The road back

As its share of the worldwide PC market has declined, Apple has also seen a gradual exodus of its developers to Microsoft's Windows platform. The man responsible for luring them back is Clent Richardson, Apple's senior director of developer relations. Matthew JC. Powell spoke with him about the daunting task aheadARN: Apple's partnership with Microsoft was announced with much fanfare in August 1997, but since then further partnership announcements have been extremely low-key. What are you doing to raise the profile of Apple's relationship with its developers?

Richardson: When I joined in December last year, we took a long look at our developer organisation, we looked at the people we had there, and we reorganised to make sure we had the right team. We asked ourselves: "Are the programs right? Are the developers happy? Are we doing the right things?" Most importantly, we asked if the developers were in a position to exploit our hardware strategies when we rolled them out.

In April, we implemented a single worldwide program of developer support. That's the first time in the history of Apple we've done that. Before, there was an Australian program, a Japanese one, an Italian one. There were a lot of different levels, and it was very confusing. The feedback we got from all these people was, "I want what they've got". Lots of people were joining, for instance, the Australian and US programs just to get all the benefits. In a way, without meaning to, we were taking advantage of the developers. Which program should you join, for example, if you're an Australian developer shipping product to the US?

We've also revamped the developer Web site, to make information much more easily accessible and logical.

With reference to one developer in particular, Intuit announced a few months ago that it was ceasing support for the Mac in its Quicken accounting software. Then only a few days later it reversed that decision, apparently after Steve Jobs briefed the company on Apple's hardware strategies including iMac. What are you doing to keep developers "in the loop", to stop these kinds of defections?

We're seeing a number of developers coming back to the platform, and a number of developers coming to the platform that have never been here before. There have also been a lot of hardware and USB announcements since the iMac was announced.

When Steve Jobs was appointed interim CEO about a year ago, we leaked information like a sieve. Apple couldn't maintain any confidentiality around anything. With iMac, we proved that we can now. And we've seen the benefit of controlling the information and managing it. We've got a lot of publicity and a lot of mindshare, because we kept that a secret.

Now there's nothing else to worry about. Our hardware strategy is announced, and the last piece of that was iMac. Our operating system strategy is announced, and the last piece of that was Mac OS X. There are no more secrets. We had to keep the secrets to get our house in order.

It's been a bumpy ride for your developers over the last few years, with projects such as OpenDoc, Newton and Copland being dropped, and the grand scheme of Rhapsody with its "write once run anywhere" promise, which is now very much underplayed with Mac OS X. How can you create any certainty in the minds of developers that you won't change your minds again?

From now on, everything we do is Mac OS. We've killed some things like Newton and OpenDoc that weren't core to what we are about, which is Mac OS. What we were doing was not focused, and what Steve has had to do is make a lot of tough decisions. Our number one priority is Mac OS X, our number two priority is Java, number three is QuickTime, ColorSync and AppleScript. That's all there is.

It's up to us to make it happen. We've got to execute on these strategies, and move things forward. And we've still got to earn some stripes for that. If we do a great job in terms of price/performance, advertising, marketing and all that, we'll be able to grow our business, which creates a healthy ecosystem for developers.

But what are you doing to create certainty in the minds of your developers that you will stick to that strategy?

I can't run out and tell people we're not going to change our minds. Apple has lost credibility with customers, developers and the media. All we can do is shut up and execute. We're not running around talking about what we're going to do, we're just doing it.

The way we gain credibility is announcing a product like iMac, making sure it gets through to the channel, making sure we get the advertising right. We have to execute properly.

I can't say to you, "trust me". We don't have that credibility yet.

On the subject of Java, Apple has announced it's working with Microsoft to make sure your "flavours" of Java are compatible. This essentially puts you on the opposite side of the fence from Sun with its "100 per cent pure Java". What are the implications of that decision for developers?

What our agreement with Microsoft means is that they will be using our runtime and our JIT (just-in-time compiler) in Internet Explorer on this platform. I'm not sure what the implications are for developers, but I can tell you that in terms of caffeine marks, our performance sucks. Steve has said we want the Mac to be the best platform for Java, and we've got a very long way to go to reach that goal. In terms of "100 per cent pure" Java, that's got to do with Sun and Netscape and others trying to stop the tide of Microsoft making platform-specific versions of Java, and we really don't want to get involved in that. All we want to do is make sure that our JIT and our runtime are as good or better than on other platforms, and that our developers have one consistent Java environment to write to, at least on this platform.

At the Macworld Expo in January, Oracle announced it would be releasing its enterprise applications in Java, and that would pass for Mac support. It doesn't really. What are you doing to get enterprise developers to support the Mac?

Some enterprise developers, including Oracle, SPSS and others, have said they are going to be developing applications only for Java. They're not going to do any platform-specific development - not NT, not 95/98, not Mac, just Java. That's no worse for us than it is for Windows or Unix, because with Java everyone's supposed to be on parity. We're working closely with Oracle to make the improvements to our Java system to make their apps work well on the Mac. But we're not aggressively pursuing the enterprise space. We're trying to make sure we have a good parity with other platforms so we can exist in that market.