One of the privileges of working for a big IT firm is getting to scour the market for good solutions that may fit our offer. I was looking for good collaboration software, checking actual working communities and talking to some experts, when I first came across Netmodular. This US-based company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Object Enterprises Inc. is behind some of the most effective business and fan communities I’ve seen, and they’re doing great work in some arcane fields that we value for Knowledge Management. So I investigated them, and see what I found: an all-Mac company working on Apple technology and selling it to corporate customers all over the world. Who says you can’t use the Mac in the corporate market?
After talking to them on their software I was even more impressed. Naturally, Macuarium wanted to interview them. Founder and CEO Jesse Tayler was kind enough to talk to us.
Jesse - (OK, ready. What’s it all about?)
Macuarium - Well, in case you haven't visited it, Macuarium is a Spanish Mac news and support site... and we enjoy interviewing people who do interesting things with their Mac (Developers, musicians, artists...). But as an IT consultant, I've always wanted to find examples of how to push an IT business from a Mac background. That's you :-).
Jesse - Yes, I saw the site -- very nice! I can't read all that much of it apart from the English section, but I got the idea. Yes, we're all business here. And we're non-traditional mac business.
Macuarium - Non-traditional?
Jesse - We're more closely aligned with the old NeXT style enterprise and larger corporate rather than music, art or whatever. People traditionally think of the Mac is incapable of doing high end enterprise work, but it is actually quite capable. It expands the uses and the market certainly... plus, if you solve the hardest problems first, the rest will follow -- from music to art to whatever. I think that is a lot of what they are trying to do now.
Macuarium - What "are they trying to do"?
Jesse - Solve the hardest problems first -- if you have a powerful OS and powerful developer tools and your own HTML rendering.... you can build iTunes faster than anyone else. You can't do iTunes like they did without a lot of hard hitting technology such as QuickTime, Safari HTML rendering, and UNIX... plus the object oriented developer tools and compilers that Apple used to outsource to companies like Metroworks, they now have control over those very low level technologies which is powerful indeed if you know what you are doing.
Macuarium - Do you think those are the basic technologies for getting into the corporate business?
Jesse - Well, eventually they are -- Certainly UNIX is an obvious choice. Developer tools are very important because big business is always looking for ways to integrate and write their own custom software. So, you need powerful tools for the developers and a few years down the road -- you get software nobody else can make. Look at Keynote- if you ask Apple, they say it is great for educators, but it is really a PowerPoint killer and can't be written with bad developer tools.
Macuarium - How about training, or developer relations?
Jesse - I'm not sure they are where I want them to be with either training or developer relations, but I think they will get there as time allows. They are still working hard to create compilers and things for internal software development, like iTunes, one that works for them -- the training and relations will follow.
Macuarium - There was some consulting arm being created in Apple... from old NeXT, wasn’t it?
Jesse - Yes, it carried over -- but I don't think there is much of it... remember NeXT was very small in comparison and only focused on tools and technology -- Apple is a big business with lots of concerns from hardware to existing markets that include grade school systems! That's a very wide range of responsibility.
Macuarium - Indeed. So you'd say the most important part of the work to get into corporate business is the right development tools, correct?
Jesse - I'm saying that if you solve the problems of the enterprise, the rest will follow because then everything else is "done right"
Macuarium - (I think I'll put that in the title :-) )
Jesse - This starts with the rudimentary elements of the OS like compilers, UNIX and development tools. Programmers create all the software we use, give them the best tools and they do the best work. It is a bottom up approach that takes a very long time. Apple has been in transition for years on end but I think you can see an increase in quality as new software comes available. Again, Keynote is fantastic!! iTunes is really amazing, there's nothing like it... and there is a reason that people can't just duplicate that on Windows - I'd hate to try!
Mac OS X developers and the corporate market
Macuarium - But then there's the market. If the market doesn't want the software, developers will go for another platform that pays. In other words: how does using Apple technology affect you in your relationship with customers?
Jesse - Well, we write server side software - so our customers don't have to use a Mac, they can use Linux or Windows and they have no idea that we run Apple software or hardware. That has been an advantage for us, and may be a good reason why things like training and developer relations are timid at best. NeXT and now Apple worked hard to make the OS and the developer code independent of the underlying hardware, that's very hard to do but it will allow Apple to put iTunes onto Windows and have it work great.
Macuarium - WebObjects apps run on any Java app server, don't they?
Jesse - Yes, WO apps will run on just about any server you might select. We use Xserve. XServe is a very nice mid-size server. It runs our applications far easier and faster than the SUN machines we have been using. We were amazed at how fast the XServe "really" is -- benchmarks aside, it runs far faster for the money than I had realized. Far faster.
Macuarium - And customers don't get in the way?
Jesse - It really isn't the customers -- it is IT manager who buy MS. They used to say that nobody got fired for picking IBM - now they say nobody got fired for picking MS. I've heard it said that installing Linux or windows requires so much more staff and that selecting an XServe would clearly make an IT manager look bad -- I can kinda see the truth in that. Since we select only what works best for the money and maintenance, we use more and more Apple products - but I don't think that is a trend in the world today.
Macuarium - I imagine you sell to IT departments. If they're so hostile, how do you get them to see the facts?
Jesse - Actually, I don't -- our software installs on whatever they are using, and I don't try to tell them to use Xserve. They like HP, fine - they like SUN, fine-- They use Windows -- it even works on that -- Although I've not run our stuff on Windows for some years now -- I'm sure it would "run" - just not sure if that would translate into a quick "walk" instead.
Macuarium - So the Mac OS is more of a development platform for you than an operating environment (when installed) for the apps?
Jesse - Well, what we use and what people install our software on are two different things -- I've even developed application for WebObjects using Windows desktop -- it was awful! UNIX is very important to developers... we all use UNIX (Mac OSX) to develop the software -- but we can install it on HP UNIX or even a DELL running Windows as the server. Again, since we select our servers based on performance and reliability, we now use XServe more and more. The price performance difference is amazing!
Reasons to use a Mac, and perspectives for Mac users
Macuarium - Do we go to next question, or do you want to comment anything else on customers-and-Macs ?
Jesse - Go ahead! Ask away!
Macuarium - Next's the simplest one. Why do you use Macs, since when, for what, how come your company does too?
Jesse - Well, I use them because I'm a developer who does object oriented server programming for the enterprise. It is the only UNIX where you can run MS Software at all really... and run regular desktop software like iTunes or this chat program while still having UNIX. Most of our staff outside of engineering uses Mac too, but for more traditional reasons. They are mostly designers and artists. They like Apple. I use a powerbook with Airport and I think it's great!
Macuarium - Any of them are ex-NeXT?
Jesse - Nobody but engineers. NeXT was only for developers -- We invented the world wide web on NeXT because of the tools available to programmers. People forget that - but many important things were developed on NeXT. I think you'll see many new and important things created by developers for the Mac soon as well... Keynote and iTunes are just the first wave and are from Apple -- but there are other people doing interesting things as well.
Macuarium - Such as ?
Jesse - Gosh -- if I knew that!! I'll tell you, the web was just another thing when I first saw it - you really can't tell what will be the next big thing. But I can tell you that having great tools is the key to enabling programmers to be productive and creative
Macuarium - No hints about the fabled iOffice , then
Jesse - Oh, I really don't KNOW anything, but I'll tell you -- the "TextObject" in the new Mac OS read and write word files if that give you any hint about what Apple wants to give each and every developer out there... want to write a word compatible word processor? I also think there are some interesting things to be done with spreadsheets...keep an eye out for that.
Macuarium - Do you see Apple as a continuing innovator, then?
Jesse - Yes, actually there are a number of things coming from Apple that will be adopted by the rest of the world in very short order... Apple is the only innovator that I see today.
Macuarium - How about Sun, and Java/Jini?
Macuarium - As you said, building from the ground up until you have good apps and a platform.
Jesse - Foundation is critical. Software builds until is starts to collapse under its own weight. Objects allow good design to extend that - like a geodesic dome -Building blocks arranged correctly, give you strength and durability.
Mac on the marketplace
Macuarium - Right. Next one?
Jesse - Go!
Macuarium - How does using Macs help (or hinder) your company, specifically?
Jesse - Well, they don't do us any good in mind share that's for sure. From our business model, we don't need to have a big market share and we don't need people to use Macs to use our services. If we made desktop software - we'd be concerned about the market share on the desktop. But as I said earlier, if we were to write a new application, like say, iTunes -- we'd do it on the Mac and then run it on Windows rather than the other way around.
Macuarium - Right.
Jesse - But companies like Adobe don't write totally new software - they have ten years of legacy code designed for the old -- non object oriented OS that were the old Mac OS and Windows today. So, there is not a lot of room for people to write innovative desktop software today.
Macuarium - Your business model includes quite a lot of consulting too, doesn't it? Not just web development?
Jesse - Sometimes -- We often have to integrate our systems with existing systems, databases and billing systems... That is far easier for us to do using Java and again, the developer tools are key. So, we have no problems there. UNIX and Java integrate well, Windows does not. Windows is designed to work with other MS Software but Java and UNIX are made to allow us to integrate well - they "play well with others".
Macuarium - Do you see MS making big inroads in the app and web server markets? Or is it still mainly UNIX for the big things?
Jesse - I'm sure MS is doing just fine. I think UNIX will always remain the ultimate standard because you can't make Windows secure against hackers. UNIX is open source, so people can read the code and fix it. Even the UNIX in MAC OSX is open source. This is really important if you are in the military and always will be. You can actually alter the OS for yourself -- it’s not something that I do - but people can find and fix security in UNIX whereas you can't in Windows because you'll never know what they have written or how.
Open Source and how it works
Macuarium - How does open source affect the work of developer companies like yours?
Jesse - Well, it gives us a sense of safety. People say "its cheaper" but that's not the point. MAC OSX uses a version of BSD UNIX that they call Darwin, you can download the source and do whatever you like with it, just like Linux. Being cheaper is not what is important about open source, it is this ability to have the option of seeing the code and fixing the code.. Darwin is where MAC OSX is secure - find a problem there and coders all over the world can offer fixes before it is exploited. It is a race -- not a goal - by having a closed OS you can never be ahead
Macuarium - How about apps? Do you think Open Source applications will be a factor in your market?
Jesse - I'm not sure that open source is all it is cracked up to be at the app level -- I see a lot of incomplete work there - it is very hard to direct development and focus open source on the right things to completion. I see a combination of the two being the best of both worlds.
Macuarium - Such as Apple's done with Safari?
Jesse - Yes, actually -- that is a good example- HTML rendering is too hard and too mobile to do it all yourself. But making a really great web browser that is not full of little buttons and features using only open source would be hard. You'd get an Edsel instead of a Beetle. Beetle was designed by a single person practically with a very strict vision. Same goes for software --
Macuarium - Makes me think of Mozilla
Jesse - Yes, I worked on Mozilla in the early days. And found that we could not make it simple to use.
Macuarium - Next question?
Jesse - Go!
G5, Microsoft, and Apple’s big stick
Macuarium - What new opportunitie or problems do you see in the near future, as a Mac-based developer? Is the G5 a prominent issue, for instance? Relations with MS? ...
Jesse - You can expect MS to drop all software for the Mac. I love the G5 and I love IBM! I think you'll see some amazing laptop performance from that chip line-- And when IBM makes big machines -- let me tell you -- they build them BIG! That chip will go all the way into the sky
Macuarium - Laptop G5s? I’d love to see that one soon.
Jesse - IBM has the capacity and desire to make that chip run small and low power. That says laptops to me – And besides, IBM has the capacity and design to take that chip line way out of the range of PC chips....The Mac has always run on PC chips -- roughly in step with Intel PC chips. Now, they don't talk a lot about it -- but they are no longer on a high end PC chip- they're running a prototype server chip. The life of that chip has a great future of speeds that will amaze.
Macuarium - And a new architecture...
Jesse - Yes, it is a completely new chip -- also done without hardly a mention. But you won't see Windows and all its software running on a new chip anytime soon... This is a very big stick for the little guy quietly sitting in the corner...Apple might come out swinging as early as next year
Macuarium - Beg your pardon... I don't understand those expressions well.
Jesse - Oh! right -- american president speak--- Teddy Roosavelt once said "speak quietly and carry a big stick" or something like that -
Macuarium - Yes.
Jesse - Apple is quiet right now – waiting. But they have a very big stick. Imagine if an Apple laptop really was two or three times faster than any Windows laptop but cost similar and lasted longer on the battery. Imagine an XServe running at outrageous speeds comparing only to systems made by HP and IBM and not at all comparable to anything on an Intel chip.
Macuarium - Could even sell well.
Jesse - Selling more will take a long, long time- But it is the foundation that Apple is creating, hardware and software. If they stay the course, they'll do some interesting things for sure.
Macuarium - And the 64 bits? Will they make any difference?
Jesse - Well, 64 bits makes a far larger memory capacity. You need to make the bus and memory really fast to fill that pipe to its potential. There are a lot of technical hurdles to do that right. CPUs are so fast today, that the problem becomes how to feed them data fast enough!
Macuarium - For developers, that will translate into... ?
Jesse - Well, it is really a hardware issue - we really don't do much as developers once the compilers take advantage and then the hardware itself takes advantage. That's why Apple is working so hard on their low level software, compilers and such. They make our software run best -- make the compiler better and everything runs better....
Macuarium - But it won't do more for you than giving some more performance, then?
Jesse - Performance is quite important -- but no, I don't care much about that stuff. I don't change my code, I don't think in 64 bits.... That's for people writing video drivers, and compilers and the things we run on top of. That’s another advantage of layering the software and abstracting higher level development.
Macuarium - Right.
The Mac OS X on Intel myth
Jesse - NeXT ran on a chip from DEC called Alpha - 64 bits in 1994 I think... Again, solving the hardest problems first -- the rest follows. Separation of the OS and the hardware was key - now Java even separates us from the low level compiler! I can move Java from an Intel to a SUN SPARC to an XServe and because of bytecode, I don't even recompile -- literally the same code without so much as a single alteration. AMAZING!
Macuarium - I’m almost tempted to ask you about the practical feasibility of the OS X-on-Intel idea (not that I believe it'd work, not for financial results)...
Jesse - Well, if the IBM chip is better -- what's the point? On the other hand, I'm quite sure it runs somewhere today on Intel chips... We've done it before - once NeXT ran on that DEC chip, Intel, Motorola and SUN SPARC. I can't think of any desktop OS where that many chips were used - we even had FAT binaries which combine the resources required for different chips into a single executable so you don't need two boxes or download...all those systems could run software from a single file server without alteration. I don't know how hard it is to port [the new Mac OS X components such as Aqua], I'm sure it is not easy but it is designed to be possible. We're using FAT binaries to keep one version of an application making use of the new G5 chip while being backward compatible with the old ones... desktop applications will have a little bit of code for each chip and a majority of code that runs on both. I don't do that with WO, since it is 100% pure java and runs entirely on byte code. That is not possible with lower level things like Aqua.
Macuarium - G5 is supposed to run 32-bit code natively...
Jesse - Yes, but 64 bit code won't run on the old chip. You would have to have a 64 bit version -- FAT binaries allow you to combine both. If you launch a program from a shared server disk where some users are running the 32 bit OSX and some are running they 64 bit OS -- they can double click the same binary and share resources instead of having a separate verision for the new chip... Well, the desktop stuff is a little outside of my expertise - but I'm aware of how it works anyway. Really, we just do Java and don't care about chips and compilers which is nice!
Macuarium - Next question, then?
Jesse - Go!
Macuarium - I'm wondering if I should start asking you to do a short description of your career and relationship with the Mac world... or start asking about relationship with NeXT and Apple? I think the first's the most natural.
Jesse - I have little relations with Apple, and I have a short and boring bio... My mother was an MIT prof, so I had access to large systems and the "father of AI" Marvin Minsky at MIT since around age 9. I did some neat stuff with assembly and got noticed in the labs early on. I had one of the first IBM PCs shipped to MIT and cut a lot of school to play with it... I was more interested in UNIX and what we called AI -- but I realize that I was really interested in Objects. In 1988, NeXT came out with this sleek computer that ran UNIX and was all Object Oriented! I was amazed and wanted to nothing but work on that computer. I worked for IBM for a while in Seattle but eventually found my in with a startup that used NeXT. I've been a NeXT / OSX programmer even since. Now I do WebObjects because I love the web and think there are business plans that don't require me to work on Windows. Luck has it that I've survived all these years and have worked with the technologies that I love!
Macuarium - Where does Mozilla fit it ?
Jesse - We built the first web browsers and server on NeXT and I found that after Netscape HTML became too complex for just one or two programmers to make a good browser anymore. When Netscape was crushed by MS, they open sourced their software and I thought it was a good time to help make a new web browser that was simple and give programmers back the tools to do great things on the web client. It turned out that the code was kind of a mess and we were not able to do much with it...I had to get back to paid work. I think Safari is what I wanted to make -- That 's a great browser and the open source use is perfect to my eye.
Macuarium - Any other interesting or well-known projects you've worked in?
Jesse - Most of my work was at large corporations, telecomm billing systems for MCI, worldcomm and ATT. I’ve worked as CTO or VPE at about five dot bombs
Macuarium - Using WebObjects?
Jesse - Yes, some WO near then end of it -- this was mostly the early 1990's and we did desktop systems for large databases. Financial trading systems for banks and validated systems for clinical trials and regulatory affairs in pharmaceutical businesses. I got popular for writing a magazine and CD ROM where you could browse software titles for NeXT and actually unpack the software when you bought it -- today we'd do that on the web instead of a CD ROM
Macuarium - Did you do this on UNIX?
Jesse - All on NeXT - from 1988 until today, I've really only worked on NeXT. I did write some programs for PCs - DOS and windows 2.1 and 3.x but none were famous or even very interesting. And I’ve been working with WebObjects since 1995.
Apple is not NeXT
Macuarium - All right... next round :-). How do the NeXT and Mac philosophies mix?
Jesse - Not well!
Macuarium - It's fun that the two groups seem to value different things in software.
Jesse - Apple did not like UNIX or NeXT, I was shocked when they chose NeXT over Be OS which I figured was their kind of OS. There were a few years of real struggle there at Apple -- I'm glad I'm not Steve Jobs - he really had a hot bed of angry people on his hands. But you know -- over time -- people began to realize that although it was really different, it was very cool stuff.
Macuarium - Most of Apple seems to be run along NeXT lines now.
Jesse - Yes, all the top executives are NeXT accept the CFO I think - But Apple is certainly not NeXT. Apple is still Apple
Macuarium - That'd be good for a really long question , on what's the essence of Apple, but maybe that'd be too long.
Jesse - I really am not the one to ask that -- I think Apple is a very interesting company, the NeXT technology is certainly a valuable part -- but QuickTime and Apple branding are the essence.
Macuarium - Well, Just a couple of fast questions left... Some other good companies run on Mac tech that we should be proud of?
Jesse - I'm really not aware of many - A few old NeXT companies still survive -- do you know the OmniGroup? They were also in Seattle and got started shortly after I arrived there. I've watched them do interesting things with a very small group for years.
Macuarium - How about Stone Studio? We translated the Suite for him a couple of years back...
Jesse - Oh! ANDREW IS GREAT! I love Andy -- he was at the first Boston Computer Society showing NeXT software. He was showing a simple app called TeXTArt which used display post script to do some really neat things. He’s fantastically talented and a lot of fun. Stone Design has always been close to my heart.
Macuarium - And to ours, since we know him :-). So, what would you tell someone who was thinking on building a development firm and was thinking what to do with his Mac?
Jesse - I'm really not sure -- the transition to Apple was very hard on the tools and things like WebObjects are not all that easy to learn from scratch. I get some amazing results because I've worked with it so long and even that because I used the tools that built WebObjects. It really is tough right now - I hope that the new "XTools" will be as great an asset as the NeXT tools were. Tools that harken back to the "insanely simple" that the NeXT first was... But you have to realize that nobody ever thought I was "smart" for developing on NeXT. I'm not rich or famous.
Macuarium - You make good communities software.
Jesse - We make complex applications (by our estimates) that are 100 times easier to build and maintain.. We do with one or two people what takes a team two years to build and a bigger team to maintain, and then we do five of them. Its really amazing.
Macuarium - That's a good message...
Jesse - Well, it took me years and years to figure out the architecture that makes that possible. I only started getting those results 18 months ago and after many tries and the design that would do it whole thing. Objects make it possible -- but you must design on your own -- it's like “Steel makes possible the San Francisco Bay Bridge” -- but architects needed to figure out how to design a double suspension bridge for it to work. It is easy to make mistakes - thinking the tools will solve your problems or give you the results that some people get. It is a question of architecture and design in the case of getting results from objects - not Java or some language.
Thanks a lot
Macuarium - All right :-). Well, we’ve kept you almost three hours, Jesse, and we’ve covered the questionnaire. Thank you for your time and your answers... unless you think we missed something or want to add anything else :-).
Jesse - All I have to add is good luck and you're doing a great job!
Macuarium - Thanks, and the same to you.