lesson we all have to learn.
The Mac platform is the product of a husband and a wife. The divorce is almost final. The husband's job from now on is to pay child support and get out of the way of the rehabilitation of the kid. The developers' job is to try to fix the mess and get the platform moving in a healthy direction.
That's the story.