Working at Eazel – An Interview with Gene Ragan

Filed under: People

Gene Ragan has had “the privilege of working with many of the legends of Apple”. The list of people is impressive and includes Mike Boich, Jean-Louis Gassée, Andy Hertzfeld, Erich Ringewald, Steve Sakoman, Bud Tribble, Susan Kare and many others.

Ragan started out at Be and then went on to Apple where he had two stints. The first time he was on the Final Cut Pro team, while later he was in the User Experience Group where he worked on the Finder, Spotlight and wrote substantial parts of Time Machine and Core Animation.

Regan came to Apple after working at Eazel. Founded and staffed by key Apple people such as Andy Hertzfeld, Bud Tribble and Mike Boich, Eazel is a little known VC-backed startup which tried to build a better interface for GNU/Linux and open source software systems, while still making some money out of it. Unfortunately it didn’t work and Eazel went out of business in May 2001. This was just a couple of months after releasing its first product, a file manager for the GNOME desktop environment, called Nautilus, which later served as the base of the current GNOME Files.

I asked Mr. Regan to talk about his experience at the startup. (more…)

Tuesday 20 February 2018, 12:59 pm
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On Apple Multimedia – An Interview with Dan Crow (part two)

Filed under: People,Software

Flattr thisThis is the second part of Stories of Apple’ interview with Dan Crow, who was originally hired by Apple to work on AMT (Apple Media Tool) but stayed on and contributed to other important Apple multimedia technologies.

SoA: After AMT you worked on QuickTime: what did you contribute?

DC: I initially worked on QT 3.0. I helped write many of the standard QuickTime effects that were introduced in the 3.0 release, as well as helping engineer some of the core QuickTime event handling code. I also got involved with the QuickTime interactive project (QTi) which was designed to be the next generation of QuickTime architecture. It was interesting stuff, but I was still more interested in applications, especially multimedia authoring apps. After 3.0 was released, I moved over to manage the QuickTime applications team which was responsible for the QuickTime Player and PictureViewer applications as well as HyperCard – more about HyperCard below.

QuickTime 4.0 playerWe re-architected QTPlayer during my time on the team, making it a much more robust piece of software. We also introduced the infamous new UI in QuickTime 4.0. This was the first use of the “brushed metal” look in an Apple product – a UI that is still used in Mac OS X today. The UI team and I worked closely with Steve Jobs to design that new UI, which was quite an experience.

After the launch of QuickTime 4.0, I decided I wanted to go back to working as an engineer for a while. I was interested in the Java programming language, which was just gaining popularity at the time. I joined the Java team working on the first release of the Apple JVM for Mac OS X, which was approaching its first beta release. I got to work on the Java event handling system and contributed to the Mac OS X Carbon event handling stack. I also implemented the JVM integration for Microsoft’s first Internet Explorer release for Mac OS X . This was particularly interesting as it involved me working at Microsoft for three months while I implemented the JVM hooks in their code. It was strange being an Apple employee working on Microsoft source code inside the Microsoft engineering labs in Mountain View!

By this time of course, Steve Jobs had returned to Apple and the company was beginning its renaissance with the launch of the iMacs and Mac OS X. I had been at Apple for four years and wanted to move on. I was also living in San Francisco and feeling the effects of three hours of commuting to Cupertino every day. I left Apple and joined the first of a string of startups in San Francisco.

SoA: How was working on Hypercard? What was its role in the Apple of the late Nineties?

DC: Apple was very ambivalent about HyperCard in the late 90s.

HyperCard in the Nineties

To be honest, I don’t think many in the company fully understood it or its potential. HyperCard had been bounced over to Claris then moved back to Apple. When I managed the engineering team, we were working on HyperCard 3.0 which was going to be a ground-up rewrite. We were reimplementing the code in C++ and making it a tool to author interactive QuickTime movies. This would have allowed HyperCard stacks to run anywhere QuickTIme was available – meaning on Microsoft Windows and on websites. HyperCard’s great strength was it was allowed non-programmers to create complex, rich applications. The potential of having these users creating their applications as QuickTIme movies was very exciting. Unfortunately, our management, and in particular Steve Jobs, didn’t see the potential, and in late 1998 the HyperCard project was canceled and the team dispersed.

SoA: How was Apple after the return of Steve Jobs?

DC: Steve’s return to Apple was extraordinary. He transformed the company and I have no doubt at all that he saved it. Apple was struggling and losing a lot of money. Morale within the company was very low and the employees had lost trust in the executive management. Apple had built its reputation as a consumer-focused company and seemed to have lost its way, it no longer seemed to care about consumers, but hadn’t found a new group of users who wanted its products.

Steve Jobs and Gil AmelioSteve’s return electrified the company, in part because of his reputation as the founder of the company, and in part because he immediately took charge and started to transform Apple back into a consumer-focused company. Steve’s great talent is his extraordinary intuition for creating products that consumers love. He understands how to integrate form and function into truly compelling products – the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and Mac OS X are all examples of this.

He also knows that for a company to succeed it must focus on a vision and execute ruthlessly. He saw an Apple that had hundreds of products with no clear unifying theme. He quickly set about removing projects that didn’t align with his vision of what Apple should be. He created new projects – most notably the iMac – that clearly stated who Apple’s customers were and what the company would do. Within a year he had transformed the company, both financially and as an organization. it was fun and exciting to work for Apple again. When you told family and friends you worked there suddenly the questions went from “Apple who?” to great interest in what was going on and what was coming next.

The flipside of Steve’s genius is he’s a painful boss to work for. His standards are extraordinary and he expects nothing but the absolute best from those working with him. He drove himself and the company extremely hard. We needed it, but it also burnt out a lot of good people.

SoA: How would you sum up the years you spent working for Apple?

DC: It was four years of the most exhilarating and frustrating times. Seeing Steve turn Apple around was incredible. I learned so much about software, people and organizations during my time there. I wouldn’t trade that experience in for anything. On the other hand, I don’t think I’d do it again.

SoA: Is there any particularly funny or weird story you were part of or you witnessed at Infinite Loop?

DC: Yes, lots, most of which I couldn’t repeat. There was the time a group of us tried to sell Steve on eBay. On another occasion a colleague of mine leaked some remarks Steve had made at an internal meeting to the press, then got called into Steve’s office for a “discussion” which was a pretty traumatic experience for her. But my favorite story is this: Infinite Loop is a series of buildings that surround a very large and pleasant grassed area. There were benches and pathways through this area where you often saw small groups gathering to discuss matters or play frisbee. One day I was walking across to the cafe when I saw the familiar sight of Steve on one of the benches. He was deep in conversation with a rather small and disheveled looking man. I knew Steve as he was working on the QuickTime UI project at the time, so I said “hi” as I walked past. Steve said “hi” back and the man he was with looked up and said “hi” too. It was, of course, Bill Gates. I still don’t know what plans the two of them were hatching, but I’m sure it changed the world.

SoA: What are you working on, now?

DC: After leaving Apple I worked at several startups. My first, Verb, lasted a year and then ran out of money, right at the bottom of the 2000/2001 dot-com implosion. I moved on to work at a company called guru.com which was eventually acquired by Unicru. After three exciting years there, I wanted to try my hand at another early-stage startup. I co-founded a company called Blurb.com with Eileen Gittins, who had been my CEO at Verb. I got Blurb off the ground, helping it develop and launch the first version of its BookSmart software. Blurb lets anyone create and publish their own bookstore-quality books – go to blurb.com and try them out.

This took me to 2006, by which time I had been living in San Francisco for ten years. My wife and I decided it was time for a change of scenery and lifestyle, so we decided to move to New York. I was lucky enough to get an interview with Google’s New York office, and for the last eighteen months I have been working as a Product Manager for Google. I started out working on the search quality team dealing with our crawling systems. I’ve recently started on a new project, which I’m afraid I can’t tell you much about right now – come back in a year and I’ll tell you all about it.

Update: this interview was done during 2008. In the meantime I checked on Dan and he let me know that his project was Google Squared and that “the technology that powers its is now being used to answer certain types of query in Google’s core web search”. After leading the Squared project and working on it until July 2009 Dan is now working in Google’s London office on advanced advertising systems.

The screenshots of QuickTime 4.0 and HyperCard are “courtesy of Apple”, while the picture of Steve Jobs and Gil Amelio is from www.rdl.com.lb

Monday 12 July 2010, 8:21 am
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On Apple Multimedia – An Interview with Dan Crow (part one)

Filed under: People,Software


Flattr this
Some years ago I came by two packaged and unopened copies of a little known software sold by Apple. Called Apple Media Tool, it was a competitor to Director and Toolbook, an authoring tool cum programming environment created for designers who had no programming background but wanted to build multimedia presentations for interactive CD-ROMs.

Dan CrowTo tell the story of this software I contacted Dan Crow, who worked at Apple on a lot of key multimedia projects such as QuickTime and Hypercard, starting with Apple Multimedia Tool, of which he was put in charge.

Dan, who is now at Google, not only graciously answered to all of my questions about his work but also provided a fascinating background of what was life at Apple during the mid-Nineties and then after Steve Jobs came back and began to transform Infinite Loop. Thanks a lot, Dan!

Stories of Apple: Would you tell the Stories of Apple readers a bit about yourself, about your background and where do you come from, professionally speaking?

Dan Crow: I’m a software developer and product manager. I first got interested in computers in early 1982, when my mother purchased a Sinclair ZX81. I taught myself to program BASIC and Z80 assembly language before graduating to a series of more advanced personal computers. Eventually I became so interested in programming that I interned at IBM for a year and then went to the University of Leeds to study Computer Science. I graduated from Leeds in 1989 and decided to stay on to pursue a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, specifically working on intelligent user interfaces.

AMT boxSoA: Your first role at Apple was Lead Engineer on AMT, the Apple Media Tool. Can you shed some light on its history?

DC: AMT was originally written by a Belgian software developer called Patrick Soquet. Patrick is an exceptionally talented software engineer and a really nice guy. He was inspired by the Eiffel programming language and implemented his own version of it which he called Key. He not only created a Key compiler, but also a full development environment and a simple to use graphical UI for generating Key source code. This UI was focused on authoring multimedia presentations. Patrick offered the whole Key environment to Apple, who saw the potential of it and started selling it as the Apple Media Tool (AMT) and its accompanying Apple Media Tool Programming Environment (AMTPE).

Patrick was initially the sole developer of the software with Apple simply marketing and selling it under its brand. In the summer of 1996, Apple negotiated with Patrick to take over the full rights to AMT and AMTPE and created a small internal development team to produce future versions of the software. This is the team that I lead from late 1996 to early 1997.

SoA: How did you join the AMT team?

DC: After graduating from Leeds for a second time, I worked as Head of Software Development for a small multimedia company in the UK called Art of Memory. This was back in the days before the web took off, so we worked on CD-ROMs and kiosk systems. The company specialized in multimedia production for museums and we created pieces for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York amongst others. It was at Art of Memory that I first worked with HyperCard and the Apple Media Tool (AMT).

At Art of Memory we developed a series of extensions to AMT, and I became active on the developer mailing list. As we became more involved with software development for AMT I became increasingly interested in the tool itself. I eventually got in touch with the AMT team at Apple and wound up with a contract to write the technical documentation for an upcoming version of the tool.

As part of the contract I spent a week at Infinite Loop. It was my first visit to California (though not America) and I was impressed by Apple, by the AMT team and by San Francisco. I recall flying out of San Francisco airport, with the sun setting over the Bay, and thinking that was the place I wanted to live and work.

So, for the next few months I lobbied to become a full-time member of the AMT team. In the end I think they got tired of my constant pestering and decided that the only way to shut me up was to offer me a job. So in the Fall of 1996 I became the tech lead on AMT and moved with my wife to California.

The Apple Media Tool environment

SoA: How was the experience?

DC: We launched version 2.1 a few months after I arrived. We then began work on the next version. Unfortunately Apple was in turmoil at the time. This was the period when Gil Amelio was CEO and the company was running into deep financial problems. Apple had become very fragmented at this time and there were teams working on projects that competed with each other. We produced dozens of different Mac models which confused our customers and most of them simply weren’t that exciting. There was huge internal debate about if we should be a software or a hardware company and if we should pursue consumers, educational customers or corporation. Worst of all the Mac OS was outdated, slow and had lost its UI edge. There were a lot of unhappy people at Apple.

Our management decided to try to rationalize what Apple did. Unfortunately for me, one of the victims of this was AMT. Apple produced AMT, FileMaker (through the Claris subsiduary) and HyperCard and that was at least one similar product too many. Sadly, AMT was the product we decided to end. The problem was that although AMT had some very enthusiastic developers who were creating some very cutting edge products with it, they only numbered around 10,000. HyperCard was in use by hundreds of thousands of Mac users, so AMT was canceled and the team was reassigned to QuickTime.

SoA: And what happened of AMT after that? Was it definitely shelved?

DC: Following Apple’s decision to cancel AMT as an Apple product, there were various attempts to find a new home for the tool. A number of developers who were using it expressed an interest in seeing it become an independent product, as well as some members of the Apple AMT team. Eventually, Patrick joined forces with a number of other AMT fans and brought back the rights to AMT and AMTPE. They launched a new company, tribeworks.com, to develop and sell AMT, which they renamed iShell. In 2006 iShell was acquired from Tribeworks by a new company called tribalmedia. iShell continues to have a loyal following of developers and you can see what AMT has evolved into by visiting them at www.tribalmedia.com

(continues in part two)

The picture of Dan Crow is courtesy of Dan himself and is from the Flickr account of Danny Sullyvan. The AMT environment screenshot is from an old University of Calgary Newsletter.

Monday 05 July 2010, 8:27 am
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Captain Crunch on Apple – original audio recording available

Filed under: People

Just a short update to let you know there is also an unedited audio recording of the chat with Mr. Draper on which the “Captain Crunch on Apple – An interview with John Draper” piece is based.

You can find it in MP3 form in the Document Archive section of the Stories of Apple website, along with other material of historic importance pertaining to Apple’s history, design, imagery, sales and legal matters.

Enjoy!

Friday 05 December 2008, 8:29 am
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Captain Crunch on Apple – An interview with John Draper

Filed under: Hardware,People,Software

Nota: l’intervista è disponibile anche in una versione tradotta in italiano su Storie di Apple.it

At the MOCA2008 “hacker camp” in Italy I had the pleasure to meet and speak with John T. Draper. Draper is better known as Captain Crunch a man whose work and life are deeply intertwined with the history of hacking, phreaking and the personal computer industry.

Here’s the transcription of the short chat we had, which verged mostly on his interactions with Apple, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs and also his use of Macs.

Captain Crunch chat 03Stories of Apple: What’s the story behind you doing the Apple II phone board?
John Draper: Let’s start talking a bit about how I met Steve Wozniak. […] He contacted me when I was a DJ at KKUP radio. He asked whether or not I could come down and see his bluebox. He wanted me to show him how to use it. I was very suspicious of him. It was at a time during which there was a lot of busts going on and I thought this might have been a setup.
So I made my arrangements to go see him without having anything on me and illegal things not being there. When I saw him he showed me the bluebox: I was not impressed.
The problem with this bluebox was that it had a square wave instead of a sine wave: the tones are not pure, They sound crappy and anybody using one of those Woz’s blueboxes would often drop a trouble card in the switch because the switch wouldn’t recognize tones and wouldn’t accept them.
[…] As my relationship with him grew […] he introduced me to Steve Jobs. (more…)



 


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