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May 03, 2005

Mary Meets Steve Jobs – Developing the Product

December, 1983.  Solutions, Inc.  (the software company Mary and I ran) has a contract with Dow Jones News Retrieval to develop “something”  for the debut of the Macintosh.  My idea of graphics in these days of text based machines is that it is really cool to make a big version of a letter by arranging the text so that standard size copies of the letter are the components of the big letter.  Imagine an “A” that fills  a tenth of the screen whose outline is formed by lots of little “A”s.  Cool, huh?  I even had a macro to generate these.

It is quickly clear that programmer-generated graphics will not do on the Macintosh.  Even a graphics-philistine like me can see that.  So we fly in Mary’s sister Pat, a fine graphics artist from California.  She has never drawn on a computer before – almost no one has – but she is smitten by the Mac.  “This will change everything about the way that artists work,” she opines prophetically.  She says she is going to develop Rubenesque brushstrokes for her art (as opposed to her commercial work) because the kind of precision which had distinguished her work up until now has suddenly become a commodity.  She is also affected by undo.  “If only life had one of these,” she sighs.

On the table in my office where I do software development are a Mac and a Lisa cabled together.  Software is developed on the Lisa, then downloaded via the serial ports of both machines to a floppy on the Macintosh for testing.  My CEO desk is also in the office but I don’t have time to sit there anymore because I’m frantically trying to learn the Mac operating system and the development system.  You develop in Pascal, a language I don’t know but like immediately,  and, where the Pascal tools are still missing from the developers’ toolkit, in M68000 assembly language.

We decide that the “something” we’re developing is a communication program that will be called Dow Jones Straight Talk which will both use the Mac GUI (Graphic User Interface) to ease the notoriously difficult navigation of News Retrieval databases and allow the editors to specify the fonts which news stories appear in including using different fonts for headlines and story text.  This latter feature is the one that Dow Jones EVP Bill Dunn wants the most.  The Wall Street Journal is distinguished by its use of fonts and he wants its electronic renditions to be similarly distinguished.

Patty is mastering the Mac drawing tools quickly.  I’m not doing so well with the development system.  I try to display the MacPaint files she is generating but can’t figure out how.  However there is some sample code in the toolkit for retrieving “resources” for a file which is organized the way the Macintosh scrapbook is.  And also sample code for displaying a resource which happens to be a picture.  The sample code is never quite right because new versions of the ROM obsolete it before new Xeroxed documentation can be distributed but this time it is close enough.  I cobble the two samples together, compile, and, after a few failures, EUREKA!

Mary is not quite sure why I am so excited by the scribble that appears on the screen of my Mac.  Programmers will understand that it is the Mac equivalent of “Hello, World”, a page I drew in MacPaint and then pasted into the scrapbook actually appearing in my program.  But we all think it’s cool when Patty’s fine drawings of telephone poles and other communications metaphors start to appear on the screen.  I think we even have champagne.

Now just two months left to have something ready to exhibit at SoftCon in New Orleans.

In the previous episode, Bill Dunn forcibly explains that why the Mac is going to change publishing.

In the next episode, Mary really does meet Steve Jobs.

There is more about the early Macintosh days in my post about Glue.

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