Get unwired (and play) with Airport

The Airport technology was introduced in 1999 but only during the following year Apple managed to have all of the Macintosh line officially capable to use WiFi networking.

Logo AirportIn 2000 not only iBooks but also iMacs, PowerBooks and Power Macs supported an internal Airport card and could connect to Apple’s Airport Base using the 802.11b standard.

To showcase the possibilities of wireless networking Apple put online a demo, a small game in QuickTime made by Greg Gilman using LiveStage Pro (according to the movie properties). The game showed the plan of a flat and, on the left, three big buttons.

You could click the first button to choose a Mac and then drag it to the diagram on the right while clicking the second button and dragging you could add AirPort cards to the Macs.

Finally, a click to the third button, would show an Airport Base: as soon as it was dropped anywhere inside of the house (or even outside, which was unrealistic) the demo would show the transmitting waves of WiFi transmission.

The Internet Archive has copies of Apple’s website including the Airport Demo page but the QuickTime Movie is missing.

Fortunately if you search a bit you can find a copy of just the .mov file on a third party website so that ten years after you can still “Get unwired” and play with Apple’s Airport technology.

The Airport logo and Apple.com website are “Courtesy of Apple”.

Tuesday 07 September 2010, 2:50 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 site 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 and 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


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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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Peter Hoddie, QuickTime architect

Filed under: People,Software

Currently CEO of Generic Media Peter Hoddie is one of the many important and talented developers in Apple history and also a key to its prominent position in the music business.

QuickTime 7.5 music - Peter HoddieHow come, you ask? Well, for nearly a decade Hoddie has played a crucial role in defining, building and promoting Infinite Loop’s multimedia QuickTime technology. He has held the position of “Distinguished Engineer and Senior QuickTime Architect”, leading the technical and strategic developments of Apple’s multimedia software and also helping to establish several industry standards including ISO’s MPEG-4.

A small but significant clue of his involvemente in Quick Time development can be seen on the content provided on old Macintosh System software. Hoddie, who holds six U.S. Patents in the area of digital media, in the Nineties also transcribed the Bach, Beethoven and Mozart compositions included as midi files (and playable with QuickTime instruments) on the Mac OS 7.5 CD.

Wednesday 03 December 2008, 8:54 am
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