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Jun 94 Editor's Page
Volume Number:10
Issue Number:6
Column Tag:The Editor's Page

Is It News Yet?

By Scott T Boyd, Editor

Is it news yet?

According to a recent MacWeek article, “Apple undertook an organizational spring cleaning last week Amid all the organizational moves, only Apple’s PC and AppleSoft divisions were not altered.”

Is that so? While the general press talks about Apple big shots coming and going, developers generally care about the people who make Macintosh, and those are the individual contributors. Only last week, three of my former coworkers from the Apple system software team announced that they would be leaving to pursue other interests. That might not be big news by itself, but they’re not alone.

Over the past year, the system software organization has lost a steady stream of contributors. I kept a list of those who had moved on (it started as a series of tombstones on a whiteboard) and handed it off to a friend when Ileft in early January. A couple of weeks later, he left. I knew over fifty people on the list when Ihanded it off, and you’d probably recognize many of them, too (e.g. check out p. 48).

“So what’s the deal?” “Why did you leave?” “But Apple’s like Mecca (or Camelot)! How could you leave?” These are questions that are nearly impossible to address directly, but they usually bring mention that Mecca has seen a number of shootings in recent years, and a question, “What do you suppose happened to Camelot after Arthur died?”

Now that’s pretty gloomy stuff. You may have noticed, my livelihood is directly tied to Apple’s success, so I’m not predicting any major catastrophe.

Apple has long been a strangely successful company. For as long as I can remember, Apple has been making some kind of major mistake. Started by two kids in a garage. Too fun-loving. Apple ///. Twiggy drives. Wrong processor. Too cute. Closed architecture. Not PC compatible. Not enough models. Not licensing system software or the ROMs. Portable. Buying DRAMon the spot market. Too expensive. Too long development cycles. Too many models. And through it all, Apple prospers.

Why? As best as I can figure, Apple thrives on chaos. For many people, five years of Apple chaos seems to be about the right number, after which they seek out some dream that spent five years in the making. Five years of chaos seems to heighten an awareness of how improbable and inconsistent it all is. On the other hand, perhaps the belief in the possibilities, itself made possible by the lack of experience to the contrary, brings about the impossible. So, as the weary faces leave, fresh faces show up almost daily. As the old hands reminisce about major snafus and interminable politics, the new hands set out, determined to make their mark on Macintosh. The steady stream of new technologies stands in stark contrast to the steady stream of individual contributors moving on.

Whither Dynamic Languages? or is it Wither?

There’s been a flurry of activity recently on the net about Macintosh Common Lisp (MCL). A rather large number of people have complained that Apple is not porting MCLto the Power Macintosh. That’s particularly notable, because MCLwould clearly benefit from the performance of the new machines, and MCLis a power-hungry environment.

Some speculated that Apple might be discontinuing or dropping MCL. Apple’s response? MCL’s going on life support while they look for a third party to pick it up.

So why the furor? According to a few postings, MCLoffers one of the very best Common Lisp environments on any machine. They also noted that they would begin shopping for a new Common Lisp right away, no matter that it would certainly be on a different platform. This sets MCLusers apart from the “normal” Macintosh developer. While MCL users show clear signs of the normal rabid devotion, it’s a devotion to the software and not the Macintosh itself.

And what’s so great about the software? That’s simple. It’s a dynamic programming language/environment. In many ways, it’s light-years ahead of the more “traditional” edit/compile/link/execute/debug environments. Sure it’s resource hungry. So what? The resources are getting bigger and more powerful all the time, and getting cheaper, too.

As for the future of dynamic languages from Apple, our sources say that WWDC might be a good place to be to hear some news.

Food for thought

“The best line of code you can write is the line of code you never had to write.”

- Stephen P. Jobs

 
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