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Platforms

Steve Jobs, January 7th, 1997, 18 days after the Apple acquisition of NeXT:

We've got to get the spark back with the developers. [..] We've got to get the developers back. Now, how are we going to do that? What's our strategy to do that?

I'm not going to go back to the Apple ][ days, so we'll start off with DOS. If you're a developer, you can build an app, let's use a metaphor of the floors of a building, you can build an app that's three floors tall, but you can't build an app that's 10 floors tall, because you all read The Mythical Man-Month, what happens is as your software team starts getting bigger it kinda collapses under its own weight, like a building built of wood. You can't build a building built of wood that high. So, let's say you can build a three story app, well, that means if you start off with DOS you're on the first floor, you can deliver a fourth story app.

Well, what we did with the Mac was, we had an OS that was about the same as DOS, but then what we did was we put this thing called the Toolbox on top of it that lifted the developer up to the fifth floor, so that they could write an app like PageMaker and deliver an eight floor app on Mac, because they started at the fifth floor, that they could never, ever, ever deliver on DOS. And that's why all these wonderful apps propelled Apple into this exciting markets over the years.

But, there's a problem now. And the problem is a very simple one. It's called: Windows. The Mac didn't progress much beyond the fifth floor, and over ten years, Microsoft copied it. And now they can offer developers, you know, you squint your eyes, one's a little better than the other in some areas, but you squint your eyes and they're basically both fifth floor. That's not good for us. It's even a little worse. Because they've been a little ahead of us in getting a multi-threaded, multi-tasking operating system underneath Windows. And that's arguably even better for the developer.

So, here's what we have to do. What we have to do is bring out an operating system that's even more advanced than NT. And this is not easy. This is not easy to do because these operating systems are very complex. We forget many times that it's taken NT eight years to get where it is today. Eight years. So to do this, we can't do this overnight. Fortunately, we've got one that's been battle tested and is ready for the challenge. But on top of that, we're going to put something called OpenStep, and OpenStep lets you start developing your apps on the 20th floor. And the kinds of apps you can deliver are phenomenal.

What does it mean to be a platform?

A platform is both its own foundation, the starting point for everything built on top of it, and the collective embodiment of those things.

The original Mac and its line of successors did not invent Desktop Publishing. It provided an environment that was conducive to graphical applications, where you could put up bitmapped graphics, and through the metaphor of windows and zooming and moving around, could render printer quality typesetting. (It had not been completely impossible to produce such typesetting, but doing so while limited to a monospaced 80 column terminal was an arduous process.) The system provided the cultural foundation as well as the technical foundation to put you a few floors up, in Steve's metaphor, and the combination of production-quality, production-ready apps and more and more capable hardware invented and made the industry.

Similarly, the original Apple ][ a few years earlier did not invent computerized spreadsheets. It seems hard to grasp now, but Apple ][ was one of the first instances of a computer and a "user terminal" being co-habitated. This made personally interactive applications possible to a larger degree and within two years, Dan Bricklin had started work on VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet as we know it.

Science describes a Cambrian explosion when all of a sudden, due to an available niche, organisms adapt and change shape on a time scale that is, relatively speaking, overnight. When the right circumstances exist, great things will emerge.

Platforms understand this and seek this synergy. Using the capabilities and the culture and the code in the base, the application can solve problems that it is built to solve in the best way it knows how to. The platform becomes a world teeming with life, with new possibilities, with problems solved in unimaginable ways. Without the world, no friendly, helpful, earnest critters floating freely in unoccupied interstellar space. Without the organisms, the world is essentially dead.

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