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Dangerous curves along The One True Way

I feel compelled to reply to Dan Ruby's column ("Shirts Off Their Backs," NeXTWORLD, December 1993), in which he paints a picture of "strategic mistakes" and failure for RightBrain Software and Appsoft, and ends with epitaphs. I won't speak for Appsoft, but I would like to respond for RightBrain.

Ruby points out that, after NeXT shifted its strategy, developers needed to "rethink their business model or slowly wither on the vine," and later, that newer developers were "prepared to go where NeXT led them." Wherever that might be. The road of NeXT's history is littered with abandoned marketing plans, major changes in corporate strategy, large numbers of personnel changes, and sudden surprises from dropping optical disks to laying off hundreds of people to announcing new alliances every six months or so.

Ruby makes the presumption that developers are only interested in the NEXTSTEP platform itself, and that they will (and should) adapt in whatever way necessary to the vagaries of the platform. This misses the point. RightBrain Software developed software for people, for users. We are not technology junkies. It is ridiculous to assume that the correct thing to do is follow all of the twists in the NeXT highway system because it is the One True Way.

It is perhaps true that we could have "adapted" to NeXT's new focus, but that sort of assumes that all we really want to do is to program NEXTSTEP and that we'll blindly follow wherever the path leads. Ruby writes that I "stubbornly stuck to the mainstream vision until reality forced [me] to pull the plug." Well, what I really did was to try to finish what I started, to deliver PasteUp, fix the bugs, support my customers, and develop new products. It is true that we pulled the plug because of reality, but that reality wasn't forced on us it was a choice.

We were still seeing strong sales of PasteUp the day we ceased operations, and, if that were not the case, I seriously doubt that Anderson Financial would have acquired PasteUp. It wasn't clear to me that the NeXT market had made any progress in the three years I had been involved in it, and I wasn't interested in finding out the hard way. If my goal in life were to program NEXTSTEP, then sure, I could have survived spotty sales and paid bills by doing contract programming for a bank or developing mission-critical ObjectWare for the CIA. But that was never my goal.

Nor is it Software Ventures' goal, nor Adobe's, nor WordPerfect's, nor Frame Technology's, nor Lotus's, nor any of the many developers who have made brief appearances in the Product Catalog over the years.

It is difficult enough to plot NeXT's path looking backwards through time, and I submit that it's impossible to chart it into the future. NeXT doesn't even know where it's going, and when it does know, it always springs it on the rest of us as a series of surprises, some of which are extremely difficult to adapt to quickly (like the demise of its hardware line). My crystal ball was filled with tule fog like the Central Valley of California, and I decided to pull off the I-5 to avoid the possibility of a 100-car pileup (to stretch the analogy a bit).

I also found it amusing to read that "both companies will miss the coming wave of third-party software sales." This wave has been coming for several years now. I think it's just rhetoric. If you look at the measurable phenomena, you can see a large efflux of high-visibility developers, an influx of small unknown developers, and, on the good side, an increase in the installed base. Of course, we don't know exactly what the increase is, only that it "exceeds expectations." And we don't know what percentage of the installed base will be buying third-party applications. It's all theoretical: "It's gonna be great," with the emphasis on "gonna."

I don't know whether the NEXTSTEP software market will increase, and neither does Ruby. I chose to get involved in something more predictable, more rewarding, and less of a roller coaster. Currently, I am developing publishing software for Windows and the Macintosh, and I was very surprised to find that I can produce working software very rapidly. NEXTSTEP is great, but you know what? It's not that much better than the Mac. Besides, even if NeXT realizes its goal of 100,000 units in 1994, that will still be 100 times smaller than the Mac market, and 500 times smaller than the Windows market.

NeXTWORLD might recall that, for many months, the number-one position on its own Ten Most Wanted list was a page-layout program like QuarkXPress. That is what I set out to deliver. It took only about two years, which is pretty quick development for a product like that, but, by the time we finished, the market had completely changed, and publishing was not a part of it any more. And now I pick up NeXTWORLD only to read my own epitaph (which I can assure you is premature), and to read that the reason we are among the "dearly departed" is that we did what you thought we should have done a couple of years ago, namely develop a shrinkwrapped page-layout application.

In summary, you paint a picture in which we made a lot of strategic mistakes and stubbornly refused to accept the changing market. I'll concede that we didn't accept the changing market, but it wasn't stubbornness: It was good business sense. When NEXTSTEP software development grows from a religious passion to a smart business pur- suit, maybe you'll see some of us again. Meanwhile, I'll be thumbing through the pages of Inside Macintosh and spending more time with my dogs.

Glenn Reid

RightBrain Software

Woodside, California

Shame on whom?

I hope Randy Adams and Glenn Reid understand that the shame of Dan Ruby's December editorial is on Mr. Ruby himself, not them.

John Link

Kalamazoo, Michigan

API SOS

When I saw NEXTSTEP and started using the programming tools, I thought, "This is how I want to program." When I read that APIs are not standard on most NEXTSTEP software, I thought, "What is the point object-oriented software if you don't pass on the benefits to the user?" I am one of those customers who, as Simson Garfinkel described in "Good Morning, Sarajevo!" (NeXTWORLD, November 1993), "aren't even considering your programs, because they can't see how to mold it into the corporate future they're building." But note that in your reviews, you don't mention if programs have a well-documented API. A good API is one of the most important things for me when looking at what software to buy for NEXTSTEP. This applies to all applications, from project managers to games. So for Ten Most Wanted well-documented APIs in applications.

Grant Morgan

Tokyo

That's two Scotts and Two Duanes

Thanks for the mention in the "Three Scotts and a Duane" article in the December issue. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, but . . . Scott is my middle name. My first name is Duane. So perhaps I suffer under a double-whammy in the comp.sys. next newsgroups!

Scott Hess

Burnsville, Minnesota

Editorial direction

I'd like to add a voice to the contingent that thinks NeXTWORLD should be more careful with negative press. There are several potential customers for whom I would just buy a subscription to NeXTWORLD; I instead find myself forced to edit the material, or worse, not use it at all. Is it that important to thump your chest and say you're relatively impartial? At this stage, I would think the role of advocate would be far more important.

Alan Frabutt

Dearborn, Michigan

If we confined ourselves to happy talk, we would lose credibility with our readers. NeXTWORLD makes no bones about being partisan to-wards NEXTSTEP, but we are not a marketing arm of NeXT. We aim to serve our readership by covering the challenges, as well as the benefits, of using NEXTSTEP. NW

Barlow reads minds!

I read with great amazement John Perry Barlow's recent columns ("Homer on the Range," NeXTWORLD, November 1993, and "NeXT and the Single Guy," NeXTWORLD, December 1993). In some weird way, he captured some of my deepest feelings. He came so close, in fact, to my inner thoughts that I began to wonder if we were the same person but then I remembered that I don't own a smoke shovel. If by some chance he wrote those columns to be directed toward a statistical/sociological approximation of the average NeXThead, please don't tell me: I shudder to think I might be average.

Christopher Nagel

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

For the record

The DiskMaker review on page 38 of the December 1993 issue sports an incomplete e-mail address. You can contact SmartSoft either at smartsoft@parsec.mixcom.com or info@ smartsoft.com.

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