Hobbyist License

Dan Shafer dan at danshafer.com
Thu Aug 15 10:14:01 EDT 2002

Richard Gaskin wrote, in part:

At 4:50 AM -0400 8/15/02, use-revolution-request at lists.runrev.com wrote:
>But as Apple discovered, a $99 scripting tool does not appear to be viable.

I'm not actually convinced Apple learned this. I think what Apple 
learned was that, for a multi-million-dollar *hardware* company that 
found itself more or less accidentally in the software business, a 
$99 scripting tool isn't a viable product.

And I doubt there are a lot of people in the world, let alone in 
xTalkLand, who would argue that Apple is a great marketing company. 
Historically, in fact, they are quite poor at the real guts of 
marketing: figuring out what customers want and then making it 
available broadly at an affordable price.

>In addition to the costs associated with all other software development
>(mostly r&d and marketing), the support costs for scripting products are
>much higher than with nearly any other type of software.  Even Metrowerks
>has relatively lower support costs, as they support only the IDE itself and
>not the language; the vendor of a proprietary scripting tool must support
>Further, the casual user more inclined to buy a non-professional license is
>likely to require more support than someone with more experience and a more
>disciplined approach to programming.

This might be a viable argument if RR provided any support for the 
product, but in an era of Web/Internet/user-supported software, there 
is no real reason why it is necessary for a buyer of a low-end 
product to expect or receive tech support at no additional cost from 
the publisher. One of the things I think Open Source and Web sites 
have conditioned people to -- other than the unfortunate sense that 
everything should cost nothing! -- is that support from fellow users 
is at least as good as, if not better than, what the company would 
provide at a fee.

I don't believe support needs to play a role in crafting such product 
policies a we are discussing here unless the publisher wanted to make 
it an issue.

>And perhaps most significant of all is the role that personality types play
>in all this.

<There followed some good stuff about programming mentality which 
I've ommitted for the sake of reducing clutter but which I recommend 
you read!>

While you are certainly right in your basic position, I would 
challenge your underlying assumption that programming is programming 
is programming and that merely reducing the price of a tool will 
create more programmers. On the contrary. When HyperCard was in its 
heyday and I was traveling the world promoting my books and speaking 
to user groups, I found literally thousands of people who had 
"accidentally" backed into becoming scripters because of the 
wonderfully seductive nature of the beast.

And this wasn't true only of HyperCard/HyperTalk. Other tools 
produced similar results, though perhaps not on the scale of HC. 
Bonnie Nardi, who joined Apple's senior research staff for several 
years, wrote a book called "A Small Matter of Programming" that 
investigated how untrained users became programmers in many senses of 
the word.

I studied this phenomenon closely for some years. I came up with the 
phrase "Inventive Users" to describe the "next layer" of 
programmer/scripter types who were not professional programmers, did 
not engage in programming for a living, and who were really intent on 
solving problems they or their colleagues or family members had. I 
published the "Inventive User Letter" for a brief period before the 
channel of distribution for it went away. I believe Apple studies 
prove that a huge proportion of the folks who bought HyperCard or 
used it did some measure of scripting.

FWIW, my conjecture is that if Apple had left HyperCard with Claris, 
it would have been improved and extended so well that it would *be* 
what RR has become (at least conceptually), but with more market 
muscle behind it. Before Apple re-seized HyperCard from Claris, I saw 
demonstrated fully color versions of the product running on Mac and 
Windows. I had copies of these things (though they were time-expired 
and have long since disappeared). They weren't done yet, but they 
were clearly proof that the product was viable.

So, apologies for the long-winded reply here, but I think it is 
important as we debate the potential resurgence of xCard/xTalk 
products that we not make the mistake of thinking that Apple has 
"been there, done that" and that it didn't work. Apple hasn't been 
there, didn't do that, and really doesn't know what would or wouldn't 
work if they gave it a legitimate shot.

This is why I'm encouraged by what I see and hear of RR so far. The 
company's fortunes ride not on selling more overpriced, feature-laden 
computers to an elite group of users (including me!) but on making 
this product work. They have some ways to go but their progress so 
far is remarkable. I am encouraged each time I do something in RR and 
I get goose-bumps at the prospect of being able to rely on such a 
wonderful product as HyperCard-on-steroids (legal ones, of course!) 
once again for things my wife, my friends, my children, my 
grandchildren, and I want our computers to do but for which no 
software company is going to provide a solution.
Dan Shafer
Technology Visionary - Technology Assessment - Documentation
"Looking at technology from every angle"
831-392-1127 Voice - 831-401-2531 Fax

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