Development by accretion; Apple repeats NeXT’s error?

Jef Raskin, one of the big movers and shakers behind the MacOS graphical user interface, was interviewed by The Guardian. He notes that Apple develops “by accretion”, not fixing the old stuff but acquiring new stuff to throw on top of the old stuff (in the hopes you won’t notice the underlying broken stuff).

This is a shame, but predictable.

At NeXT, Steve Jobs’ former company which Apple bought out and eventually used to build much of what is in MacOS X today, various “kits” or packages of functionality, were introduced, used by what few small third-party developers delivered anything for NeXTSTEP, and then those loyal developers were frustrated as quite a few kits were dropped.

PhoneKit (for ISDN support), MusicKit (for doing fancy music stuff with the NeXT cube’s DSP chip; this was picked up by a third party), IndexingKit (for fast searches of documents), and other kits were dropped soon after they were released. NeXT treated 3rd party developers like crap and few stuck around to keep getting kicked around.

This is one of the reasons NeXTSTEP and OPENSTEP (which, despite the name, was not “open source”) are highly overrated operating systems.

Worse yet, when the kits were dropped, they remained proprietary software. So developers couldn’t inspect the source code of the kit, copy the useful parts into their programs so as to increase the odds of justifying continued development.

I look at MacOS X today and I wonder if it has pretty much seen all the innovation it will see for the next 5 or 10 years. After a while, NeXT seemed to only care about certain aspects of NeXTSTEP and OPENSTEP (like WebObjects, another kit for making database-driven websites like web-based storefronts). The lower level parts (like the underlying BSD 4.3 OS) didn’t get upgraded or enhanced to fix annoyances like having to reboot to really clear out the swapfile.

By the way, WebObjects didn’t take off and never will. It was too clumsy to do what it tries to do and being proprietary it’s inherently untrustworthy. There’s tons of free software to do the same work and that is clearly where web merchants have gone for their web-based storefronts.