'jobs' Episodes

Microsoft Windows 1.0

     1/12/2020

Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us to innovate the future! Today we’re going to look at one of the more underwhelming operating systems released: Windows 1.0. Doug Englebart released the NLS, or oN-Line System in 1968. It was expensive to build, practically impossible to replicate, and was only made possible by NASA and ARPA grants. But it introduced the world to the computer science research community to what would be modern video monitors, windowing systems, hypertext, and the mouse. Modern iterations of these are still with us today, as is a much more matured desktop metaphor. Some of his research team ended up at Xerox PARC and the Xerox Alto was released in 1973, building on many of the concepts and continuing to improve upon them. They sold about 2,000 Altos for around $32,000. As the components came down in price, Xerox tried to go a bit more mass market with the Xerox Star in 1981. They sold about 25,000 for about half the price. The windowing graphics got better, the number of users were growing, the number of developers were growing, and new options for components were showing up all over the place. Given that Xerox was a printing company, the desktop metaphor continued to evolve. Apple released the Lisa in 1983. They sold 10,000 for about $10,000. Again, the windowing system and desktop metaphor continued on and Apple quickly released the iconic Mac shortly thereafter, introducing much better windowing and a fully matured desktop metaphor, becoming the first computer considered mass market that was shipped with a graphical user interface. It was revolutionary and they sold 280,000 in the first year. The proliferation of computers in our daily lives and the impact on the economy was ready for the j-curve. And while IBM had shown up to compete in the PC market, they had just been leapfrogged by Apple. Jobs would be forced out of Apple the following year, though. By 1985, Microsoft had been making software for a long time. They had started out with BASIC for the Altair and had diversified, bringing BASIC to the Mac and releasing a DOS that could run on a number of platforms. And like many of those early software companies, it could have ended there. In a masterful stroke of business, Bill Gates ended up with their software on the IBM PCs that Apple had just basically made antiques - and they’d made plenty of cash off of doing so. But then Gates sees Visi On at COMDEX and it’s not surprise that the Microsoft version of a graphical user interface would look a bit like Visi, a bit like what Microsoft had seen from Xerox PARC on a visit in 1983, and of course, with elements that were brought in from the excellent work the original Mac team had made. And of course, not to take anything away from early Microsoft developers, they added many of their own innovations as well. Ultimately though, it was a 16-bit shell that allowed for multi-tasking and sat on top of the Microsoft DOS. Something that would continue on until the NT lineage of operating systems fully supplanted the original Windows line, which ended with Millineum Edition. Windows 1.0 was definitely a first try. IBM TopView had shipped that year as well. I’ve always considered it more of a windowing system, but it allowed multitasking and was object-oriented. It really looked more like a DOS menu system. But the Graphics Environment Manager or GEM had direct connections to Xerox PARC through Lee Lorenzen. It’s hard to imagine but at the time CP/M had been the dominant operating system and so GEM could sit on top of it or MS-DOS and was mostly found on Atari computers. That first public release was actually 1.01 and 1.02 would come 6 months later, adding internationalization with 1.03 continuing that trend. 1.04 would come in 1987 adding support for Via graphics and a PS/2 mouse. Windows 1 came with many of the same programs other vendors supplied, including a calculator, a clipboard viewer, a calendar, a pad for writing that still exists called Notepad, a painting tool, and a game that went by its original name of Reversi, but which we now call Othello. One important concept is that Windows was object-oriented. As with any large software project, it wouldn’t have been able to last as long as it did if it hadn’t of been. One simplistic explanation for this paradigm is that it had an API and there was a front-end that talked to the kernel through those APIs. Microsoft hadn’t been first to the party and when they got to the party they certainly weren’t the prettiest. But because the Mac OS wasn’t just a front-end that made calls to the back-end, Apple would be slow to add multi-tasking support, which came in their OS 5, in 1987. And they would be slow to adopt new technology thereafter, having to bring Steve Jobs back to Apple because they had no operating system of the future, after failed projects to build one. Windows 1.0 had executable files (or exe files) that could only be run in the Windowing system. It had virtual memory. It had device drivers so developers could write and compile binary programs that could communicate with the OS APIs, including with device drivers. One big difference - Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld spent a lot of time on frame buffers and moving pixels so they could have overlapping windows. The way Windows handled how a window appeared were in .ini (pronounced like any) files and that kind of thing couldn’t be done in a window manager without clipping, or leaving artifacts behind. And so it was that, by the time I was in college, I was taught by a professor that Microsoft had stolen the GUI concept from Apple. But it was an evolution. Sure, Apple took it to the masses but before that, Xerox had borrowed parts from NLS and NLS had borrowed pointing devices from Whirlwind. And between Xerox and Microsoft, there had been IBM and GEM. Each evolved and added their own innovations. In fact, many of the actual developers hopped from company to company, spreading ideas and philosophies as they went. But Windows had shipped. And when Jobs called Bill Gates down to Cupertino, shouting that Gates had ripped off Apple, Gates responded with one of my favorite quotes in the history of computing: "I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it." The thing I’ve always thought was missing from that Bill Gates quote is that Xerox had a rich neighbor they stole the TV from first, called ARPA. And the US Government was cool with it - one of the main drivers of decades of crazy levels of prosperity filling their coffers with tax revenues. And so, the next version of Windows, Windows 2.0 would come in 1987. But Windows 1.0 would be supported by Microsoft for 16 years. No other operating system has been officially supported for so long. And by 1988 it was clear that Microsoft was going to win this fight. Apple filed a lawsuit claiming that Microsoft had borrowed a bit too much of their GUI. Apple had licensed some of the GUI elements to Microsoft and Apple identified over 200 things, some big, like title bars, that made up a copyrightable work. That desktop metaphor that Susan Kare and others on the original Mac team had painstakingly developed. Well, turns out that they live on in every OS because Judge Vaughn Walker on the Ninth Circuit threw out the lawsuit. And Microsoft would end up releasing Windows 3 in 1990, shipping on practically every PC built since. And so I’ll leave this story here. But we’ll do a dedicated episode for Windows 3 because it was that important. Thank you to all of the innovators who brought these tools to market and ultimately made our lives better. Each left their mark with increasingly small and useful enhancements to the original. We owe them so much no matter the platform we prefer. And thank you, listeners, for tuning in for this episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We are so lucky to have you.


The App Store

     1/6/2020

Picture this. It’s 1983. The International Design Conference in Aspen has a special speaker: Steve Jobs from Apple. He’s giving a talk called “The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be.” He has a scraggly beard and really, really wants to recruit some industrial designers. In this talk, he talked about software. He talked about dealers. After watching the rise of small computer stores across the country and seeing them selling, and frequently helping people pirate, apps for their iconic Apple II, Steve Jobs predicts that the dealers were adept at selling computers, but not software. There weren’t categories of software yet. But there were radio stations and television programs. And there were record stores. And he predicted we would transmit software electronically over the phone line. And that we’d pay for it with a credit card if we liked using it. If you haven’t listened to the talk, it’s fascinating. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWwLJ_6BuJA In that talk, he parlayed Alan Kay’s research into the DynaBook while he was at Xerox PARC to talk about what would later be called tablet computers and ebooks. Jobs thought Apple would do so in the 80s. And they did dabble with the Newton MessagePad in 1993, so he wasn’t too far off. I guess the writers from Inspector Gadget were tuned into the same frequency as they gave Penny a book computer in 1983. Watching her use it with her watch changed my life. Or maybe they’d used GameLine, a service that let Atari 2600 owners rent video games using a cartridge with a phone connection. Either way, it took awhile, but Jobs would eventually ship the both the App Store and the iPad to the masses. He alluded to the rise of the local area network, email, the importance of design in computers, voice recognition, maps on devices (which came true with Google and then Apple Maps), maps with photos, DVDs (which he called video disks), the rise of object-oriented programming, and the ability to communicate with a portable device with a radio link. So flash forward to 1993. 10 years after that brilliant speech. Jobs is shown the Electronic AppWrapper at NextWORLD, built by Paget Press. Similar to the Whole Earth Catalog, EAW had begun life as a paper catalog of all software available for the NeXT computers but evolved into a CD-based tool and could later transmit software over the Internet. Social, legal, and logistical issues needed to be worked out. They built digital rights management. They would win the Content and Information Best of Breed award and there are even developers from that era still designing software in the modern era. That same year, we got Debian package managers and rpm. Most of this software was free and open source, but suddenly you could build a binary package and call it. By 1995 we had pan, the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network. An important repository for anyone that’s worked with Linux. 1998 saw the rise of apt-get. But it was 10 years after Jobs saw the Electronic AppWrapper and 20 years after he had publicly discussed what we now call an App Store that Apple launched the iTunes Store in 2003, so people could buy songs to transfer from their Mac to their iPod, which had been released in 2001. Suddenly you could buy music like you used to in a record store, but on the Internet. Now, the first online repository of songs you could download had come about back in 93 and the first store to sell songs had come along in 98 - selling MP3 files. But the iTunes Store was primarily to facilitate those objects going to a mobile device. And so 2007 comes along and Jobs announces the first iPhone at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference . A year later, Apple would release the App Store, the day before the iPhone 3G dropped, bringing apps to phones wirelessly in 2008, 25 years after Jobs had predicted it in 1983. It began with 500 apps. A few months later the Google Play store would ship as well, although it was originally called the Android Market. It’s been a meteoric rise. 10 years later, in 2018, app revenue on the iOS App Store would hit 46.6 billion dollars. And revenue on the Google Play store would hit 24.8 billion with a combined haul between $71 billion and 101 billion according to where you look. And in 2019 we saw a continued 2 digit rise in revenues, likely topping $120 billion dollars. And a 3 digit rise in China. The global spend is expected to double by 2023, with Africa and South America expected to see a 400% rise in sales in that same time frame. There used to be shelves of software in boxes at places like Circuit City and Best Buy. The first piece of software I ever bought was Civilization. Those boxes at big box stores are mostly gone now. Kinda’ like how I bought Civilization on the App Store and have never looked back. App developers used to sell a copy of a game, just like that purchase. But game makers don’t just make money off of purchases any more. Now they make money off of in-app advertising and in-app purchases, many of which are for subscriptions. You can even buy a subscription for streaming media to your devices, obviating the need for buying music and sometimes video content. Everyone seems to be chasing that sweet, sweet monthly recurring revenue now. As with selling devices, Apple sells less but makes much, much more. Software development started democratically, with anyone that could learn a little BASIC, being able to write a tool or game that could make them millions. That dropped for awhile as software distribution channels matured but was again democratized with the release of the App Store. Those developers have received Operating systems, once distributed on floppies, have even moved over to the App Store - and with Apple and Google, the net result is that they’re now free. And you can even buy physical things using in-app purchases, Apple Pay through an Apple credit card, and digital currency, closing the loop and fully obfuscating the virtual and the physical. And today any company looking to become a standard, or what we like to call in software, a platform, will have an App Store. Most follow the same type of release strategy. They begin with a catalog, move to facilitating the transactions, add a fee to do so, and ultimately facilitate subscription services. If a strategy aint broke, don’t fix it. The innovations are countless. Amazon builds services for app developers and sells them a tie to wear at their pitches to angels and VCs. Since 1983, the economy has moved on from paying cash for a box of software. And we’re able to conceptualize disrupting just about anything thanks to the innovations that sprang forth in that time where those early PCs were transitioning into the PC revolution. Maybe it was inevitable without Steve Jobs right in the thick of it. Technological determinism is impossible to quantify. Either way, app stores and the resultant business models have made our lives better. And for that we owe Apple and all of the other organizations and individuals that helped make them happen, our gratitude. Just as I owe you mine for tuning in, to yet another episode, of the history of computing podcast. We are so lucky to have you. Have a great day!


Susan Kare, The Happy Mac, And The Trash Can

     10/26/2019

Susan Kare Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because by understanding the past, we’re able to be prepared for the innovations of the future! Today we’ll talk about a great innovator, Susan Kare. Can you imagine life without a Trash Can icon? What about the Mac if there had never been a happy Mac icon. What would writing documents be like if you always used Courier and didn’t have all those fonts named after cities? They didn’t just show up out of nowhere. And the originals were 8 bit. But they were were painstakingly designed, reviewed, reviewed again, argued over, obsessed over. Can you imagine arguing with Steve Jobs? He’s famous for being a hard person to deal with. But one person brought us all of these things. One pioneer. One wizard. She cast her spell over the world. And that spell was to bring to an arcane concept called the desktop metaphor into everyday computers. Primitive versions had shipped in Douglas Engelbart’s NLS, in Alan Kay’s Smalltalk. In Magic Desk on the Commodore 64. But her class was not an illusionist as those who came before her were, but a mage, putting hexadecimal text derived from graph paper so the bits would render on the screen the same, for decades to come. And we still use her visionary symbols, burned into the spell books of all visual designers from then to today. She was a true innovator. She sat in a room full of computer wizards that were the original Mac team, none was more important than Susan Kare. Born in 1954 in Ithaca, New York this wizard got her training in the form of a PhD from New York University and then moved off to San Francisco in the late 1970s, feeling the draw of a generation’s finest to spend her mage apprenticeship as a curator at a Fine Arts Museum. But like Gandalph, Raistlin, Dumbledoor, Merlin, Glinda the good witch and many others, she had a destiny to put a dent in the universe. To wield the spells of the infant user interface design art to reshape the universe, 8-bits at a time. She’d gone to high school with a different kind of wizard. His name was Andy Hertzfeld and he was working at a great temple called Apple Computer. And his new team team would build a new kind of computer called the Macintosh. They needed some graphics and fonts help. Susan had used an Apple II but had never done computer graphics. She had never even dabbled in typography. But then, Dr Strange took the mantle with no experience. She ended up taking the job and joining Apple as employee badge number 3978. She was one of two women on the original Macintosh team. She had done sculpture and some freelance work as a designer. But not this weird new art form. Almost no one had. Like any young magician, she bought some books and studied up on design, equating bitmap graphics to needlepoint. She would design the iconic fonts, the graphics for many of the applications, and the icons that went into the first Mac. She would conjure up the hex (that’s hexadecimal) for graphics and fonts. She would then manually type them in to design icons and fonts. Going through every letter of every font manually. Experimenting. Testing. At the time, fonts were reserved for high end marketing and industrial designers. Apple considered licensing existing fonts but decided to go their own route. She painstakingly created new fonts and gave them the names of towns along train stops around Philadelphia where she grew up. Steve Jobs went for the city approach but insisted they be cool cities. And so the Chicago, Monaco, New York, Cairo, Toronto, Venice, Geneva, and Los Angeles fonts were born - with her personally developing Geneva, Chicago, and Cairo. And she did it in 9 x 7. I can still remember the magic of sitting down at a computer with a graphical interface for the first time. I remember opening MacPaint and changing between the fonts, marveling at the typefaces. I’d certainly seen different fonts in books. But never had I made a document and been able to set my own typeface! Not only that they could be in italics, outline, and bold. Those were all her. And she painstakingly created them out of pixels. The love and care and detail in 8-bit had never been seen before. And she did it with a world class wizard: someone with a renowned attention to detail and design sense like Steve Jobs looking over her shoulder and pressuring her to keep making it better. They brought the desktop metaphor into the office. Some of it pre-existed her involvement. The trash can had been a part of the Lisa graphics already. She made it better. The documents icon pre-dated her. She added a hand holding a pencil to liven it up, making it clear which files were applications and which were documents. She made the painting brush icon for MacPaint that, while modernized, is still in use in practically every drawing app today. In fact when Bill Atkinson was writing MacSketch and saw her icon, the name was quickly changed to MacPaint. She also made the little tool that you use to draw shapes and remove them called the lasso, with Bill Atkinson. Before her, there were elevators to scroll around in a window. After her, they were called scroll bars. After her, the places you dropped your images was called the Scrapbook. After her the icon of a floppy disk meant save. She gave us the dreaded bomb. The stop watch. The hand you drag to move objects. The image of a speaker making sound. The command key, still on the keyboard of every Mac made. You can see that symbol on Nordic maps and it denotes an “area of interest” or more poignant for the need: “Interesting Feature”. To be clear, I never stole one of those signs while trampsing around Europe. But that symbol is a great example of what a scholarly mage can pull out of ancient tomes, as it is called a Gorgon knot or Saint John Arm’s and dates back over fifteen hundred years - and you can see that in other hieroglyphs she borrowed from obscure historical references. And almost as though those images are burned into our DNA, we identified with them. She worked with the traditionally acclaimed wizards of the Macintosh: Andy Hertzfeld, Bill Atkinson, Bruce Horn, Bud Tribble, Donn Denman, Jerome Coonen, Larry Kenos, and Steve Capps. She helped Chris Espinosa, Clement Mok, Ellen Romana, and Tom Hughes out with graphics for manuals, and often on how to talk about a feature. But there was always Steve Jobs. Some icons took hours; others took days. And Jobs would stroll in and have her recast her spell if it wasn’t just right. Never acknowledging the effort. If it wasn’t right, it wasn’t right. The further the team pushed on the constantly delayed release of the Mac the more frantic the wizards worked. The less they slept. But somehow they knew. It wasn’t just Jobs’ reality distortion field as Steven Levy famously phrased it. They knew that what they were building would put a dent in the Universe. And when they all look back, her designs on “Clarus the Dogcow” were just the beginning of her amazing contributions. The Mac launched. And it did not turn out to be a commercial success, leading to the ouster of Steve Jobs - Sauron’s eye was firmly upon him. Kare left with Jobs to become the tenth employee at NeXT computer. But she introduced Jobs to Paul Rand, who had helped design the IBM logo, to design their logo. When IBM, the Voldemort of the time, was designing OS/2, she helped with their graphics. When Bill Gates, the Jafar of the computer industry called, she designed the now classic solitaire for Windows. And she gave them Notepad and Control Panels. And her contributions have continued. When Facebook needed images for the virtual gifts feature. They called Kare. You know that spinning button when you refresh Pinterest. That’s Kare. And she still does work all the time. The Museum of Modern Art showed her original Sketches in a 2015 Exhibit called “This is for everyone.” She brought us every day metaphors to usher in the and ease the transition into a world of graphical user interfaces. Not a line of the original code remains. But it’s amazing how surrounded by all the young wizards, one that got very little attention in all the books and articles about the Mac was the biggest wizard of them all. Without her iconic designs, the other wizards would likely be forgotten. She is still building one of the best legacies in all of the technology industry. By simply putting users into user interface. When I transitioned from the Apple II to the Mac, she made it easy for me with those spot-on visual cues. And she did it in only 8 bits. She gave the Mac style and personality. She made it fun, but not so much fun that it would be perceived as a toy. She made the Mac smile. Who knew that computers could smile?!?! The Mac Finder still smiles at me every day. Truly Magical. Thanks for that, Susan Kare. And thanks to you inquisitive and amazing listeners. For my next trick. I’ll disappear. But thank you for tuning in to yet another episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We’re so lucky to have you. Have a great day!


The Blue Meanies of Apple, IBM, and the Pinks

     10/11/2019

Apple Lore: The Pinks Versus The Blue Meanies Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Today we’re going to cover two engineering groups at Apple: The Pinks and the Blue Meanies. The Mac OS System 6 had been the sixth operating system released in five years. By 1988, Apple was keeping up an unrealistic release cadence, especially given that the operating system had come along at an interesting time when a lot of transitions were happening in IT, and there were lot of increasingly complex problems trying to code around earlier learning opportunities. After sweeping the joint for bugs, Apple held an offsite engineering meeting in Pescadero and split the ideas for the next operating system into two colors of cards: pink, red, green, and blue. The most important of these for this episode were pink, or future release stuff and blue, or next release, stuff. The notecards were blue. The architects of blue were horrible, arrogant self-proclaimed bastards. They’d all seen Yellow Submarine and so they went with the evil Pepperland Blue Meanies. As architects, they were the ones who often said no to things. The Blue Meanies ended up writing much of the core of System 7. They called this OS, which took 3 years to complete, The Big Bang. It would last on the market for 6 years. Longer than any operating system from Apple did prior or since. System 7 gave us CDs, File Sharing, began the migration to a 32-bit OS, replaced MacroMaker with AppleScript and Apple Events and the Extensions Manager, which we’re likely to see a return of given the pace Apple’s going these days. System 7.0.1 came with an Easter egg. If you typed in Help! Help! We're being held prisoner in a system software factory! You got a list of names: Darin Adler Scott Boyd Chris Derossi Cynthia Jasper Brian McGhie Greg Marriott Beatrice Sochor Dean Yu The later iterations of the file ended “Who dares wins” Pink was meant to get more than incremental gains. They wanted coorperative multitasking. The people who really pushed for this were senior engineers Bayles Holt, David Goldsmith, Gene Pope, Erich Ringewald, and Gerard Schutten, referred to as the Gang of Five. They had their pink cards and knew that what was on them was critical, or Apple might have to go out and buy some other company to get the next really operating system. They insisted that they be given the time to build this new operating system and traded their managers to the blue meanies for the chance to build the preemptive multitasking and a more component-based, or object-oriented applications esgn. They got Mike Potel as their manager. They worked in a separate location looking to launch their new operating system in two years. The code named as Defiant, given that Pink just wasn’t awesome. They shared space with the Newton geeks. Given that they had two years and they saw the technical debt in System 6 as considerable, they had to decide if they were going to build a new OS from the ground up, or build on top of the System 6. They pulled in the Advanced Technology Group, another team at Apple, and got up to 11 people. They ended up starting over with a new microkernel they called Opus. Big words. The Pink staff ended up pulling in ideas from other cards and got up to about 25 people. From there, it went a little off the rail and turf wars set in. It kept growing. 100 engineers. They were secretive. They eventually grew to 150 people by 1990. Remember, two years. And the further out they got the less likely that the code would ever be backwards compatible. The Pink GUI used isometric icons, rounded windows, drop shadows, beveling, was fully internationalized, and were huge influences in Mac OS 8 and Copland. Even IBM was impressed by the work being done on Pink and in 1991 they entered an alliance with Apple to help take on what was quickly becoming a Microsoft Monopoly. They planned to bring this new OS to the market as a new company called Taligent in the mid-90s. Just two more years. In 1992, Taligent moved out of Apple with 170 employees, and Joe Guglielmi, who had once led the OS/2 team and had been a marketing exec at IBM for 30 years. By then, this one one of 5 partnerships between Apple and IBM, something that starts and stops every now and then up to today. It was an era of turf wars and empire building. But it was the era of Object orientation. Since Smalltalk, this had been a key aspect in higher level languages such as Java and in the AS/400. IBM had already done it with OS/2 and AIX. By 1993 there was suspicion. Again they grow, now to over 250 people, but they really just needed two more years, guys. Apple actually released an object-oriented SDK called Bedrock to migrate from System 7 to Pink, which could work also work with Windows 3.1, NT, and OS/2. Before you know it they were building a development environment on AIX and porting frameworks to HP-UX, OS/2, Windows. By 1994 the apps could finally run on an IBM RS/6000 running AIX. The buzz continued. Ish. 1994 saw HP take on 15% of the company and add Smalltalk into the mix. HP brought new compilers into the portfolio, and needed native functionality. The development environment was renamed to cq professional and the User Interface builder was changed to cqconstructor. TalAE became CommonPoint. TalOS was scheduled to ship in 1996. Just two more years. The world wanted to switch away from monolithic apps and definitely away from procedural apps. It still does. Every attempt to do so just takes two more years. Then and now. That’s what we call “Enterprise Software” and as with anyone who’s ok with such pace, Joe Guglielmi left Taligent in 1995. Let’s review where we are. There’s no real shipping OS. There’s an IDE but C++ programmers would need 3 months training to get up to speed on Taligent. Most needed a week or two class to learn Java, if that. Steve Jobs had aligned with Sun in OpenStep. So Apple was getting closer and closer to IBM. But System 7 was too big a dog to run Taligent. Debbie Coutant became CEO towards the end of the year. HP and Apple sold their stake in the company which was then up to 375 employees. Over half were laid off and the organization was wrapped into IBM as would be focusing on… Java. Commonpoint would be distributed across IBM products where possible. Taligent themselves would be key to the Java work done at IBM. By then IBM was a services first organization anyways, so it kinda’ all makes sense. TalOS was demoed in 1996 but never released. It was unique. It was object oriented from the ground up. It was an inspiration of a new era of interfaces. It was special. But it never shipped. Mac OS 8 was released in 1997. Better late than never. But it was clear that there was no more runway left in the code that had been getting bigger and meaner. They needed a strategy. The final Taligent employees got sucked into IBM that year, ending a fascinating drama in operating systems and frameworks. Whatever the behind baseball story, Apple decided to bring Steve Jobs back in, in 1997. And he brought NeXT, which gave the Mac all the object-oriented neediness they wanted. They got Objective-C, Mach (through Avie Tevanian of Carnegie Mellon), Property Lists, AppWrappers (.app), Workspace Manager (which begat the Finder), The Dock, and NetInfo. And they finally retired the Apple Bonkers server. But as importantly as anything else, they got Bertrand Serlet and Craig Federighi - who as the next major VPs of Software were able to keep the ship in the right direction and by 2001 they gave us 10.0: Cheetah * Darwin (kinda’ like Unix) with Terminal * Mail, Address Book, iTunes * AppleScript survived, AppleTalk didn’t * Aqua UI, Carbon and Cocoa APIs * AFP over TCP/IP, HTTP, SSH, and FTP server/client * Native PDF Support It began a nearly 20 year journey that we are still on. So in the end, the Pinks never shipped an operating system, despite their best intentions. And the Blues never paid down their technical debt. Despite their best intentions. As engineers, we need a plan. We need to ship incrementally. We need good, sane cultures that can work together. We need to pay down technical debt - but we don’t need to run amuck building technology that’s a little ahead of our time. Even if it’s always just two more years ahead of our time. And I think we’re at time gentle listeners. And I hope it doesn’t take me two years to ship this, gentle listeners. But if it does or doesn’t, thanks for tuning into another episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We’re lucky to have you. Have a great day!


Apple's Lost Decade

     2/12/2021

I often think of companies in relation to their contribution to the next evolution in the forking and merging of disciplines in computing that brought us to where we are today. Many companies have multiple contributions. Few have as many such contributions as Apple. But there was a time when they didn’t seem so innovative. 

This lost decade began about half way through the tenure of John Sculley and can be seen through the lens of the CEOs. There was Sculley, CEO from 1983 to 1993. Co-founders and spiritual centers of Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, left Apple in 1985. Jobs to create NeXT and Wozniak to jump into a variety of companies like making universal remotes, wireless GPS trackers, and and other adventures. 

This meant Sculley was finally in a position to be fully in charge of Apple. His era would see sales 10x from $800 million to $8 billion. Operationally, he was one of the more adept at cash management, putting $2 billion in the bank by 1993. Suddenly the vision of Steve Jobs was paying off. That original Mac started to sell and grow markets. But during this time, first the IBM PC and then the clones, all powered by the Microsoft operating system, completely took the operating system market for personal computers. Apple had high margins yet struggled for relevance. 

Under Sculley, Apple released HyperCard, funded a skunkworks team in General Magic, arguably the beginning of ubiquitous computing, and using many of those same ideas he backed the Newton, coining the term personal digital assistant. Under his leadership, Apple marketing sent 200,000 people home with a Mac to try it out. Put the device in the hands of the people is probably one of the more important lessons they still teach newcomers that work in Apple Stores. 

Looking at the big financial picture it seems like Sculley did alright. But in Apple’s fourth-quarter earnings call in 1993, they announced a 97 drop from the same time in 1992. This was also when a serious technical debt problem began to manifest itself. 

The Mac operating system grew from the system those early pioneers built in 1984 to Macintosh System Software going from version 1 to version 7. But after annual releases leading to version 6, it took 3 years to develop system 7 and the direction to take with the operating system caused a schism in Apple engineering around what would happen once 7 shipped. Seems like most companies go through almost the exact same schism. Microsoft quietly grew NT to resolve their issues with Windows 3 and 95 until it finally became the thing in 2000. IBM had invested heavily into that same code, basically, with Warp - but wanted something new. 

Something happened while Apple was building macOS 7. They lost Jean Lois Gasseé who had been head of development since Steve Jobs left. When Sculley gave everyone a copy of his memoir, Gasseé provided a copy of The Mythical Man-Month, from Fred Brooks’ experience with the IBM System 360. It’s unclear today if anyone read it. To me this is really the first big sign of trouble. Gassée left to build another OS, BeOS. 

By the time macOS 7 was released, it was clear that the operating system was bloated, needed a massive object-oriented overhaul, and under Sculley the teams were split, with one team eventually getting spun off into its own company and then became a part of IBM to help with their OS woes. The team at Apple took 6 years to release the next operating system. Meanwhile, one of Sculley’s most defining decisions was to avoid licensing the Macintosh operating system. Probably because it was just too big a mess to do so. And yet everyday users didn’t notice all that much and most loved it. 

But third party developers left. And that was at one of the most critical times in the history of personal computers because Microsoft was gaining a lot of developers for Windows 3.1 and released the wildly popular Windows 95. 

The Mac accounted for most of the revenue of the company, but under Sculley the company dumped a lot of R&D money into the Newton. As with other big projects, the device took too long to ship and when it did, the early PDA market was a red ocean with inexpensive competitors. The Palm Pilot effectively ended up owning that pen computing market. 

Sculley was a solid executive. And he played the part of visionary from time to time. But under his tenure Apple found operating system problems, rumors about Windows 95, developers leaving Apple behind for the Windows ecosystem, and whether those technical issues are on his lieutenants or him, the buck stocks there. The Windows clone industry led to PC price wars that caused Apple revenues to plummet. And so Markkula was off to find a new CEO. 

Michael Spindler became the CEO from 1993 to 1996. The failure of the Newton and Copland operating systems are placed at his feet, even though they began in the previous regime. Markkula hired Digital Equipment and Intel veteran Spindler to assist in European operations and he rose to President of Apple Europe and then ran all international. He would become the only CEO to have no new Mac operating systems released in his tenure. Missed deadlines abound with Copland and then Tempo, which would become Mac OS 8. 

And those aren’t the only products that came out at the time. We also got the PowerCD, the Apple QuickTake digital camera, and the Apple Pippin. Bandai had begun trying to develop a video game system with a scaled down version of the Mac. The Apple Pippin realized Markkula’s idea from when the Mac was first conceived as an Apple video game system. 

There were a few important things that happened under Spindler though. First, Apple moved to the PowerPC architecture. Second, he decided to license the Macintosh operating system to companies wanting to clone the Macintosh. And he had discussions with IBM, Sun, and Philips to acquire Apple. Dwindling reserves, increasing debt. Something had to change and within three years, Spindler was gone.

Gil Amelio was CEO from 1996 to 1997. He moved from the board while the CEO at National Semiconductor to CEO of Apple. He inherited a company short on cash and high on expenses. He quickly began pushing forward OS 8, cut a third of the staff, streamline operations, dumping some poor quality products, and releasing new products Apple needed to be competitive like the Apple Network Server. 

He also tried to acquire BeOS for $200 million, which would have Brough Gassée back but instead acquired NeXT for $429 million. But despite the good trajectory he had the company on, the stock was still dropping, Apple continued to lose money, and an immovable force was back - now with another decade of experience launching two successful companies: NeXT and Pixar. 

The end of the lost decade can be seen as the return of Steve Jobs. Apple didn’t have an operating system. They were in a lurch soy-to-speak. I’ve seen or read it portrayed that Steve Jobs intended to take control of Apple. And I’ve seen it portrayed that he was happy digging up carrots in the back yard but came back because he was inspired by Johnny Ive. But I remember the feel around Apple changed when he showed back up on campus. As with other companies that dug themselves out of a lost decade, there was a renewed purpose. There was inspiration. 

By 1997, one of the heroes of the personal computing revolution, Steve Jobs, was back. But not quite… He became interim CEO in 1997 and immediately turned his eye to making Apple profitable again. Over the past decade, the product line expanded to include a dozen models of the Mac. Anyone who’s read Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado, and Zone To Win knows this story all too well. We grow, we release new products, and then we eventually need to take a look at the portfolio and make some hard cuts. 

Apple released the Macintosh II in 1987 then the Macintosh Portable in 1989 then the Iicx and II ci in 89 along with the Apple IIgs, the last of that series. By facing competition in different markets, we saw the LC line come along in 1990 and the Quadra in 1991, the same year three models of the PowerBook were released. Different printers, scanners, CD-Roms had come along by then and in 1993, we got a Macintosh TV, the Apple Newton, more models of the LC and by 1994 even more of those plus the QuickTake, Workgroup Server, the Pippin and by 1995 there were a dozen Performas, half a dozen Power Macintosh 6400s, the Apple Network Server and yet another versions of the Performa 6200 and we added the eMade and beige G3 in 1997. The SKU list was a mess. Cleaning that up took time but helped prepare Apple for a simpler sales process. Today we have a good, better, best with each device, with many a computer being build-to-order. 

Jobs restructured the board, ending the long tenure of Mike Markkula, who’d been so impactful at each stage of the company so far. One of the forces behind the rise of the Apple computer and the Macintosh was about to change the world again, this time as the CEO. 


(OldComputerPods) ©Sean Haas, 2020