The OpenDoc Lesson
Monday, March 17, 1997 by Dave Winer.
For such a young woman, Alanis Morissette has a deep understanding of life. She sings "You live you learn." Right on. Smart people structure their time, as much as possible, to flow new experiences thru their lives. More living, more learning. It works that way in business too. If you want to understand a market, dive into it. Become a user. Feel the glitches. Learn. Change the code. Do it again.
We went to the moon last week. There were glitches... As the editor of the Apple newsroom project at InternetWorld, I wanted the copy to arrive on my desk, not as finished web pages, but as finished copy, already thru a copy-edit cycle. I'd like to be able to assign priority to the new piece. If it becomes the top story, my scripts would automatically insert its headline and lead paragraph on the home page of the site and link to the full story on another page.
The reverse-chronologic view of the site seemed to work, but I saw some excellent pieces drift towards the bottom of the page, being displaced by pieces that I felt were less interesting. But I learned to trust the readers to be willing to scroll down a little.
Next time I want the server in the booth with us. I want a monitor that's visible to the audience that shows the server log window, and also a nice bar chart that's updated once a minute, with the hourly hit reports. Another page on the site that allows everyone to see which pages are getting the most reads.
Conxion did a perfect job. The FTP link was smooth, page rendering happened faster on a server that was hundreds of miles away from the booth. The connection was faster than the LAN connection to the server that's less than 20 feet away from me right now. I guess AppleShare could be faster?
I want to do audio next time. My interviews were more revealing than I could report. Perhaps people wouldn't have said as much if there was a microphone between us. But I think I can put people at ease, and help them get their story out, and help them say newsworthy things. I think next time, when we have audio, the show will be more interesting.
I had a good flow going with Tim Bernsen of Apple, the photo editor on the team. The QuickTake cameras worked well. But I want a scripted connection between a camera and the web. One click to get a snapshot onto the site. Then we could flow hundreds of pictures thru the site instead of the dozen we did this time. I got a bunch of email during the show from people who said "show us this!" I wanted to. But we had trouble pulling it off.
We met a lot of Apple people at the show. We acted as a team, with respect and enthusiasm, for ourselves and each other. Our managing editor got seriously ill during the show. She's OK now, we love her, but the show went on anyway. People filled in and we did the best with what we had.
We're learning. I've never worked in a news room before. Once before I was part of a real newspaper, during the San Francisco newspaper strike. I started a student newspaper, the Daily Planet, at Bronx Science in the early 70s. All the experiences of the past served me, nicely, but the new experiences that are waiting are also exciting.
I've wondered why my stories aren't considered authoritative by the business and trade press. I haven't asked this question before. I think one of the interviews at the Los Angeles show raised the question very concisely.
I interviewed John Sculley, the former chairman of Apple. Of course I wanted to steer the conversation towards Apple, the current management situation, to report something that might be newsworthy, relevent to the kinds of stories that are running in pubs ranginging from Fortune and BusinessWeek to MacWEEK and InfoWorld. I understand that Sculley had his own objectives for the interview, and I tried to accomodate him, to let his story come thru too.
Given our differences in the past, it was remarkable that Sculley gave me the interview. I was a Mac developer when he ran Apple. I was openly critical of many of the decisions he made, especially competing software projects such as HyperCard and Taligent. I was not a supporter of Sculley's Apple. But we put that behind, on the day of the interview I was a reporter, and he was a business leader with a story.
After a brief talk about NetObjects, where he serves on the board, and LivePicture, where he is the CEO, the conversation turned to Apple. I was curious to hear how Mike Markkula figured in the running of the company. I asked what he thought of Gil Amelio. And then I asked about Steve Jobs. He answered all the questions, with some revealing and interesting quotes.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a wave of press over comments made by an ex-Apple CFO, Joe Graziano. He was an insider, for sure, but his comments weren't as interesting, I thought, and he was never chairman of Apple.
So, there are many DaveNet readers who are business reporters. When I get a scoop like this, I would like it to be taken seriously, as seriously as you would take it if it came from a print pub. Yes, we only do web stories here. But sometimes we get an important one.
After I wrote this, a friend called to say that Tom Abate of the San Francisco Examiner had referred to the Sculley interview in his Sunday column. Thanks Tom!
Last week Apple cancelled further development of OpenDoc along with several other technologies. I've written about OpenDoc many times. We can now close the OpenDoc loop.
When a developer chooses to invest in a technology, all factors must be considered, including the likelihood that the proponents of the technology will see it thru. There are no absolutes. It was impossible to tell for sure if OpenDoc would gain traction, and if it had the unwavering support of Apple. So we had to make a judgement call.
My call -- Apple was headed for trouble. It was over-extended, doing expensive software projects that were too speculative. I believed that the economics would catch up with them, and an expensive project like OpenDoc would be a likely casualty. Many people responded to my pieces about OpenDoc with a defense of the idea. But the quality of the idea or its implementation aren't the only issues, not even the main ones.
As OpenDoc rolled thru the Mac developer community, I didn't see my friends changing directions. So I believed I knew that it wasn't going to happen, and I said so. I got a lot of flames for this, so be it, no big deal. But, if I saved some other developers the effort of implementing OpenDoc parts by stating my position publicly, then it was worth the trouble.
Now that the loop is closed, many developers are speaking up -- saying that it wasn't a good investment in the first place. The real lesson of OpenDoc is that it would be better to have the courage to speak up earlier, so the loops can be shorter, decisions can be made more quickly. The same is true when we decide to go ahead and make an investment. Let other people know what you're doing and why.
People are so worried about having their feelings hurt. Product managers at Apple would punish us for our independence. Let's save time and money and be more effective, let's be adults, and communicate our directions to each other. And thank people for letting us know what they're doing, instead of seeking retribution.
Here's where I'm at on platforms as of March 1997. We're rooted in the Mac, porting to Win32, hope to go to Solaris, and are interested in going to Rhapsody. We can fill the need for scripting and publishing systems on all these platforms.
About Rhapsody, we're concerned about its memory requiremenents, and think Apple has a big job in front of it, and that we'll be shipping into System 7 and System 8 installed bases for quite some time.
About Solaris, it appears to be the most respected Unix system, and we want the people who use Solaris to have the option of developing servers and content systems with our software. Most important, we want the respect of people who work in Unix, and are willing to port to Unix to get it.