When is Apple going to open up?

by Giles Turnbull

We Mac users are often given to gushing. It's easy for us to lean over someone's shoulder as their Windows laptop shudders to a halt with a Blue Screen of Death, and whisper: "There's a better way, you know. My Mac never does that."



And it's easy for us to scoff at Windows Explorer, to point and laugh at Outlook Express, and to roll our eyes skywards when we hear about Yet Another Virus. We have it so good, we tell our Windows-bound buddies, because we use Mac OS X. We have great software, a great OS, great applications, and none of that rubbish with viruses.



But you know what? There's something that Microsoft is doing much better than Apple. Not only doing it better, but improving with each and every day that goes by. It is a cutting-edge activity for large corporations, something that few businesses today have even tried, let alone got right. But Microsoft has got it right and is reaping the benefits.



What is this mysterious activity I'm talking about?



Opening up.



Microsoft is opening up like no other company I have ever seen. Just take a look at all the detailed information about Office 12 and Windows Vista that is coming out on weblogs written by the coders and managers working on each project.



These weblogs are not professional PR. They are not written by flacks on behalf of the coding team. They are not full of dumb marketing speak and pointless slogans.



But they are full of detail, full of facts, full of stories of success and sometimes failure. When something goes wrong, these MS webloggers tell their audience about it, they fess up. Then they get back to work, and fix the problem.



As a result of their open policy, we know a great deal about forthcoming versions of Windows and the applications that will run on it.



No other company the size of Microsoft is opening up to this extent. Most companies a fraction of Microsoft's size are terrified of being so open.



But I think it's about time we collectively recognised that MS is right at the leading edge of corporate communication, using weblogs as a tool to directly connect MS employees with users, Windows developers, and excitable nerds. Microsoft is going on a journey as it works on Vista, and its customers are being invited to tag along.



This is business weblogging the way it should be done. Microsoft hasn't insisted that all the staff blogs are on the same site, nor that they should all look alike, nor even that they should carry the MS logo. Instead, they are found in all sorts of places - some on blogs.msdn.com, some on msn.com, some completely independent ones (the best-known and most obvious being Robert Scoble's Scobelizer). The company webloggers have been allowed to get on with it, to get the information out there. They haven't been held back by branding, or the need for senior management to approve what's OK to post, and what's not. (I have no doubt that there are some things internally declared "Unsuitable for weblogging", but what remains is far more than most companies would normally be prepared to reveal.)



Compare with Apple's corporate communication strategy. Apple releases information when it is ready to, on its terms. Steve makes a keynote speech at some conference, and within minutes apple.com has been updated. Otherwise, Apple tends to remain silent, unless it wants to say something.



I think it's about time Apple opened up. I think Apple's most valuable asset, the coders and designers and developers who work inside 1 Infinite Loop, should be allowed the same kind of freedom that Microsoft has granted its employees. Wouldn't it be nice if we Apple users could watch Leopard take shape, and comment on its progress, rather than meekly accepting it as a finished product when the launch day arrives?




Would you like to see Apple opening up?


23 Comments

GerardM
2005-10-03 14:10:23
what is the relevance of Microsoft "opening up"
It is not relevant as it is not the opening up that is what is needed. Needed are the publication of API's, conforming to open standars.


So as far as I am concerned it is just marketing. That is not something that I find interesting nor relevant. Yes, for the hardcore Microsoft afficionados it may be interesting, it is also interesting as a sociological occurrence. But really...


Thanks,
GerardM

SMR
2005-10-03 16:04:47
Apple is doing just fine.
There are several schools of thought - Apple has chosen to speak carefully, after they have their 'ducks in a row'. As a result, they rarely make a public statement that comes back to bite them. I would much rather have a few, meaningful presentations from Apple than be subject to some Ballmer-esque ravings every other week.


As for employee blogs and less formal/high profile communications - what, exactly, is the value there? What, besides publicity and/or scorn, has Microsoft ever benefitted themselves of their users by yapping?


Frankly, Steve Jobs has a history of saying brilliant things - and then he's been accused of 'reality distortion'. Perhaps he is smart enough to know he needs to keep his mouth from running ahead of his train of thought, esp. when dealing with the public.

AnjanBagchee
2005-10-03 18:16:48
How many ways have you gone wrong?


I started counting the ways you have gone wrong in your presumed assessment and then I got confused because I can't any logic whatsoever in your contentions. So, instead of answering each point which might take hours, I divide your mistakes into two buckets -


  1. You are assuming that Microsoft is doing something right because it has a larger market share? That's a hilarious proposition. So, now that's what Porsche is doing wrong!! They should communicate better and come out with a compact four door economy sedan. Microsoft is a company of Lowest Common Denominator and it'd be asinine to follow in their footsteps.

  2. Microsoft can afford to be "open" about their moves because they are the plagiarizer, never the plagiarizee. Starting from MS-DOS to their upcoming Longhorn, or whatever they call it now, is stolen concepts from other companies. Apple's hardware is copied by Dell, and software by Microsoft (as observed by Jobs at the Paris Expo this year). There is ABSOLUTELY no reason for Apple to make their products a community decision. Last time I checked they are not an open source company.
poboxbot
2005-10-03 18:20:01
It's easy to be open when speaking about monopoly products.
It's interesting you note two products -- Vista and Office -- where Microsoft has monopoly control.


It would be more impressive if there were weblogs coming out of their R&D office about speech recognition software, or out of the XBox group about game lineups at launch or wireless controllers.


In short, they don't risk anything in the marketplace by being "open."


Apple, on the other hand, would risk a lot since it is (arguable) that where Apple goes, the rest of the industry follows.

carlj7
2005-10-03 20:04:12
pluses and minuses
I agree that I'd appreciate it if Apple were more open, but I don't know how good it would be for their bottom line. Just look at the current flap on drunkenblog.com-- someone at Apple closed a bug because they didn't know how aliases work. This in turn exposed Apple to public humilation and a loss of face.


Meanwhile, even on the "super-open" IE blog, my suggestions for/questions about the MS anti-phishing software have been ignored. So, openness is not the be-all, end-all. The be-all, end-all is good software that does what the user wants. Openness is just a means toward that end.

aristotle
2005-10-03 23:30:44
Re:
It’s a bit of a stretch to call it all stolen, though it is correct that MSFT are always just reacting.


Well, Microsoft Research Labs are breaking some ground. But then, very little of that has so far shown up in actual products, or so it seems anyway.

aristotle
2005-10-03 23:45:08
Re:
The Safari team already is open. But I’d wager that’s because at this point, no cutting-edge innovations will happen in that corner of the company – rather, it is a product that thrives on continuously improved interoperation, and so it makes nothing but sense to open up its development.


And that’s where I see the model making sense – with established products where the potential for innovation in the forseeable future is minimal. I wouldn’t expected to have heard about the iPod nano from any Apple blogger beforehand, say.


And don’t forget that MSFT’s blogging seems half-hearted at best sometimes. For one thing, it sounds like a rather stifled voice on occasion, usually so when there is a distinct sense (for me as an outsider, anyway) that a particular direction seems to have been dictated from above, where the team might have chosen differently or just doesn’t have an opinion.


But notably, the entire upper echelon at MSFT is absent from blogland. That’s interesting, no?


Contrast the other company which you didn’t mention, which has done a much more respectable job at this so far: Sun. Not that I’m a fan on Sun at large; their upper echelon seems rather conflicted at times. But at least they’re not entirely phobic, as MSFT is.

bioinfotools
2005-10-04 00:29:48
Open APIs are important
I agree. Two thoughts from many from reviewing these issues some time ago:


1. APIs should be well defined, documented and open. The guts of the "engine" can remain closed. Where accepted standards are present, they should be made available (note this allows for extensions or enhancements). [All obvious perhaps, but these aren't always true...]


2. Where possible and realistic, companies ought to pledge that if they cease to maintain development of a product, that either the product be sold onto someone who can maintain it whilst maintaining the same service and fees for users or its source code be released to the public for the community to maintain as they see fit.



I'd like to think that for most people documentation of the points at which they interact with the software and being able to give feedback are more important than access to the source code.


Point 2 avoids products dying unexpectedly that might otherwise be maintained by the community. My understanding is that this is what has happened with Web Objects (?).


With these two in place, I suspect two of the more practical needs of "openess" are covered. I'm open to (civil!) comments about that.

gilest
2005-10-04 00:51:49
Apple is doing just fine.
I'd say the value would be in allowing other Apple employees to talk to the public. Then perhaps we might see through the distortion field to the reality.
gilest
2005-10-04 00:57:06
How many ways have you gone wrong?
Microsoft is a company of Lowest Common Denominator and it'd be asinine to follow in their footsteps.


I disagree. I'm as much a fan of Apple as most other Mac DevCenter readers, but I'm not prepared to declare MS and everything it produces in those terms. Some of Microsoft's products are genuinely innovative (look at all the positive reviews of OneNote).


Microsoft can afford to be "open" about their moves because they are the plagiarizer, never the plagiarizee.


Again, I think this is an unfair generalization.

gilest
2005-10-04 00:57:49
Re:
Good points about Safari and Sun, thanks for pointing them out.
michael98
2005-10-04 01:26:21
The London Train Station?

"...the London Train Station is ... running on [Windows]"


"The London Train Station"? Which one is that?


Sorry, Giles, I couldn't resist that. (I had a look at one of the blogs you mention and found that.)


Actually, I suspect that most, if not all, of the rail companies use Windows for almost everything. I've regularly seen the Blue Screen of Death up on the departure-announcement board at railway stations after Windows has crashed yet again. Why they don't use a more robust solution (read Unix) for everything they possibly can is beyond me.


You see, I read:


... the best-known and most obvious being Robert Scoble's Scobelizer.


And I looked and found this


http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2005/10/03.html#a11353


I picked a single amusing comment out of a post on Vista/Office 12, but basically he seems to me to be whistling in the dark to keep his spirits up. Time Bray had mentioned out that more businesses are using web apps, something we all know, not a new observation, one of the things Microsoft fears (and one of the reasons Microsoft used illegal methods to destroy Netscape: http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/cases/f3800/msjudgex.htm) -


http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/APIWar.html


- and this guy doesn't like to hear it. Tough.


Sorry, I'm not sure this is a particularly constructive post, but while I've very little time for Apple (I'm an OSX-user but not suckered by the "cult of the Mac"), I have even less for Microsoft. Maybe I'm wrong, but it looks to me like Scoble blogs is about arguing Microsoft's corner, and I don't see that as a model.



DaleG
2005-10-04 04:54:55
This isn't opening up, it's just more FUD with a new tool
You've got this the wrong way around. MS aren't opening up. They're trying to control market share by releasing FUD about their products. They've always done this, it's just that they have a new tool to do it with - blogs.


Now more than ever MS two monopolies are under threat - Windows and Office. How do they counter this? The traditional way, generating FUD.


MS aren't involving business or consumers in the development of these apps. They're just releasing tidbits of information about the development, after the development.


How is telling us that Office will export to PDF being open? What's earth shattering about knowing that they're gonna do PDF in Office? It's obvious, its marketing and its FUD.


If they were being open about Office 12 they'd blog about whether customers want an ODF format. And then they'd implement it. Instead, MS force their own XML file format down customers throats and broadcast it via their blogs.


Look at the new Office 12 UI. MS have already dictated a UI change in Office 12! They just did it and told people at a PDC conference like they would've anyway. Then they broadcast it via their blog.


Look at IE7. They're blogging how they're gonna support basic standards and a UI that's the same as every other browser. How is this open? Consumers aren't being asked what IE7 should do. Again, feel threatened by Firefox, they develop first and dictate the change after the fact. This isn't open or innovative. Just obvious and manipulative.


Now to the Apple vs MS openess issue. MS have a monopoly. What have they to loose by broadcasting their intentions to their captured consumers? Nothing! They gain, by keeping the sheep in the pen. What do Apple have to lose by blogging early about their (actually) innovate products? Their competitive advantage against a monopoly, and a significant method to communicate in a market flooded with MS FUD.


Blogs are a cool new channel/tool to influence people with. MS are using it for their marketing and FUD. And people think Steve has a reality distortion field! MS were built on one and it continues to power them!

manickernel
2005-10-04 13:31:09
This isn't opening up, it's just more FUD with a new tool
Microsoft has been uncool for so long that now they are cool again. The real FUD is in Mac security.
ja95
2005-10-04 16:23:33
Should apple open up
It would be nice,but no apple can't afford to, they have to little market share and any negative press
would effect them more than Microsoft.


I would love to see them address Bugs and safety concerns, but Apple just releases 40 bug and safety fixes and no comment from coppurtino.


Oh well, for some fans that's ok, but not for me.

MattSherman
2005-10-04 17:52:33
Old school mythology
Although this is not the thrust of this article, I must answer the opening two paragraphs, which serve up some olde-tyme religion for the Mac folks.


(For the record, I am regular and generally happy user of XP, Panther and now Tiger.)


I haven't had a blue screen on any Windows machine I've used in probably three years. However, each Mac used by me or a member of my staff has failed in recent memory.


Be it the inexplicable scrolling console text instead of a login screen, a software update aborted due to permissions problems, or an iMac just plain overheating, the failure rate is much higher on Macs around here. And this is a design firm -- we've got the best Mac support talent around.


Add that to the multiple dozens of security fixes that Apple has offered in the past several months, and I don't see how these myths persist.

TerryO
2005-10-04 19:31:00
The way I see it
I couldn't disagree with this article more.


First a few somewhat obvious observations about Microsoft. To whatever extent they are "opening up" via blogs or other content, it is arguably more out of necessity at this point than a newfound commitment to corporate "openness." It all boils down to marketing, no matter the flavor. Although tech blogs may have a targeted audience (corporate or otherwise unaffiliated technonerds), the fact remains that four years have now passed and Microsoft still has yet to produce a successor to XP (and XP is largely built on NT4/Windows 2000 which further enlarges it's legacy underpinnings). Microsoft made a huge error in tying everything ("bet the company" according to Gates) into a blunderbuss, next generation release of Windows that, by Microsoft's own decree, wasn't going to be encumbered by a release date.


The wisdom of that decision led to year after year with no product from Microsoft and XP aging less than gracefully. As of today, the biggest tangible accomplishment from Microsoft regarding it's next generation OS (in so far as users are concerned) is that it has a name: "Vista". Other than that, nothing. Microsoft finally relented from developing it's next generation browser from being specifically tied to (and released with) Vista by announcing IE 7 for XP, but...where is it? By the time it actually gets into users hands, it likely that Vista will have been released, or will soon. There just isn't any mincing of words (blogged or not) about this situation; it's a mess. Microsoft painted itself into a corner with Vista, and without any interim OS release to it's name, it will take ANY publicity, any traction, any interest at all for Vista that it can possibly get. They are so far behind the 8-ball with Windows now it's laughable.


Apple is a different story these days. It doesn't blog about its technologies in development, it releases them. It's OS has been updated almost yearly from, 10.0 to 10.4. I think Apple realizes that its far more valuable to put products into users hands than it is to blog about their development. Also, Apple is in a position where it must be extremely competitive. In order to maintain it's current position and competative edge - and remain relevant in an MS dominated world - Apple just can't afford to release products that aren't really noteworthy. It MUST put out products that surprise, amaze and impress when they are released. Nothing short of that will work. Telling the world about all of your great ideas you have in development isn't "openness" for Apple, it's suicide. It loses it prime marketing advantage of head-turning, deer-caught-in-the-headlights surprise.


Take the move to Intel. Apple only stated that it's next generation Macs will be equipped with Intel procs. Apple never said a word more, but nevertheless there has been countless theories and speculation everywhere on the net about the specific model of Intel procs Apple might use, and so on. But the reality is no one outside of Apple knows. Every article, blog, or post about the Intel switch has been nothing more than glorified guesswork. Is that really bad? Is it too "closed" on Apple's part?


Well, if you expect to see nothing more than a Dell box with an Apple sticker on it when the new Macs are released, then maybe you could say Apple is being too tight-lipped about it's products. But when the day comes when Apple takes the wraps of the new Intel-based Macs, you can expect at least one thing: you will be surprised. And that moment will prove to be exponentially more motivating to buy than having read developers blogs about it beforehand

gilest
2005-10-05 01:37:20
Old school mythology
Useful perspective, Matt, thanks.


Personally, I think there's a gulf separating "professional" Windows setups - those with plenty of skilled support on hand - and "non-professional" ones - those, including small businesses and home users, who lack guidance and backup when things go wrong.


It's great to hear that the BSOD and related hangups are becoming a thing of the past, but in small business and domestic situations I've continued to see plenty of them in recent years.


I agree with your other point - that Macs can and do fail more often that some people give them credit for.

gilest
2005-10-05 01:38:57
The way I see it
You've got it spot on with your point about surprise. That is what Apple depends upon, and it does work.
decoder
2005-10-05 06:58:04
Preposterous Nonsense
The good thing about this article is that it prompted a response that showed the community around here is capable of intelligently rejecting/correcting the editorial equivalent of an encomium for the Easter Bunny. The fact that someone like Giles could so easily be appeased by a few empty gestures is sad, but also, it makes me wonder what's next from this outlet. Perhaps O'Reilly should hire some of their readers as editors to prevent further embarassment.
gilest
2005-10-05 07:52:17
Preposterous Nonsense
Your heartfelt flame doesn't clearly say what you consider to be nonsense, so it's hard for me to defend myself.


I'm not 'appeased'; it's not like I'm rushing out to buy a Dell machine based solely on the posts I've read on a few weblogs.


My point was intended to be about communication, and the willingness (or otherwise) of large corporations to communicate openly with customers and users.


I simply don't accept the argument (made elsewhere in the comments here) that MS's apparent openness is a result of it being so behind the competition, *and that by logical consequence*, Apple has no need to open up at all. It just doesn't follow. Why can't a market leader allow just a little insight into its internal activities? Being market-leading web services hasn't stopped Google and Yahoo opening up with official and not-so-official communications channels.


From my point of view, the good thing about this article was the fantastic response it triggered from readers, almost all of whom had a valid criticism or useful additional insight to add.

decoder
2005-10-05 18:51:51
Preposterous Nonsense
The ellipticism of your response is great: you end with my initial conclusion, which, btw, answers your other question: I didn't enumerate the preposterous aspects because that has duly been done.


You also don't answer the claim that you are falling for a Microsoft ruse by refuting a straw man argument. The insane irony is that Mickey has been doing this same nonsense forever, and your not even acknowledging that is ludicrous. You mentioned Office. Remember when they first promised to 'open up' and make all the apps use XML? Go ask Tim Bray about that. The promise... the reality...

MattSherman
2005-10-06 09:25:24
Old school mythology
Excellent point, Giles. I've lost count of the number of rebuilds I have done for family members' Windows machines.