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Jean-Louis Gassée Returns from Obscurity… to Talk About MobileMe

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Daniel Eran Dilger
MobileMe has attracted more vulture critics than Apple TV, the last product Apple launched without immediately earning billions of dollars from it. Joining the frothing dogpile of critics who can’t get in enough edgewise on the bumpy rollout of MobileMe is none other than Jean-Louis Gassée. Who? Oh yes, him.
The Infamous JLG.
In the early 80s, Gassée was the manager of Apple France. John Sculley brought him to Cupertino to replace Steve Jobs in 1985 after wrestling away control of the company that Jobs had founded with Steve Wozniak a decade earlier in 1976.

Sculley and Gassée then took the phenomenally successful Apple empire of the mid 80s, crafted from the idealistic, early 20-something visions of Jobs the marketer and Wozniak the technical genius, and pointed it toward the ground, sending the company into a frightful trajectory that nearly resulted in its complete destruction within the next ten years.

While much of Apple’s early 90s failure can be pinned on “I Was A Terrible Manager” Sculley, Gassée contributed his own fingerprints of disaster. It was Gassée who ridiculed Jobs’ strategy for marketing “the Macintosh Office” to businesses, referring to it as “the Mac orifice.” Gassée also refused to license Apple’s technology or to partner with vendors to expand the Mac experience outside of Apple’s niche markets.

The Gassée Way: High Prices, Low Innovation.
Following Sculley’s leadership of tacking a $500 marketing tax on top of the $1995 price of the original Macintosh, which had been set as low as possible by Jobs and his engineers, Gassée replaced Jobs’ vision for bringing “insanely great” technologies to the mainstream with an effort to idly profiteer from the intellectual property Apple already held.

Between 1986 and 1990, while Jobs’ independent NeXT developed and delivered a high performance, UNIX-based workstation with advanced development frameworks and innovative hardware features that pushed the state of the art, Apple’s Macintosh group under the direction of Gassée only made incremental updates to the same old technology, and then sold its machines at prices higher than NeXT was charging!

By the time Gassée bailed from Apple in 1990 to start his own company as Jobs had done, Apple’s only affordable Mac was the Mac Classic, a pathetically recycled version of the five year old Mac Plus. The Mac IIfx was being sold as its $12,000 high end workstation, but it was still running the same crippled classic Mac OS from the early 80s and used an 030 processor.

By that time, NeXT was already selling an 040 in the NeXTcube for less, which also offered the option of an Intel i860-powered NeXTdimension board for handling futuristic 32-bit PostScript color and video sampling. NeXT didn’t have a low cost model because Sculley’s Apple had sued the company to prevent it from entering the consumer market in competition with Apple.

Platform Crisis: The Lazy Dinosaur 4
1990-1995: NeXT, Be, and the Mac PC
Newton Rising: Is the Next iPhone Device a G3 MessagePad?
Byte’s original NeXT review

Gassée’s Plan Be.
After slashing Apple’s tendons and leaving it to slowly bleed to death, Gassée left to start Be, Inc. The company developed a nice looking interface for a hobbyist system running oddball hardware. It then copied Apple’s PowerPC architecture before moving to a platform based on Intel-standard PCs. However, between 1991 and 1996, Be was unable to reach beyond offering an early developer preview of its new operating system. It demonstrated some new ideas, but lacked even a basic printing architecture and had no provision for a multiuser security model.

NeXT had developed a far superior operating system and set of development frameworks in a much shorter period of time, and had matched the transition to PowerPC (and several other architectures) and then Intel. By that time however, the Sculley-Gassée mutilation of Apple in the late 80s had resulted in the rise of an opportunistic, malignant boil on the computing landscape. Just like Australia’s rabbit plague or Jim Henson’s fatal ‘flesh eating bacteria’ strep infection, the wild landscape and creative potential of personal computing was overrun and destroyed by the scourge of Microsoft’s soulless Windows PC.

There was apparently no longer any room for innovation in the PC world, thanks to Sculley’s opening of Pandora’s Box (by handing Microsoft a free license to most of Apple’s Mac-related intellectual property) and Gassée’s efforts to make sure that Apple didn’t open its own. It was Gassée who pulled the plug on Apple’s partnership with Apollo to create Unix workstations with the Mac OS interface, and it was his decision to rebuff AT&T’s advances toward licensing the Mac human interface for its systems. Microsoft didn’t earn the Windows monopoly; it was simply handed it by the incompetence of Sculley and Gassée after the duo ignored Bill Gates’ suggestions on how to promote the platform.

Droppedimage-4

Steve Jobs and 20 Years of Apple Servers

Undoing the Sculley-Gassée Crisis.
In its last gasps of breath in 1996, the old Apple briefly considered buying Gassée’s BeOS before realizing that Jobs’ NeXT operating system was vastly superior, already proven in the enterprise market, and could easily run on existing PowerPC Mac OS systems because of its inherent portability. After acquiring NeXT, it took Apple another six years to commercially rerelease it as a mainstream operating system in Mac OS X, and it has taken nearly another six years for the media to recognize the new significance of a Mac platform based on NeXT’s technology.

Apple’s Macs are now profitably selling with a regular 40% growth year over year, despite the overall PC industry barely finding 4% growth and while many PC makers are losing money. Apple has since parleyed it technology into Apple TV as a set top box and the iPhone and iPod touch as a new mobile platform. Gassée’s own Be, Inc. was bought out by Palm and went nowhere. He now serves as a partner at venture capital firm Allegis Capital.

Having poked the computing industry in the eye, Gassée might be expected to live out his term quietly. Instead, he has resurfaced to squawk about MobileMe, and actually makes some interesting points amid his long winded, “white man in a suit” corporate-speak (and apparently ghost written) blog entry.

Can Apple Take Microsoft in the Battle for the Desktop?

Can Apple Take Microsoft in the Battle for the Desktop?
SCO, Linux, and Microsoft in the History of OS: 1990s
Cocoa and the Death of Yellow Box and Rhapsody

Patting the Back Once Stabbed.
Gassée’s blog entry on MobileMe makes mine look short and to the point. He starts off by musing, “doubts linger: Is Apple able to run a worldwide wireless data synchronization service for tens of millions of users?” After weary paragraphs that drag on for seemingly hours about nothing, Gassée observes:

“Apple ‘pushes’ somewhere between 100 and 200 megabytes of [Mac OS X Software] updates per month to each Mac user. Last week, the iPhone 2.0.1 update was announced, I connected two iPhones within minutes, the 200Mb files were downloaded and installed without a hitch and I haven’t heard any blogosphere complaints on the matter. iTunes has sold billions of songs, serves tens of millions of customers everyday and everything works with very few exceptions. In other words, some very large scale Apple systems do work.”

Gassée then noted, “last week, parts of the Gmail service were down for 15 hours or so. Last month, Amazon’s respected Web Services went down. And, last year, RIM’s servers went down for about half a day in the Western Hemisphere, freaking out Wall Street investment bankers and management consultants. Even the best players must endure their share of false notes.”

“Back to MobileMe today: if you ask subscribers who’ve never experienced a Blackberry’s smooth delivery of sync, they love MobileMe. It works, it’s easy to set up and in the simple (most frequent) case of a PC/Mac with an iPhone, it does the wireless (OTA, Off The Air) sync job as now advertised. We’ll see how this scales once iPhones are sold in 21 more countries, 43 total starting August 22nd.”

Gassée’s final three paragraphs are remarkably relevant and astute. It’s too bad he didn’t just publish them alone, as most readers probably couldn’t make it down the page that far to ever see them.

Launchpad Chicken: MobileMe and Sync Trouble | Monday Note

Faith in Jobs Means Forgiving JLG.
Now that Apple is back in its leadership position thanks to Jobs’ miraculous powers of corporate resurrection, we can forget about the whole “who-killed-what and left us with Windows.”

It’s too bad that the last fifteen years were tainted by a dominant third rate platform that introduced malware, viruses, spyware, and adware and undid much of the work that early Apple engineers did to usher in a classy, consistent and attractive user interface, but that’s all in the past now.

JLG, you may have forced me into a pitiful career arc that involved supporting Windows through most of my youth, but the sweetness of the current Apple world is even easier to appreciate after having experienced the pestilent famine of a lack innovation and class in the Windows heyday that you kicked off while illegitimately standing in Jobs’ shoes. I can’t exactly thank you for that, but consider your sins forgiven. I might occasionally write them up again here and there however, but only for the purposes of historical interest. It’s nothing personal.

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39 comments

1 lmasanti { 08.13.08 at 8:10 am }

An interesting comment to show up the differences between “Apple-under-Jobs” and “Apple-under-others” can be seen in…

Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products”
http://counternotions.com/2008/08/12/concept-products/

2 John Muir { 08.13.08 at 8:35 am }

Ouch!

The blog doesn’t seem to be ghost written, far as I can tell. When Daring Fireball linked it I clicked around to see what else was up there, and seemingly JLG has taken up blogging about Apple in his spare time along with the other guy who shares the site.

Launchpad Chicken … could, alas, be why the MobileMe meltdown of 2008 occurred. But yes, it is a bit rich coming from Mr. Mac II series!

3 Murrquan { 08.13.08 at 10:09 am }

Wow. One would think that you have something against this guy or something!

4 ewelch { 08.13.08 at 10:25 am }

Gassée is appropriately named. I remember using BeOS on my PC around version 3. For what it was, it was gread. On a Pentium II it booted in seven seconds. But then, there wasn’t much to boot. I was seriously missing applications except in multimedia areas. And there were some good programmers bringing out some nice ideas.

But what I remember most was his regular emails. Like blog entries, but through email. He has some good ideas, but he never could put things together and convince anyone to take his company seriously. I think he was his own albatross.

Everyone remembered what he did to Apple, so nobody trusted him to pull off the Be computer, or BeOS. When Palm bought it, I had some hopes Palm might take some good things from the OS and include it in their OS. But they just acted like Gassée in the end. Lots of noise, little innovation.

5 snafu { 08.13.08 at 10:42 am }

“After acquiring NeXT, it took Apple another six years to commercially rerelease it as a mainstream operating system in Mac OS X, and it has taken nearly another six years for the media to recognize the new significance of a Mac platform based on NeXT’s technology.”

That sounds a lot like faint praise, if one analyzes it coldly. The thing is, BeOS failed for the same reason that NeXT as a company, as a hardware product and as a mass-appeal multiplatform OS failed (yes, it did: the company was a money pit and the OS never escaped its niche. OS X and NeXTStep have not that much to do with each other both in objectives and technicalities): no real chance to survive in a too rigid OS marketplace back then.

(Also, this “It then copied Apple’s PowerPC architecture” is just absurd. Just what does it mean, really?)

6 kirsch { 08.13.08 at 10:44 am }

You give Be no credit. They didn’t create just “a nice looking interface for a hobbyist system running oddball hardware”.
BeOS This was the first pervasively multithreaded operating system. It was the first to really take advantage of multiprocessor machines. It was amazing how well it could handle mutimedia. It made everything else out there look really, really bad. This was over ten years ago!
Now the whole industry is going where Be was: Everyone is using multicore chips now that processors can’t be scaled up in frequency alone. The problem is that the software that exists is not exactly *great* with multiprocessor systems. Even Mac OS X (which has made great improvements and is about to make more) isn’t as good as Be was back in the mid-90′s.

You may strongly dislike Gassée but that is no reason to be misleading.

7 John Muir { 08.13.08 at 10:53 am }

@ snafu

Au contraire. I’ve been learning Cocoa this year, and it absolutely positively comes from NeXT. NSthis NSthat … they even explain it themselves in the documentation:
http://developer.apple.com/documentation/Cocoa/Conceptual/CocoaFundamentals/WhatIsCocoa/chapter_2_section_6.html

Apple’s original plan was to rework NeXTStep with a more Mac like interface – such as the system-wide menu bar – which they called Rhapsody. Adobe and Microsoft (and many more old Mac developers) forced them to provide a bridge in the form of Carbon, which is only now dying out as we finally achieve what had been the plan last decade. The old Mac OS died, period. NeXTStep thrives in OS X on the Mac and touch platforms.

8 John Muir { 08.13.08 at 10:58 am }

@ snafu

You are right about why BeOS failed, and why NeXT stagnated. Daniel’s covered the latter in detail in the past. But NeXT were crucially further ahead than Be, and had Steve Jobs to factor into the equation. Buying them definitely saved Apple.

Just look at Palm to see how much use buying Be turned out.

As for the PowerPC statement: Apple moved from 68k processors to PPC in the mid 1990′s. So too did NeXT and Be. When Apple left the 68k, its chances of staying in competition for desktop machines had ended. Besides, even Motorola – the company behind 68k – were pushing PowerPC as its replacement.

9 John Muir { 08.13.08 at 11:05 am }

@ kirsch

Ars Technica had a reflections on BeOS series I read a while ago. Much discussion ensued about how BeOS had been so awesome at multimedia, defying other platforms with its searing fast reaction times.

Some of that was through good engineering. But in comparison with what we use today, a lot of it was because BeOS was lightweight in a single-user, no-security, outdated kind of way.

BeOS is historically interesting as quite likely the last ever time someone reinvented the operating system wheel. But it was far from finished, and definitely something of an oddball which would have landed Apple a world of trouble should they have tried to migrate the Mac to it.

An interesting thought experiment is … what if Apple had been in better financial shape in the 90′s. But still failed to ship Copland. Could they have made the massive investment required to bring BeOS up to speed, instead of the simpler (and evidently effective) route of buying NeXT? Could they have gone further with their own UNIX or Linux?

But as with most things about Be and Gassée, we’re left with what if’s. Apple with Steve Jobs however … whole other story.

Real artists ship.

10 PerGrenerfors { 08.13.08 at 11:15 am }

Ouch! There really isn’t more to say, is there?

11 snafu { 08.13.08 at 11:20 am }

(NeXTStep was, we could say, pure Cocoa. OS X is a strange soup instead: Unix APIs, Cocoa APIs, Carbon and Carbon-ish APIs, Java, etc. An user-unfriendly accounts system masking Unix’ own user-unfriendly one; the preferred filesystem being HFS+ instead of Unix, with kludges to bridge each filesystem’s abilities; Cocoa having to do calls to procedural non-Cocoa code (Carbon by any other name) to solve many things; no multiplatform development on Cocoa. Etc.

OS X is good, probably the best desktop consumer OS available, but it hardly is the best thing ever one could conceive.)

12 snafu { 08.13.08 at 11:29 am }

“But NeXT were crucially further ahead than Be, and had Steve Jobs to factor into the equation. Buying them definitely saved Apple.”

My point would be that Jobs was as much an asset as a liability for NeXT. In a way, NeXT served him to learn what to never ever do so wrong again, I believe.

My point would be, too, that given how much time it took Apple to turn NeXTStep into OS X, BeOS could have very well been built into a brilliant Apple OS. I know there are other factors involved, like the false illusion that Rhapsody was the light at the end of the tunnel helping the company, the Unix factor, the very fact that Apple needed Jobs to recreate the lost mystique, etc. But the thing is, Apple probably spent in OS X redevelopment far more than Gassee ever asked for selling them BeOS.

13 fatbarstard { 08.13.08 at 12:15 pm }

@ snafu

So what? Its a dead argument. BeOS is as dead as the proverbial Norwegian blue parrot.

No operating system is ever going to be perfect and you expose a significant level of naiveté to ever think that one could be.

You may not have heard of the law of diminishing marginal returns, but it says that as you increase investment in a business process the return you get from each extra $ of investment falls.

So at some point you have to stop development and start selling to get some cash – if you want to develop the perfect product then by implication you never stop development, ever. And then you would only release it once it was finished – which would be never.

BeOS may have had some fine points, but it wasn’t nearly as complete as Next…

14 lmasanti { 08.13.08 at 12:17 pm }

quote:
“Wow. One would think that you have something against this guy or something!”

Dan explained exactly the reason…

quote:
“JLG, you may have forced me into a pitiful career arc that involved supporting Windows through most of my youth, but the sweetness of the current Apple world is even easier to appreciate after having experienced the pestilent famine of a lack innovation and class in the Windows heyday that you kicked off while illegitimately standing in Jobs’ shoes. I can’t exactly thank you for that, but consider your sins forgiven. I might occasionally write them up again here and there however, but only for the purposes of historical interest. It’s nothing personal.”

Enough reason for me.

15 Jim F. { 08.13.08 at 12:46 pm }

Well I did get confused from this post from DE. It almost sounded like DE suggested that if Sculley/JLG took Gates advice things would have been better. This is a first. I think I will put it down to late jetlag for DE. we will let that slip by once.. .

Good Post !

16 John Muir { 08.13.08 at 12:57 pm }

@Jim F.

I think he’s being consistent.

Way back when the Mac was first out, Apple had such a technological lead on the DOS PC that they could have considered clones. Gates’ proposition made sense, but still of course contained great risk. Microsoft were in the process of cloning the Mac OS just in case Sculley refused to let others licence the real deal, as they had much to win at that moment in time when Windows was many years from complete and scarcely certain.

MS were the leading 3rd party developer on the Mac, and their software was just horrible when brought back to the DOS PC, despite the fact that DOS was their product.

Microsoft had a lot of growing to do in order to compete with Apple. They knew that DOS was a dead end, and that cloning it themselves was risky and a huge amount of work compared to anything they’d ever done before. Looking back now, you could almost see Gates never taking that risk if Sculley had agreed to Mac clones in the first place. MS and Apple’s interested weren’t yet diametrically opposed. Though all that would happen in time.

When clones finally did arrive in the 90′s under Sculley’s successor, the horse had not only bolted, but the farm had been sold to house builders and become a suburb. It was far, far too late.

17 phil { 08.13.08 at 12:59 pm }

I want to say to Daniel that I am regularly impressed, and often amazed by the quality of your reporting and writing. I would suggest that no other writer in this genre comes with so much technical and historical understanding and then proceeds makes it easy to understand. Keep it up !

18 John Muir { 08.13.08 at 12:59 pm }

(Ugh … I should proofread before I hit Submit for a change. Damn you iChat!)

19 marsviolet { 08.13.08 at 1:57 pm }

Apple gained three critical things by acquiring NeXT instead of Be. The first, obviously, was Jobs. The second was the NeXT OS. The third was the NeXTstep object-oriented programming environment which has played a hugely critical role in Apple being able to develop so much great software in such a short amount of time. Be had an incomplete OS, and that’s it.

20 Bracco { 08.13.08 at 2:01 pm }

Great article Daniel. In particular, I think the last 2 paragraphs are inspired writing. Keep it up!

21 marsviolet { 08.13.08 at 2:08 pm }

Snafu, Mac OS X is not only related to NeXTstep, it’s NeXTstep’s direct descendant. Up until a few OS revisions ago, there were even still some old NeXTstep icons hanging around the filesystem, such as Mail’s mailbox icons. What Mac OS X ironically has almost no relationship to is the Mac OS!

22 beanie { 08.13.08 at 3:12 pm }

Apple lost the computer wars because the rise of cheaper Intel 8088 based clones of the IBM computer. If Apple went with an Intel chip instead of Motorola, maybe the decline would not have been so bad. As you see, since switching to Intel chips in 2006, Apple’s Mac line has done better.

On the software side, Windows won because there was the DOS installed base from the 1980′s. Apple wanted people to throw away all their DOS applications and use a Mac.

23 John Muir { 08.13.08 at 3:28 pm }

@ beanie

The 68000 at the heart of the Mac cost Apple $9! The RAM cost much more. How times have changed.
http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Price_Fight.txt

Apple were never going to crack the business market with IBM up against them. Therefore the idea of Mac clones, as suggested by Gates. Although Windows bent over double to claim to support pre-existing DOS apps, all that really mattered to the great majority of customers was Office.

Re-casting Apple as the wiser IBM for a 1980′s fantasy experiment is fun and all. But, like with Be, some things just never happened!

24 Jean-Louis Gassée Returns from Obscurity… to Talk About MobileMe « Recycleosphere { 08.13.08 at 6:03 pm }

[...] Gassée Returns from Obscurity… to Talk About MobileMe Jean-Louis Gassée Returns from Obscurity… to Talk About MobileMe: “ Daniel Eran Dilger MobileMe has attracted more vulture critics than Apple TV, the last [...]

25 fdonadio { 08.13.08 at 11:24 pm }

@snafu

“NeXTStep was, we could say, pure Cocoa. OS X is a strange soup instead: Unix APIs, Cocoa APIs, Carbon and Carbon-ish APIs, Java, etc.”

Yes, you’re almost right. The UNIX API’s were available on NeXTStep. NeXTStep was also based on the Mach kernel, just like Mac OS X.

The Carbon API’s were meant to ease the transition for the big software companies, like Adobe, Macromedia and Microsoft, because porting to Cocoa was not an option for them. It still isn’t, but Apple is now in a better position and can force them to use Cocoa, albeit slowly.

Even Apple took ages to rewrite the Finder as a Cocoa app!

Java can bolted onto pretty much any platform, and Apple thought it would be a good idea to offer this option for 3rd party developers, because of all teh hype about Java at the time.

I think the “Carbon-ish” stuff you mentioned just means traditional (procedural) C code. But Objective-C itself is an extension to C, as you an see in in the file “objc.h”, in some obscure path in Mac OS X’s filesystem. You can write a lot of procedural code in a Cocoa project.

“An user-unfriendly accounts system masking Unix’ own user-unfriendly one”

I think the good old UNIX permission scheme works quite well. With ACL’s on top of that, it can’t be matched.

“[...] the preferred filesystem being HFS+ instead of Unix, with kludges to bridge each filesystem’s abilities”

Mac OS X needed metadata as much as the old Mac OS. At the time (and, I think, even now), the only metadata-capable filesystem was HFS+. I don’t know of any of these “kludges” you mention…

“no multiplatform development on Cocoa”

This could be either good or bad. It would make Apple software run on other OS’es, but could undermine Apple’s business. This is a very old subject and seems still up for debate.

“OS X is good, probably the best desktop consumer OS available, but it hardly is the best thing ever one could conceive.”

If Apple were in a better position at the time, maybe they could have forced Cocoa on 3rd party developers and not having to support Java and Carbon. It could have been sweet, but history is a bit different…

26 fleabiscuit { 08.13.08 at 11:32 pm }

@ marsviolet
Let’s not forget Apple also got Avadis “Avie” Tevanian.

27 harrywolf { 08.14.08 at 1:28 am }

Jobs has proved them all wrong – and history proves that Gassy Jack was close to destroying Apple.

Great writing, Daniel.

28 snafu { 08.14.08 at 4:19 am }

(“Snafu, Mac OS X is not only related to NeXTstep, it’s NeXTstep’s direct descendant.”

I am aware of that: what I mean is that OS X lost many of NeXTStep’s virtues and goals)

29 John Muir { 08.14.08 at 10:14 am }

@ fleabiscuit

And Bertrand Serlet, and Scott Forstall (despite his youthful looks). Apple today is still heavily NeXT.

30 LunaticSX { 08.15.08 at 7:26 am }

@snafu

“given how much time it took Apple to turn NeXTStep into OS X, BeOS could have very well been built into a brilliant Apple OS. I know there are other factors involved, like the false illusion that Rhapsody was the light at the end of the tunnel helping the company, the Unix factor, the very fact that Apple needed Jobs to recreate the lost mystique, etc. But the thing is, Apple probably spent in OS X redevelopment far more than Gassee ever asked for selling them BeOS.”

I was at Apple in 1996-1997 when NeXT was acquired for $400 million. The deal was announced on Dec. 20, 1996 and finalized on Feb. 7, 1997: http://web.archive.org/web/*/product.info.apple.com/pr/press.releases/1997/q2/970207.pr.rel.next.html

Part of that press release reads:

“The first release of Rhapsody is expected to be launched to developers in mid to late 1997 and to customers within 12 months. A unified Rhapsody release is expected to be in the hands of customers by mid-1998. This will include compatibility with existing Mac OS applications, as well as provide a platform for next-generation computing.”

I worked on Rhapsody in 1997. The first developer release did indeed occur in August of 1997, a mere six months after the NeXT acquisition was finalized. The first customer release “within 12 months” never happened. Instead, because major developers such as Adobe said they were never going to port their software to an entirely new OS such as Rhapsody, in the spring of 1998 Apple announced the change in tactics that led to the Carbon APIs and Mac OS X.

Rhapsody was still finished, though, and released in March of 1999 as Mac OS X Server 1.0. Apple missed the “mid-1998″ target by a few months, but by that point they were splitting their resources between Rhapsody, the Carbon APIs for both classic Mac OS and Mac OS X, classic Mac OS itself (which Apple had expected to mostly stop working on), and all of the newer post-Rhapsody work on Mac OS X, such as Quartz.

When Mac OS X Server 1.0 shipped, it was actually exactly what Apple had promised for Rhapsody: “compatibility with existing Mac OS applications, as well as … a platform for next-generation computing.” Mac OS X Server 1.0 had the Blue Box environment, in which you could run a full version of Mac OS 8.5.1. The only integration the two OSes had, though, was a shared clipboard and shared disks.

So really, Apple DID achieve what they originally set out to do when they bought NeXT, and it only took about two years (Feb 1997 to March 1999). No doubt it would have happened sooner than that had they not split their resources so much among three different OSes in the spring of 1998.

If Apple had bought Be, Inc. instead, no doubt it would have taken much longer to turn it into as full as an OS as even Mac OS X Server 1.0 in March of 1999. Plus they still likely would have had to go back to the drawing board and come up with something like the classic Mac OS/Carbon/Mac OS X scheme to satisfy the major developers.

In the end, what probably would have happened would have been that a lot of Mac OS code would have been ported to BeOS to fill the holes it had in features that were completely absent, and it would have ended up as much more of a mish-mash, with none of the clearer separation between Carbon and Cocoa libraries in the present Mac OS X. In that, I imagine it would have wound up dragging in a lot more cruft from older code that would be impossible to get rid of.

I think an important point to note, as well, is that it was probably largely due to the robust existing code base of NeXTSTEP/OPENSTEP that Apple could have achieved what they did with changing directions midstream from Rhapsody to Carbon/Cocoa and Mac OS X, along with all of the subsequent technologies they’ve added to it.

31 John Muir { 08.15.08 at 7:32 am }

And there, clearly, is the sound of someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Be: pipedream. NeXT: today.

32 snafu { 08.15.08 at 7:45 am }

Thank you for the clarification.

33 tloewald { 08.15.08 at 12:37 pm }

This seems a bit harsh.

Gassee’s major problem, and it was apparent even back when, was he was primarily interested in high end stuff (the Mac IIfx being the most glaring example). But those were the days when SGI was riding high and Apple and SGI were fighting for customers (or thought they were… instead Microsoft and 3D Studio were slowly eating SGI’s lunch).

Also remember that Apple was built on using engineering to build compelling products with ridiculous profit margins and then milking them for all they were worth. It also repeatedly suffered when those products were eventually undercut because it would never “stoop” to competing at the low end (witness the Apple ][ floppy drive (eventually undercut by the Commodore 64), or the Mac IIcx which, both of which were sold at something like 90% margins). This isn’t a model that appeared when Jobs left Apple. It was the model he left Apple with. The difference between Steve and the people who tried to replace him is that he knew when to change tactics.

BeOS was actually pretty innovative in many respects, while having some glaring oversights (no printer support *cough*). Its file system still looks like the Holy Grail compared to HFS+ with Spotlight (and the guy who wrote it was hired by Apple to do Spotlight, but I guess retrofitting the functionality is harder).

34 hylas { 08.15.08 at 11:54 pm }
35 L { 08.18.08 at 12:20 pm }

BeOS lacked vision. They started with a performance multimedia product vision, then busied themselves over hardware changes and finally, threw it away chasing useless internet appliances. No internet appliance has success. The iPod Touch, in contrast is a versatile computer with a great browser. The BeOS technology and talent could have been useful to Palm, but they ruined themselves too. PalmOS was also single user.

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37 The iPhone Store Impending Disaster Myth — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 09.25.08 at 5:39 am }

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38 Three Disruptions in Technology, and How to Benefit — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 11.03.08 at 5:00 am }

[...] Office Wars 3 – How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly Jean-Louis Gassée Returns from Obscurity… to Talk About MobileMe [...]

39 jacksmart { 11.12.08 at 3:16 am }

Daniel is not the only guy who has a clue but he is certainly the most outspoken, dedicating his full time to covering these interesting (and important!) topics. More power to him!

Now, on this JLG issue, he (Daniel) is spot on. I don’t want to reveal too many personal details but suffice to say, BeOS could have been great. Could have been, because it was coded by very smart people. But therein lies the problem (which you can see with Linux) where smart codes are also clueless about what real humans want and need. There’s a place for experimental labs (like, Xerox PARC) to grow ideas, but there’s another kind of discipline needed to turn things into mature products. Now, mix this up with people that probably had less need for beautiful and profitable technology than being found out for the clueless posers that they actually are (and, while at it, ideally make a windfall killing off other ignorant loons), and you have the formula for wonderful failure.

I knew the whole can of worms would go nowhere when Palm (and then Access) bought the IP because I could see many of the same people involved.

And they are still in the industry…

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