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The Dirty Word

Yes, it's 'Apple'.


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'Apple': it's a dirty word today. You hear it most anywhere. But it wasn't always like that.

Fifty years ago, 'Apple' was the name of a 'go for broke' enterprise by the Beatles. Told they were in for a tax wallop by their accountant, they decided to invest all the money they could to sidestep Inland Revenue. John and Paul globe-trotted to promote their business idea.

Then Apple of Cupertino came along, and one of the conditions for using that name was that they'd never venture off into the music business. They never would. Of course not.

The CP/M revolution came, something most Apple users have likely never heard about. IBM took notice, and decided that 'personal computing' might be a good way to kill off their first and only market threat: DEC. IBM introduced the 'PC', DEC finally hit the ropes, IBM sold off their PC business and went back to mainframe computing.

Apple and Microsoft were never real competitors. Their market strategies were very different. Microsoft marketed MS-DOS, which became their way to establish a beachhead on millions upon millions of personal computers. Apple marketed hermetically sealed gadgets from Planet Groovy. Microsoft dominated the IBM-compatible PC market - and IBM didn't seem to care as long as those PCs were making DEC's minis redundant - and, well, Apple dominated their Apple market. But little more.

8-bit computing led to 16-bit computing. One started seeing systems with 'cooperative multitasking'. They worked OK as long as no process got stuck - in which case, everything would freeze. Apple chose Motorola, and Microsoft went with Intel.

32-bit computing meant one could finally implement true preemptive multitasking. The feeling of glee when one's cursor hovered inside a stalled program, and all one had to do to get control back was move the cursor out.

Microsoft introduced Windows 3.0 in 1990 and the world went nuts. Tandy Radio Shack stores sold out in a day. Microsoft called all their programmers home from the OS/2 joint project with IBM, and work began on a total rewrite for Windows 3.1.

Windows 3.1 hit like a tsunami. Bill Gates hired jumbo jets to fly out the shrink-wraps, had big lorries waiting at the airports to pick them up, and himself traveled to the Orient to find more diskette manufacturers.

Apple kept doing their thing.

Windows 3.1 led to Windows for Workgroups which in turn led to Windows 95, originally called Windows 94 or Chicago, but things got delayed for a number of reasons. Bill was getting in trouble with the Department of Justice in the US. He temporarily shut down his MSN for fear of a legal process connected to CompuServe. Windows 95 was finally released on 24 August 1995, and the world went hysteric again. Suddenly everyone could be 'connected'. In his book The Road Ahead, Bill speculated that 'computer' was now a misnomer - the devices should be called 'communicators' instead.

Apple kept doing their thing. But by the mid-1990s, Apple were in trouble. They tried one thing, tried another, tried to strike deals with other companies, nothing was working. They too had tried to write their own 32-bit system, and failed. Microsoft lucked out, finding Dave Cutler in the Seattle area, and got him to move his research team crosstown to the Microsoft campus. Windows NT was born after years of development in Redmond, beginning as early as 1988.

By 1988, Steve Jobs was in Redwood City. Steve didn't like John Sculley, and tried unsuccessfully to oust him from Apple. His coup failed, and he found himself deported to Siberia. After a while, he gave up, and sold all but one share in the company he'd created, and began walking around in the doldrums, looking for that 'next big thing'.

Steve talked a lot with academia. And he saw an unexploited niche: high-end personal computing.

Steve can also be credited with another important insight: namely that the 'best of the best' in IT are not a mere 2-3 times better than average, but several hundred times better. He went off to find the 'best of the best' for his new platform.

At Carnegie-Mellon University, he picked up a microkernel Unix called 'MACH'. From that MACH project, he picked project lead Avie Tevnian.

At Stepstone, he picked up Brad Cox' programming language Objective-C.

And he really lucked out when he ran into Jean-Marie Hullot's SOS Interface.

Steve now had all the building blocks to create NeXT.

Cutler came to Microsoft. The first header files with his name are dated 1988. Cutler was working on a client-server network system very much based on his DEC cash cow VMS. Dave had no idea what Microsoft really had in mind, and Bill wasn't telling him - for perhaps as much as two years. Helen Custer wrote her famous book on Cutler and NT, which back then ran on a microkernel, with Avie's colleague Rich Rashid, also from Carnegie-Mellon, having come on board.

Microsoft introduced NT 3.1, and no one could figure out whose market they were eating into, until someone looked at the workstation market - those powerful and expensive machines running Unix and monster database applications. Suddenly Sun Microsystems felt the crunch. Microsoft introduced Open Database Connectivity and Sun went down for the count.

Microsoft had of course, despite all, not been ready for the Internet revolution. Their 'OLE2' technology was a kludge. They tried trimming it down to Active-X, with disastrous results.

Steve Jobs kept doing his thing. Steve had never wanted to compete with Microsoft, and so he didn't. His NeXT boxes were also hermetically sealed. It was only when hardware sales flopped that he went over to marketing software and changed the name of the company.

Several major league corporations began to have enough with Microsoft, with Netscape in the lead, and they took Microsoft to court. At the DOJ. Judge TP Jackson presiding. Microsoft's Jim Allchin did what he could to migrate important generic DLL code into DLLs used by their web browser Internet Explorer, to thwart TP's attempts to remove the web browser from the operating system.

Tim Berners-Lee, then at CERN in Switzerland, wrote an interesting application on one of Steve's NeXT machines, something called 'WorldWideWeb.app'.

That's only thirty years ago.

Tim also invented the hypertext transfer protocol HTTP, and the 'web' was born.

Bill used the work at Berkeley called 'Berkeley Sockets' to put his Windows 95 online.

To squeeze the competition out of the market, Bill began dumping his Internet Explorer at computer emporiums, giving it away for free. He instituted special OEM agreements which made it economically difficult to ship computer hardware with anything other than Windows. He forced even IBM to make it more difficult for their clients to find and install the Navigator browser.

A storm was brewing.

Apple finally got knocked down. Things were very bad indeed. Board member Gil Amelio stepped down to take the CEO reins and found out how bad the company had become, and stopped all shipments until things could be fixed. He parlayed to acquire BeOS, but found the price tag of $250 million too high. Steve Jobs, on the other hand, started sensing it might be time for him to return.

The ink dried on the agreement between Apple and NeXT in December 1996. Windows 95 was out and selling like hotcakes. Bill was raking in the dough by the truckload. Yet it'd be another two years until he was truly king of the hill.

Steve came back to Cupertino as an executive without portfolio. Gil negotiated to get the NeXT technology and the NeXT engineers for a cool $429 million. Steve had planned for this event by buying up the rights to Objective-C from Brad Cox.

On the 4 July weekend 1997, Steve double-crossed Gil. He pulled such a daring stunt that he was immediately summoned to the Apple board of directors. He could have been booted out completely, but instead walked out of that inquisition as the interim CEO on a nominal salary of $1 per year. And he marched straight into the office of Gil's secretary and told her she was sacked and needed to clean out her desk and leave the building then and there. Of Gil, Steve told him 'you're the most honest guy I've ever worked with', and Gil was gone too.

To call things dismal at Apple back then would have been an understatement. Steve could rarely hide his enthusiam for NeXT technology, but he wasn't bringing any NeXT clients with him - they all burned their contracts when they heard of the 'merger' with Apple. Steve's first appearance at an Apple event was depressing in the extreme, but he got his people working on remaking the NeXT OS as a 'Mac' OS, a process that would ultimately take over five years.

Microsoft consolidated their position with the release of Windows 98SE, and Bill Gates was now the richest person in the world.

The malware came. Computer viruses were an old thing. As nothing is protected on MS-DOS, malicious code could attach to executables. Worst of all were the 'boot sector viruses' which could propagate from hard drive to floppy and back again, infecting an entire corporate landscape in no time.

Things got even worse when a number of researchers, including 'Mudge', figured out how to inject 'shell code' into running applications through their vulnerabilities. More and more the white hats and the black hats began looking for ways to subvert (primarily) Microsoft Windows.

Then in May 2000 ILOVEYOU hit.

Mark Joseph Edwards placed the blame squarely at the feet of Microsoft. Damages caused by ILOVEYOU were estimated at $5.5 billion. Bill Joy wondered how Microsoft could put a defenceless system like Windows on the Internet.

ILOVEYOU was followed by AnnaK, was followed by Code Red, a new type of attack that hijacked IE servers that people didn't even realise they were running, going out and probing entire IP ranges for more suckers to take over. Catastrophe was here. The world needed to get away from Windows.

Both the BBC and El Reg had reporters explaining how people could migrate to safety - to Unix. We felt it incumbent to do the same, and initiated our Red Hat Diaries project. In the end, we chose Apple's Unix for a number of reasons.

  • It took more than a feel-good amateur community to whack Microsoft off the top of the hill - it took corporate clout.
  • People would never be sold on security alone, despite the spectre of further epidemics looming on the horizon.
  • Microsoft's interface model was crap, and the models used by Linux only emulated the mistakes Microsoft had made.
  • The graphics were better with the NeXT engine - they weren't pixel-based, they were vector-based.
  • Colours were expressed in floating point, as opposed to Microsoft and Linux 16-bit and 32-bit integers.
  • Colours admitted of an 'alpha channel' for opacity, to enable transparency and 'pixel sharing'.
  • Apple alone had NeXT's incomparable Interface Builder, the product that succeeded SOS Interface.
  • The NeXT/Apple paradigm was document-based, and the code was written in Objective-C.
  • Apple used the PowerPC processor which rarely could understand malware shellcode.

Given all those advantages, it seemed clear that Apple had the best chance to topple Microsoft, and toppling Microsoft was essential to the health of the Internet. The Internet should be a place where people are able to explore without constantly worrying about stepping on malware landmines. Anyone who's seen the frenetic effort Windows users have to go through will understand. The move to Apple's OS X, most importantly to version 2.0 in August 2002, was akin to what it must have felt like for Harrison Ford and Sean Young to drive into the morning sunlight.

But Apple's OS X was not the NeXT OS. Apple spent five long inexcusable years, forfeiting a chance to rule the world, dismantling the NeXT OS and then rebuilding it again, to make it more 'Mac-like' (whatever that means). Apple initially promised cross-platform compatibility for developers who needed the Windows software market, but they pulled the plug as soon as those developers had committed to Apple and could no longer turn back. The lingua franca of Unix, in the hands of Apple, was turning into a walled garden even back then.

Holding to a precarious 2% market share and going nowhere, Apple introduce the iPod instead of bettering their market for OS X. Once the iPod craze was over, through its 51 variations, and now that the perceptive pixel had arrived, Apple introduced their disruptive iPhone smartphone in 2007 and turned the telco world topsy-turvy. And, after a number of embarrassingly clumsy moves, they embarked on the path they're still on today.

OS X development came to a halt. Scott Forstall took the best programmers on OS X and moved them to the iPhone. OS X Tiger was introduced, with glaring bugs. Steve Jobs did a deal with a telco and got ready to cause an upheaval in the industry. And slowly but surely Apple worked out their plan for Total Domination™. And that's where we are today.

Apple has turned into a monster just like Facebook and Google. Google openly admitted they're trying to determine the outcome of elections. Censorship on Facebook has reached critical mass. Amazon is poised like the Fourth Reich in the wings. And Apple want to control everything on the devices you buy.

We're safe now, now that we're no longer on Windows. We should know that, but Apple execs are hoping we forgot. There's malware around every corner, under your bed, hide your wife, hide your kids. Today they want people to sign their image files. Ideally they want developers to join a programme that used to be free but which today costs upwards of $75 per year, a programme with draconian conditions. Both the New York Times and now the Wall Street Journal have condemned Apple for these unfair practices. Apple can soon join Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter as they stand before the judge's bench and get their just deserts.

  • The brilliant menu item class disappeared. The class that made it possible to rip off submenus and place them anywhere onscreen. Wny? Because the legacy 'beige box' programmers, sticking to 'Carbon' either because they couldn't take the half day to learn Objective-C, or because they didn't even know C, which is even worse, demanded it.
  • The third crucial title bar appearance was scrapped because Apple's HI group thought it would be too confusing.
  • Embalmed pseudo-sensation John Siracusa admitted that Apple had done a more atrocious job on NeXT than the Beatles had done on their notorious album cover for Capitol Records, but then admonished them all to 'keep up the good fight'.
  • Perennial fanboy-fanboy John Gruber excoriated Dan Gilmor and Avie Tevanian for favouring NeXT.
  • Brent Simmons alerted John Gruber to our exposé of Apple's 'bait and switch' on NeXT indy developers and caused 'Scott' to have an OCD breakdown.
  • 'Ilgaz' attacked because our CLIX made the predatory software market look predatory.
  • Apple applied a band-aid to their 'protocol hole' which hasn't been fixed to this day.
  • Apple forked DTrace - and desecrated it.
  • Apple's Open Darwin project fell apart.
  • Apple applied draconian constraints on AppKit services that cripple development to this day.
  • Apple applied a 'hook' in the software update services so they don't need to get user permission on downloads and write access to root-owned and protected system areas.
  • Apple hardware migrated from PowerPC to Intel, immediately making all Macs more vulnerable to attack.
  • Apple corrupted their own launch services so they couldn't figure out how to launch applications. (Seriously.)
  • Apple corrupted their Cocoa document controller to allow overwrites on read-only files.
  • Apple corrupted solid tableview code and to this day they still can't figure out how to fix things.
  • Apple left web pages in Safari susceptible to editing, even though they're not meant to be edited or capable of being edited.
  • Apple left the Opener hole open for years - it wasn't so much a hole as a crater, the author told us.
  • Apple let Oompa Loompa happen. And Oompa Loompa happened because of the fanboys.
  • Apple never constructed their vital file management module, resulting in embarrassing catastrophes like the 'Massive Data Loss' scandal.
  • All this from a supposedly respectable Unix owner? Read on.
  • Apple amass an estimated one million bug reports for Tiger that are just abandoned.
  • Apple introduced screen remnants with Tiger.
  • Apple patrolled their user forums to remove anything critical of the company.

That authoritarian attitude continues to this day.

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