News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus picture Mail Starting 3/19/97

From: tmk@iocom.be (Tattoo Mabonzo K.);
Sent at 3/22/97; 6:48:24 PM;
The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Yo Dave,

Well, I couldn't resist sending this email.

Some background info 'bout me if you allow me. I've been a Daveneter for about two years now. Through Davenet and TidBits I discovered Frontier (the Aretha release of, just a couple of weeks after you made it public).

At that time I was an Amiga User, for years although I had been using all sorts of computers, for me the Amiga defined the essence of what a computer should be: Wizzy _and_ Geeky, I, the user should be able to decide how I use the computer.

I never favor the Mac for my personal use, too wizzy, not geeky (enough) I thought. I don't like the wintel solution (not wizzy neither geeky (the elegance factor is mostly missing), the wizzy character got better with win95 though). I've always loved Unix, I'm a geek at heart, can't be too geeky.

I'm also a scripter at hear. One of my favorite features in the Amiga was AREXX, the amiga implemetation of IBM's inter-application scripting language REXX.

When I started to dig into Frontier, my geek quotient rose 20 points.

Christian Bauer wrote a Mac emulator for the Amiga (which IMHO was a better Mac solution than the original) (and for BeOS too). For two months I run Frontier in my Amiga. Through Frontier I discovered Apple's OSA, and WebStar and Butler SQL.

The Internet was starting to happen here in Belgium. I decided it was time to create my company. I'm an automation freak. I thought there would be some opportunity in creating workflow automation solutions for web publishing, an area you're were pionneering with AutoWeb, Clay Basket, and Frontier.

What's seduces me the most in Frontier is not the language (ie UserTalk) but Frontier itself, ie the IDE.

I cannot say how much I owe you, Doug and the Frontier community. Because of you and thanks to you I'm using macintoshes and above all I _enjoy_ working with them.

I several occasions I strongly disagreed with the strong opinions you expressed in Davenet especially when those where related to Apple.

Most of the time though I refrained from voicing them, mostly for two reasons.

The first reason is that I'm not comfortable enough with my english. I don't trust what I write in english to exactly reflect my thoughts.

The second reason is that you created Frontier and the web publishing tools I mentionned above.

Don't get me wrong. What I mean is that, your software tells a lot about you because of the ideas they originated from, and the way you implement them.

And I really like your software. Most of the developments we've done are done in Frontier. (And although we (like you) are still rooted in the Mac, we're also going multi-plateform (Unix now, NT when Frontier NT is available, yes my only justification in going NT is when Frontier is available for NT, same old story). I've no doubt that a substancial part of our developments will remain in Frontier.

So, when I read a Davenet expressing something I find hard to agree with, I do the following: I first try to remind myself that what you express are your _opinions_ and no matter how strong there are you don't claim to hold the Truth (whatever that it is), not always obvious ;-).

And second I always take the time to reread, think and think again about your davenet. That's because I say to myself: "consider that the davenet's author and the Frontier's author are the same individual..." if you see what I mean.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that The Struggle to Stay Wizzy is one of my favorite davenet, right to the spot, not that I agree with everything you say in it (e.g. the Unix Leaders attitude) though ;-)...

Best regards,

= tmk =

PS: when I look at Unix, in addition to databases I also see incredibly powerful scripting languages: Python, my favorite, some ideas in common with UserTalk...,the home-made ultraseek webserver is written in Python...) hint: http://www.python.org/, Perl, Tcl/Tk to name a few. Making Frontier a hosting IDE for those languages would be the Good Thing (tm) and the killer thing to do.

PPS: The frontier feature I probably like the most is its outliner. Since using Frontier I've become an outliner zealot. Outlines make for great UI for lots of stuff. I'm said to observe that Outliners on the Macs seems to have a bad fate. First IN Control, and now we Info Depot ;-(.

PPPS: The thing that make scripting on a Mac more powerful is OSA. The "openness" of OSA is the key. It's an enabling technology. On the Amiga mostly every application supported AREXX because it was the the Amiga OS scripting language and it did a good job at it, but it was the _only_ system level scripting language. On the Macintosh at least I can choose between several languages and use their respective strengths.

From: mark_gardner@Merck.Com (Mark Gardner);
Sent at 3/21/97; 10:22:56 PM;
Thoughts on Frontier, Unix, scripting, etc.

I think the closest thing you'll find to a Frontier-like community on the Unix side of the planet is the one that's built itself around the Perl programming language. They're even hyper-focused on websites, like Frontier often is.

Perl is the language of choice for a lot of CGI development, mainly because of the tremendous amount of developer support -- Lincoln Stein's CGI.pm Perl module is as much a de facto standard as the Frontier CGI Framework. Folks use it to script website creation and management, too, with connections to other apps, other systems, etc.. Check out "http://www.perl.com/perl/", the Perl website. Pet the camels. Soak up the community. :-)

Some other thoughts on Unix:

One of the things you said in The Struggle to Stay Wizzy was that you see databases when you look at Unix. Yes, they're there, but when I look at Unix, I see... scripting. (Yes!) Scripting is inherent in the Unix experience, and when just about every program and command can pipe data in and out of itself, you can build these really amazing custom tools that do exactly what you want. And every script you write is a first-class citizen -- you add one line of code to the top that tells the script what executes it (like Perl, see above), and voila, your script acts like a real Unix program.

I think you might want to reconsider Unix and its developers. Yes, there's a lot of big-time-server stuff, intimidating databases, MIS wonks throwing huge sums of money at fire-breathing SPARCcenter clusters... but the fundamental features, and the kinds of capabilities and communities surrounding Unix, are not too different from what you get with a Mac and Frontier.

(PS: There is Perl for the Mac, too, but the real action occurs on the Unix side, and a bit on the Windows side, where it seems to have caught on for a lot of CGI development.)

From: gdavis@projectcool.com (Glenn Davis);
Sent at 3/20/97; 3:49:41 PM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Frankly Dave, I'm a bit shocked. Unix about databases? As a person who's used just about every platform out there I don't see that at all. What I see when I look at unix is scripting and multitasking, two things that it just knocks the socks off of any other OS with.

From: michael@memra.com (Michael Dillon);
Sent at 3/20/97; 9:20:08 AM;
Yes we have Davenets

Yes we have Davenets of a sort for UNIX people. They tend to be done with Internet mailing lists and not with Websites and they also tend to have more contributors rather than your personal editorial style. However, UNIX geeks aren't the opponents of Macintosh that you make them out to be. Of course there are always some people who just plain don't know anything about Macs and therefore display irrational fear of the unknown by lashing out against them.

But there are more UNIX people that respect and like Macs for the jobs that they do. However, we all know from direct hands-on experience that machines running UNIX make better servers than anything else. Notice that I didn't say "UNIX machines". That's because the machine and the OS are two separate issues. For instance, most Macs in existence today can run one or more versions of UNIX like A/UX, NetBSD, MachTEN, AIX and MKLinux.

But UNIX is weak in the desktop applications department and could be easier for people to learn. All that tells us is that UNIX is an excellent tool for certain jobs and a mediocre tool for others. Interestingly, the same thing can be said of the MacOS except that the strong and weak areas are reversed. Macs make poor servers but are insanely great on the desktop. And your comparison of Appleshare with FTP was incorrect. You should probably have compared Appleshare with NFS which is the equivalent UNIX filesharing service. And NFS is not necessarily the fastest filesharing protocol either. But perhaps a more interesting thing to do would be to compare Appleshare services on a MacOS server with CAP or netatalk providing Appleshare services on a UNIX server.

Personally, I'd rather see the Macintosh and the UNIX community unite against the king of mediocrity and confusion, namely Microsoft. We both have insanely great OSes, they just do different jobs. And with Rhapsody Apple appears to be combining the strengths of both worlds into one system.

From: jjens@primenet.com (John Jensen);
Sent at 3/20/97; 7:08:04 AM;

I disagree that HTML is geeky while OpneDoc is wizzy.

The central fact is that HTML is small while OpenDoc is large.

Apple fell into a trap that large == wizzy. If it doesn't have a thousand page specification it can't be good. If you can explain HTML to your buddy in 10 minutes, it must be too simple. If you can edit a hypertext document and get it running using TeachText, someting must be wrong.

Don't fall into that trap. The most wizzy things accomplish mind-blowing effects with simple rules (see chaos and complexity theory).

From: chanson@mcs.com (Chris Hanson);
Sent at 3/19/97; 7:40:41 PM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Have you had any conversations with Apple about the future of AppleEvents in Rhapsody? (I know this may be the sort of thing covered by NDA -- I'll understand if you can't tell me... :) I'm glad they weren't mentioned in what many are calling the "Black Friday" press release, but in listening to part of the RealAudio of the conference call it seems that the press release was not a complete list of technologies killed.

Also, have you looked at the Apple AIX server stuff on http://devworld.apple.com/ yet? It seems that Apple's servers were more than just repackaged IBM models; it looks to me as if they had at the least added AppleTalk and AppleEvents to them. So it may not be that hard to make AppleEvents work on other platforms, at least for Apple since they have some Unix-compatible C source code that does them. All that we need now is a new type of address descriptor for TCP/IP...

From: ole@pacbell.net (Ole Eichhorn);
Sent at 3/19/97; 4:48:50 PM;

The concept "Unix" is not like Macintosh. It isn't even like "Windows". If you say Macintosh, you're referring to a specific operating environment on a specific company's computers. (Well, now that we have Mac clones I guess this isn't true anymore. But the clones are pretty exact, so it's almost still true.) When you say "Windows", you're referring to several specific operating environments (3.1, 95, NT) made by a specific company, but running on a bunch of different computers made by a bunch of different companies. (They don't even all share the same architecture: PPC and Alpha and MIPS as well as Intel.) When you say "Unix", you're referring to a family of operating enviornments, made by different companies and differing in important ways, designed to run on a variety of computers made by different companies. It's pretty wide open.

NextStep is Unix, and AIX is Unix, but they are pretty different.

From: gaulandm@mdhost.cse.tek.com (Mike Gauland);
Sent at 3/19/97; 4:34:45 PM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

I'm not sure what your position is on WYSIWYG and the WWW. Personally, I think it's a Bad Thing. WYSIWYG (more accurately, "what you see is something like what you get, but just different enough to really tick you off") is great for generating printed output. You can see on your screen just how everything will look on the printed page--where the line and page breaks are, where the graphics will be, etc. Saves a lot of paper, and keeps the tearing out of one's hair to a minimum. Cool.

But the web is different. Don't try to take over my browser! I like using large fonts. Sometimes, I want more than one window open--let my browser put in the line breaks, so I don't have to keep scrolling left and right. Maybe my screen isn't as large as yours, or maybe I don't have the same fonts. Maybe I'm using a different browser. Just provide the information, and basic hints on formatting it. I'll manage.

Sure, there are things lacking in HTML that would be nice to have (being able to indent paragraphs comes to mind). But I don't want you to decide how wide my browser should be, and which fonts I should use, and so on. If you need that kind of control, use PDF or something similar, not HTML.

What you see is not necessarily what I want!

From: wesf@comm.net (Wesley Felter);
Sent at 3/19/97; 4:50:51 PM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Netscape isn't whizzy? (I spell it that way, because in my mind it comes from "whiz"; as in "Aren't I a whiz for putting in this cool feature?") My biggest problem with Netscape is that they have too many whizzy features and too few that do actual work. Netscape is in non-compliance with about half of the HTTP spec and what's their highest priority? Adding new (presentation) tags, frames, layers, plug-ins (which are implemented wrong BTW), etc. These features don't make Netscape work better; they make it look prettier.

Then Microsoft has to out-whiz Netscape, and you get the "whiz gap" (Dr. Strangelove is one of my favorite movies...). The "whiz race". The Cold War.

From: pmeyer@desklaw.com.au (Peter Meyer);
Sent at 3/20/97; 9:46:11 AM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Oh, that it were true, but I believe you are grossly over simplifying here.

You quite rightly point to a conundrum between wizzy tools and the databases needed to drive the web.

The problem is that wysiwyg is the enemy of digital publishing, on the Web or anywhere else. wysiwyg served quite well when all we wanted to do was publish on paper or view on our OWN computer screen. As soon as we want to do more than that, wysiwyg documents fall apart, into scrambled eggs in may cases. Basic wysiwyg conversion tools such as Adobe Word for Word and a word processor's "Save As HTML", reveal the problem.

Perhaps what you are saying is that the user wants a wysiwyg experience. If so, I agree entirely. But that is not what you appear to be saying. I know that you as much as anyone know what is involved in entering information into a database so I make my comments with a view to exploring more clearly what you point really is.

When you use Frontier as a storage mechanism for objects you want to incorporate into you web pages, you are doing something quite different to wysiwyg authoring. You are planning your documents in a structural sense. This is exactly what SGML is designed to do except that it is a standardized mechanism for doing so.

You can't put a document into a database if you are thinking about it purely in terms of formatting. Of course you can enter the whole document but what about the useful bits inside the document? Perhaps it all depends on how you define the document but then you are back to structural rather than format based planning.

I agree that there is a need to develop wysiwyg interfaces to database authoring. This is what the proponents of SGML would like to do but the tools are still a little too primitive and expensive for prime time. Plus there is the attitude problem; "If it looks ok on my screen, I've done my job".

What we have to do over time is to undo the grossly distorted training of the users of wysiwyg word processing systems. We have been taught to think in purely formatting terms, not in terms of the structure of what we are producing. This will require new creative wysiwyg tools to help us think structurally about what we are doing and generate that structure while still being able to produce something we can print out. Such tools are not in good supply.

The need for a database approach to document generation varies depending on what you want to produce, how long you want to keep it and what you want to do with it. Current wysiwyg tools are ok for simple transitory works. At the other end of the spectrum is the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative in the humanities) where researchers go to extreme lengths to turn their documents into databases.

Every SGML document is a database. Because of the bias towards formatting, limited tag set and limited hierarchical structure, HTML is a very poor database system for any but the simplest documents. However, it is quite a good display mechanism.

I believe we have to think of all our important documents as databases. If we do, then we will be able to do anything we want with it on the Web or anywhere else. The whole notion of wizzy vs geeks completely misses the point. There is still a lot of work to be done to provide the wysiwyg tools to enable authors to conveniently produce documents which are truly platform independent and ready for machine generation of the coding necessary for rendering in what ever environment we choose.

The Web could be so much more that a whole lot of buckets of text accessible only with a text search tool.

If I have misunderstood your writing, please tell me.

I enjoy reading DaveNet but this is the first time I have responded to one of your pieces.

Lest you perceive that I am anti wysiwyg, I am a long time Mac user who has recently abandoned the Mac for Win95/NT. There are many things about the Mac that I miss and I look forward to seeing Frontier on the Win32.

From: edh@staff.juno.com (Eric Hendrickson);
Sent at 3/19/97; 5:32:53 PM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

I'm a Unix geek. Have been for 10 years, ever since I started college, got my first Unix account, and played with it like the other computer labbies all night, every night. I know very little about Macs and PCs. I barely know what things like PageMill are. I use Emacs, vi, TeX and X Windows.

I have used Macs and PCs from time to time, and I find that the adage ``GUIs make simple doing things easy and complicated things hard'' to be very true. But I think Macs are much better designed and all around easier to use for non-techies than PCs, where there are so many more things that can go wrong inexplicably.

From: david@webdeveloper.com (David Fiedler);
Sent at 3/19/97; 1:51:01 PM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Are there any Unix leaders even left? Is there any Unix even left?

Did anyone attend UniForum last week? I can't find a single press announcement from there.

From: tlundeen@lundeen.com (tim lundeen);
Sent at 3/19/97; 11:45:15 AM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

>PPS: Do they have DaveNets on Unix? If so, I'd love to meet the people.

There is only one DaveNet :-)

From: JBraun@maxis.com (Jeff Braun);
Sent at 3/19/97; 11:32:39 AM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Thanks for this thoughtful article. I only have one question. Will Apple support a joystick with Rhapsody? For me the arrogance of not supporting a typical analog joystick exemplifies the stigma of sticking with a specific character style against their own best interest. Why can't I have an analog joystick with my Mac games? Gee, people might think it is a toy to play with or something.

From: deluca@apple.com (Guerrino De Luca);
Sent at 3/19/97; 11:26:18 AM;
Re:The Struggle to Stay Wizzy

Coooool piece, Dave, as you say! As usual, right on the spot in the substance, with just a few minor points I have a different opinion on... especially the "De Luca gets it" part :-)

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