Friday, January 10, 2003

Cringely on Macworld Expo

Robert X. Cringely gets a lot right. He knows his history and questions Apple’s recent desire not to rely on outside software developers. (Reducing dependence on Microsoft and encroaching on third-party Mac developers are quite different things. The former is good; the latter could be disastrous.) However, I think he’s absolutely wrong that Internet Explorer and PowerPoint are harder for Apple to replace than Word and Excel. I’m not even convinced that Keynote will interoperate well with PowerPoint.

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Why even say something like "I'm not even convinced that Keynote will interoperate well with PowerPoint." without any proof? That's bordering on FUD.

In my limited testing with a copy of Keynote, it's worked quite well at moving things to and from PowerPoint.

I'll read the article shortly, but frankly, I don't see many cases in which Apple is competing with third-party developers, and my "open format" post actually talks about how they're doing less competing than they could otherwise be doing (by using XML or otherwise open document formats, etc.).

About the interoperability, I’m sure the basics will work great. What I doubt is that one will be able to use Keynote to collaborate, on the same presentation, with others using PowerPoint. This is not a knock on Apple, but rather a reflection of the problems with closed file formats (as, to my knowledge, PowerPoint’s is) and the fact that the applications’ internal representations of the data are always going to be different. It’s been my experience that since Office 4.2 no application has ever been able to reliably important and export the Microsoft formats. Change tracking and Word Art and VB scripts just don’t survive the roundtrip. In short, Keynote looks great, but I don’t think it can replace PowerPoint for people who need to work with other PowerPoint users.

I think it’s indisputable that Apple is competing with its developers more now than in the past. Should they write their own browser? Definitely. In the other cases, I’m not so sure. I was glad to see that Keynote isn’t free, however.

Your “open format” post mentions some important differences between what Apple and Microsoft are doing. The Apple way is better, but I’m not convinced it goes far enough. There’s a difference between providing an XML file that’s relatively easy to reverse-engineer and providing a true open file format, which is documented and won’t change without notice. It would be better if third-party applications could participate in the digital hub via an API (or even AppleScript). And, of course, not all XML files are easy to reverse-engineer.

If Cringely "knows his history," why does he think Woz wrote Applesoft BASIC? Woz's version was Integer BASIC; Applesoft BASIC was Microsoft's. ;)

Oops, good catch, Jerry.

See also Matt Deatherage's column in the April 2003 Macworld.

Erik Barzeski tried to refute Matt's article. I posted a short comment on his blog linking back here. In it, I tried to explain why Matt's DragThing point wasn't off-topic, as Erik says, and then I repeated what I said above: that a file format that's easy to reverse-engineer isn't good enough. (Matt has since expanded on this.) Buzz Andersen noted that my comment has been deleted. It was not inflammatory, stayed on topic, and used clean language. I did not request the deletion and was not notified of it.

I believe your comment was lost in the shuffle to my new server: . If you had an old DNS entry ( for it would have gone there. The new IP starts with 64.

Please email me the comment and the approximate date and time and I'll put it back in. Alternatively, I can dump my MovableType database from my old server and find it there, if you've got it.

Thanks for clearing that up, Erik. I don't think there's any point in re-posting my comment. It was very short, and others have already re-stated what I said in greater detail.

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