About | ACP | Buy | Industry Watch | Learning Curve | News | Products | Search | Substack
Home » Industry Watch

Yes They Are (Doomed to the Margins)

Of course they are.

Get It

Try It

WALLED GARDEN (Rixstep) — A couple of notices the other day, here and here. Fanboys, literally shaking, are worried that the sky is falling. Of course the only reason the Apple media react in this way, aside from the obvious remunerative one, either above or below the table, is that there is genuine apprehension (as there should be).

The old saying used to be 'the sky is falling'. Today it's 'the walls are closing in'. Or 'the gate is closing'. For quite some time now, the poor Apple fanboys have been troubled, jittery even, by the fear that things aren't going as they wanted. The most common reaction is to ignore it all, pluck out nasty names for those who warn them, and just carry on, with increasingly feigned comfort, as if everything is right (as always of course) and things couldn't get better.

Apple's raison d'etre changed radically in 2007. They'd always been a marginal company (by choice) but suddenly they had the chance to dominate a market: the new 'smartphone' market.

And they had all the advantages one could have wanted. They had the brilliant space-age NeXT technology (which of course was anathema in the eyes of the fanboys). Apple had had their chance to completely take over the desktop market as well - but once again they blew it. For what is better, in their eyes, than to be an exclusive product that everybody wants but so few can get? Of course they'd rather that everyone chose the same stuff they did! But you can't have it both ways. Ah the trials and tribulations of a fanboy. Such a hard life.

Apple 'merged' with NeXT at the end of 1996, officially the start of 1997. Microsoft had not quite consolidated their position. Windows 95 was certainly a success, Dave Cutler's NT tree hadn't yet absorbed Win16, but everyone listened to the Brian Eno sound. And yet the market was still open. Mudge was soon to publish his tutorial on creating malware, Microsoft's architecture was wide open to attack, and ILOVEYOU loomed around the corner of the New Millennium. The playing field was open and Microsoft were not the clear winner.

Steve Jobs manoeuvred to boot out the guy who'd brought him back, and play nasty to his secretary, and the fanboys got Steve to work on making NeXTSTEP more 'Mac-like'. This abortive (and rather silly) project consumed five precious years when time was more crucial than ever. When planning NeXTSTEP, Steve always kept his eye on the clock and the almanac, yet within Cupertino, time seemed to stand still. Apple wasted precious clocks and man-months refurbishing their old OS which even the most diehard fanboys admitted could not idle overnight without crashing. All the while NeXT's OS was not only ready to ship, but had in fact already been shipping, giving NeXT a projected annual profit of $300 million - at least until clients and potential clients became aware of the 'merger', at which time they stopped doing business with Apple, Apple having such a bad reputation in the industry.

Steve could have done it. In fact he did do it - he'd done it at NeXT. Steve spent little time at Pixar: almost all of his time was spent in Redwood City. What he brought to Cupertino was far more than a management team and some nifty code classes: he walked in with the keys to the entire kingdom.

And for that he was misunderstood and roundly criticised. By the fanboys.

John Siracusa admitted and lamented how the fanboys inside the Loop had desecrated the brilliant and brilliantly beautiful NeXTSTEP, but admonished them to keep at it. 'Don't give up the good fight', he wrote. John Gruber instead took to pot shots at Avie Tevanian and Dan Gilmor, amongst others. And so Apple kept stewing in their own juices as Microsoft kept doggedly at it, producing first Windows 98 and then Windows 98SE ('second edition') which effectively sealed the deal, made Microsoft market king, and justified Steve in saying 'the war for the desktop is over, Microsoft won'.

But Microsoft had not won - Apple lost.

And it wasn't just that Apple gave away their otherwise insurmountable advantage to Microsoft by twiddling with a finished product from NeXT: they also deliberately played 'bait and switch' with the growing number of ISVs who'd seen the potential in developing applications for what Apple would call 'Cocoa'.

NeXTSTEP was namely platform-agnostic. And that was its great appeal. NeXTSTEP applications could run on anything - as long as NeXTSTEP could, and NeXTSTEP was designed to run everywhere. The big software market wasn't for NeXT - but for Windows.

ISVs poured into the market, keen to develop and sell software written for Windows. And that's what Apple promised them - for many long years. Of course when we pointed this out, the fanboys went wild and tried to snuff out that information. But no: that's what Apple did, and the legacy fanboys, who slowly began to realise they'd been played in a classic 'bait and switch', said and did nothing. No 'more sir' from them.

Apple flirted with the open source community. Newsletters galore. Open Darwin. Virginia Tech buying and running one of the ten most powerful computers in the world, all based on Apple hardware technology. Apple had become the Great Hope against a World of Windows. The world needed something more secure than Windows, that had to be Unix, and the unlikely marriage of Apple (of all companies) with the likes of Linus and the FreeBSDs could have sent Bill Gates to the poorhouse. But no. Apple kept their market closed, you weren't allowed to run OS X on anyone else's hardware, an Apple solution for your corporation offered you no exit strategy, and one major reseller we contacted admitted they wouldn't be able to even begin configuring a corporation with Apple-only solutions. The world was there, waiting and very hungry, for a way out of Windows, for a way to migrate to Apple, and Apple simply ignored it.

Stuck at 2%. 2% does not world domination constitute. Not when 98% are still running crapware that's infecting the planet at large. With new ILOVEYOUs. And Code Reds. And AnnaKs. And hundreds of thousands of spinoffs. Battle cruisers crippled at sea because Windows crashed. Nuclear submarines based in Southampton running Microsoft Windows. It's bloody insane.

IBM could have moved in. They had their brilliant AIX. But Apple had the better chance. The opening was gaping wide. Apple ignored it. They were seemingly happy with their 2%. Even if they wanted more money. So they bought a product and turned it into the iPod. Good business! Transformed the music industry for a while! But it wasn't the PC market. Microsoft still dominated and would continue to dominate. Linus was out there, but, once again, he wasn't going to make a dent, as he wasn't a major corporation capable of making that dent. IBM had their mainframe market all to themselves. They didn't care. Apple wanted a resurgence. They could have done it. But the fanboys would have caused a ruckus. 2%. The iPod saved Apple. Again.

Now comes the iPhone. Or originally the iPad. But Steve thinks they should wait with the pad and go for the phone first. And, for the first time in their history, Apple find a chance to completely dominate a market. It wasn't easy. The road to success took a lot of brainpower and a lot of cojones, and involved turning the giant telco industry on its head, but they did it. And they wouldn't have been able to do it without that NeXT technology - just as Tim Berners-Lee said he wouldn't have been able to create the 'web' we use today without it. Yes, it's that important.

Competitors with a lot more human resources scrambled to get in, but it was Apple's market. All the way. There was no reason Apple couldn't dominate there as Microsoft dominated the desktop. What was it Bill told Steve? Change his strategy or be 'doomed to the margins'?


'You could have set the standard', said King Bill to Upstart Steve. Become a software company, Bill told Steve back in the days of Redwood City. Licence your operating system to hardware OEMs. Stop playing the proprietary Piper.

If you do, you can set the standard. If you don't, you're doomed to the margins.

Those margins have today become walls. All the while Apple's reputation has gone down the pooper. Once heralded as the company that could save the world from Microsoft, they're increasingly seen as a company worse than Microsoft.

Microsoft's 'TCI' (trusted computing initiative') began with a startling 'mea culpa' from Bill where he literally apologised to the world for all the 'pain and suffering' his products had caused. Yes, thank you, Bill. But if Bill had paid restitution across the board, he'd be in debt today. Instead he began with the TCI, which turned out to be nothing but an attempt to squeeze even more money out of a dry stone. By demanding that device drivers be CODE-SIGNED to run on Windows. Microsoft would do the code-signing of course, and only after inspecting the corresponding devices and ensuring that they satisfactorily damaged signal quality. It was all about combating piracy, you see. Peter Gutmann wrote about it, and sarcastically concluded that he'd have to buy his PCs in China in the future.

Despite having only a low two-digit share in a market they singlehandedly created, Apple survived and thrived, much thanks to lots of obsolescence, coming out with exciting new iPhones all the time. iPad arrived, and that opened a new but not quite as significant market. Then there was the computer market of course, but new CEO Tim Cook admitted he had NFC why anyone would want a computer. Perhaps he'd never visited his development teams? Did he think they were writing kernel code on iPhones?

But sales kept going up, market cap kept going up, and Apple became the first corporation to break the trillion-dollar ceiling. Then things went back down again, Apple announced they'd no longer report on unit sales, and actual sales fell painfully short of market prognoses. And so Tim discovered the computer.

The computer - whether it be an IBM z-Series big iron or a lowly Mac, is a tinkering device. It's a bootstrap machine. It can be used to both use and develop new software products. It's not gone and it will never be gone. It's at least what's needed to make all those marvelous tap-tap gadgets. And now, suddenly, that market is more interesting again. So let's look to Redmond.

Apple's first three iterations of their iPhone OS were a mess. Published crash logs inadvertently revealed that Apple had the kitchen sink running on the root account. John Gruber infamously scolded sceptics by reminding them that there must be a good reason Apple did something so foolhardy and dangerous. Then Apple upturned Gruber on their next point release by suddenly running user software on a user account (although passwords to both root and user were plain to see: 'alpine' and 'dottie'). And so began the migration to signed code as Microsoft had begun a few years earlier.

Things are so far out of hand in Cupertino today that they're asking ISVs to code-sign their image files. A look through the WWDC tutorial on code-signing for Catalina should make any intelligent individual take a step back and ponder. For none of us have seen any sign of the 'imminent dangers' Apple suddenly want everyone to believe lurk outside their walled garden, fortified as it is by their equally famed Rock Solid Foundation™.

Rock Solid Foundation™? Wasn't this Unix? Wasn't this Unix supposed to protect us from the evils of the world around, the evils Microsoft's Windows so easily attracted? Of course. So has anything changed? Not really. Not in terms of user security. What's changed is that Apple's iPhone sales performance peaked. And evidently Oprah can't help them fill that gap.

No, Apple can never completely close the gates to their walled garden. Knock on wood. What they can do - what they've been working on doing for ten years now - is deceive both the users and the ISVs into thinking a walled garden is good for them. A walled garden where Apple and only Apple can set the rules. Where, despite the rules, Apple can still do whatever they want. Anyone remember the spate of 'net nannies'? How the nannies were going to protect users? How things spiraled out of control? And the 'nannies' turned out to be corrupt and even have political agendas?

You can't relegate your freedom to a monolith corporation over which you have no control. You can't relegate your freedom to a monolith corporation period. You can, as a fanboy, object to a curious 'ruling' by Apple on why or why not a particular app got into or didn't get into their App Store, but heaven help you if you challenge the very idea of the App Store itself. No self-respecting ISV would ever succumb to that. The money's not good anyway, except for the big players who can hold hands with Apple all the way to the bank. The big fish eat the minnows. It's as simple as that. There's no room, no justification, for innovation. It's mindless, and it's the most realistic and tangible example of the world Ridley Scott's famous advert warned against. And it's here. Now. Today.

Our company will not, have never, and never will code-sign anything. We employ our own methods of ensuring code integrity, methods that do work and cannot be defeated on a desktop OS as Apple's can. We encourage all ISVs to do the same. Perhaps Apple's bastardisation of NeXTSTEP cannot be saved, but there's Unix in there, meaning it's not Windows, and, if used properly, it's a viable alternative, along with Linux and the BSDs, and that still helps to make the world (the 'web') a safer place. No matter what Apple keep trying to tell you.

But do keep searching for a way out.

About Rixstep

Stockholm/London-based Rixstep are a constellation of programmers and support staff from Radsoft Laboratories who tired of Windows vulnerabilities, Linux driver issues, and cursing x86 hardware all day long. Rixstep have many years of experience behind their efforts, with teaching and consulting credentials from the likes of British Aerospace, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Lloyds TSB, SAAB Defence Systems, British Broadcasting Corporation, Barclays Bank, IBM, Microsoft, and Sony/Ericsson.

Rixstep and Radsoft products are or have been in use by Sweden's Royal Mail, Sony/Ericsson, the US Department of Defense, the offices of the US Supreme Court, the Government of Western Australia, the German Federal Police, Verizon Wireless, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Microsoft Corporation, the New York Times, Apple Inc, Oxford University, and hundreds of research institutes around the globe. See here.

All Content and Software Copyright © Rixstep. All Rights Reserved.

John Cattelin
Media Contact
ACP/Xfile licences
About | ACP | Buy | Industry Watch | Learning Curve | News | Products | Search | Substack
Copyright © Rixstep. All rights reserved.