Free the Mac OS
Saturday, August 9, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Linux has been bothering me.
Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple to help preserve a competitive platform. I wonder if Microsoft would invest $150 million to help bootstrap a commercial market around the Linux operating system?
Flipped around, what if someone really creative ends up running Apple? Could you turn the Mac OS into a competitor of Linux? As they say in Fargo, yooooo betcha!
I know, the Mac OS is tied to the PowerPC processor, so it can't replace Linux, which is processor independent. But there's a lot of software for the Mac OS that doesn't run on Linux, so I think there's still a reason to push the PowerPC-only OS forward.
Before the Internet boomed in the mid 90s, I had an intuition that it was the no-brainer choice. But get this, I didn't put my bet down, instead I bet on Apple and the Mac OS. I didn't investigate MacTCP when it came out. If only I had! I wish...
OK. Now I have the same feeling about Linux.
Here's how I think it will shake out. Two operating systems. In a few years we're going to be left with Windows and the other will be a free operating system.
Users will have a choice -- go with the corporate standard or choose to trust the universe. Fear versus love. They both sell in the computer world.
I laugh out loud when I hear Jobs and Apple execs talking about the Macintosh ecosystem. What information do these guys have other than balance sheets to go by? Numbers give you one slice, the view of a company, but they tell you very little about the culture of interests gathered around it.
Another way to experience the ecosystem is to be part of it. Check it out, Mac users and developers are anti-corporate by nature. That's the culture of the Mac. So to align your interests with the users you pretty much have to be anti-corporate too. But Apple is a corporation, and totally acts like one. But the hype says otherwise (the two guys in a garage, which Jobs unfortunately referred to in his speech on Wednesday).
My maternal grandfather, the businessman in my family, had a bit of advice. "Pay for your sins," he would have said to Apple. Apple's sin is saying they are anti-corporate when they behave totally like a corporation. To get back on track Apple is going to have to resove that conflict. No way around it, all the great PR possible won't fix this disconnect.
Apple points the finger at the cloners, let's point the finger back at Apple. But who would you point to? It's funny! Apple is always in chaos. No one is responsible. People say Apple did this or Apple said that. Who at Apple and which Apple?
But there actually is a corporation named Apple and a track record to look at and an economic system to study. Here's what they do -- they cancel huge R&D projects and start new ones, buy whole operating systems, fire CEOs and reorganize twice a year. All these adventures cost huge money. It's as if your boat had been hit by a cruise missle and you're blaming a minor leak for sinking your ship.
In contrast, the cloners run small profitless ships, but are pushing the envelope on price, performance, quality and service.
What does Apple bring to the party? The hardware engineers at Apple seem to be falling behind the ones at the cloners. Where will the great engineers at the other companies go when Apple shuts them down? They'll probably get great jobs at Intel, HP, Dell, Compaq, Gateway, Cisco making Windows machines.
Apple also has the exclusive right to develop the Macintosh OS. 100 engineers work on revisions to the Mac OS and they have a great software distribution system.
When they say they're managing an ecosystem at Apple, what I hear is that they're exploiting an ecosystem. At Apple they don't just leak money, they build huge bonfires of burning money. Same old thing. It's not because they're bad or evil people, it's just that they're insulated from what's going on around them. No one is empowered to change the system. They're focused on their internal drama, and want us to be focused on it too.
This puzzle originally ran in DaveNet in February 1997.
How many F's in this sentence? "Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years."
The correct answer is 6. No tricks. Most people find 3. If you're like me, you didn't see the F's in the word "of" which appears three times in the sentence.
Conclusion -- most of what we see is what we're trained to see. Creativity is understanding these patterns and looking for algorithms that allow you to find what you're looking for anyway. Business as usual finds three F's. A disciplined creative person finds six.
See Programmers, 5/7/97, for more ideas.
People who know about the F's are less distracted by reality distortion fields.
I'm so confused by Apple. No CEO, a major reorg coming for sure, and another pipeline of innovation being shut down. Steve Jobs, the great storyteller, is continuing to tell the big lie. It's a corporate board he assembled, not a band of pirates! This Apple wasn't invented in a garage, it comes from Dupont, Oracle and Kleiner. In flagrante delicto.
Reading MacWorld, MacUser, MacWEEK, Macintouch, Webintosh, SJ Mercury, News.com, Wired, this week I saw the same result -- we're all disconnecting from Apple, seeing the Mac OS as something we're interested in, Steve Jobs too, and perhaps Apple; but they're all different things with different interests.
To the people who are responsible for Apple, the new board, we're all older now, we are more experienced, we've been around this loop over and over. Jobs, Anderson and De Luca are asking us to do it again, to trust Apple to control the flow of new ideas into the Mac market.
Here's the answer -- no.
Look at it another way, everyone Apple is blowing off is ready to return the favor. Most of the major software has been ported to Windows. IBM and Motorola can curtail advancement of the PowerPC chip. The users can buy Windows machines.
I can't worry about Apple now, that's not my job.
I would love to see something happen with the Mac OS. As a cash cow for Apple, I believe it can't go anywhere. I think it's been that way for a long time.
We'll figure out a way to pay the 100 engineers and we'll replace the software distribution system with a website.
I want it to be free.
PS: In flagrante delicto means "in the very act of committing the offense; red-handed." Loosely translated in DaveNet-ese: "Ooops".
PPS: To people who are dealing with Apple now, my guess is that all bets are off when the new CEO is named.
PPPS: Microsoft's $150 million could have been used to capitalize an independent Mac OS development company.