Dojo (HowTo)







  Easter Eggs




  Martial Arts

HISTORY of AIM (Software)
Taligent, OpenDoc, Kalieda and General Magic.

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

In the early 90's, IBM was becoming irrelevant and Motorola was looking to get into the computer Hardware business (not just processors but systems). Microsoft was the biggest threat to the industry and was killing innovation and behaving like a monopoly (well some things haven't changed).

IBM and Apple started making nice and talking treaties. Apple was years ahead of IBM technologically (when it came to PC software), and IBM wanted in. Apple wanted the power of the name (IBM). So Apple and IBM made some broad reaching software (and hardware) agreements, to help both of them with their computer businesses. Part of the agreements included getting Motorola involved in the processor part of the agreement, but this article is about the software side of the fence.

The Hardware

IBM and Apple both had OS's that were superior to Microsoft. Heck, there are public domain OS's (like Linux) that are better than Windows -- but I digress. Both Apple and IBM wanted new ways to attract users to their OS's. A hardware deal was struck for both Apple (Motorola) and IBM to develop a new family of processors and use them as the basis of their OS. The Processor was the PowerPC, and has been a raging success but if you want to read about that see History of AIM, Hardware.

The Software

The deal was larger than just the hardware side of the PowerPC. IBM was hurting and had mispredicted the way (and speed) at which the micro-computer industry would grow. IBM had also seen that Apple had been leading the industry for 20 years, and that Microsoft was only following Apples lead. Apple had managed to be different from the rest of the industry, and maintain its own market. IBM wanted to deal. So part of the AIM agreements were to spin off Apple technologies into new companies, that IBM was involved with. These companies would be co-owned and co-controlled.

IBM was working on an Object-Oriented OS, but it was mostly theory, and IBM is slow. Apple already had a design and partial implementation of their next-generation OS called Pink. This was Apples response to NeXTSTEP. IBM wanted in, and got in. They decided to split the project out into a separate company called Taligent.

Apple was working on a universal scripting architecture for multi-media called Project-X (with the new language called Script-X). IBM wanted in as well, and so they broke that company out into Kalieda.

As long as they were breaking out companies, Apple was also working on some connectivity and communication OS for computers and PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants). This was competing with the Newtons a bit, but also meant to do a lot more in the communication side. Since this was Apple's "new" era of sharing and spinning off, General Magic (with its Magic-Cap OS) was created.

Well those three spinoffs failed. There was a joke of the time -

Question: What do you get when you cross Apple with IBM?

All the spin offs had problems that led to their demise. The common failure was that neither IBM nor Apple were going to commit to out-of house designs that the other had partial control of. Both companies have little kingdoms (IBM has big ones) that are always fighting one another -- but the one thing IBM and Apple politics agrees on is picking on the new guy and protecting their own turf. The spinoffs and their technologies were the "new guys".

Taligent - The OS that never was.

Apple had created MacApp in the early 80's. It was a powerful Framework that allowed developers to create better applications in less time. When Steve Jobs broke away from Apple ('86), he created NeXT. At first NeXT was going to be a hardware company (like Apple) -- but as they wrote the OS for it, they started using their Object Oriented Design knowledge (from the Mac and elsewhere) to create an Object Oriented Operating System. The power and value of the OS far outweighed the value of another hardware platform -- and NeXT became an Object-Oriented OS company (by the early 90's).

During this same time (late 80's) Apple was progressing with their MacApp framework, and was improving the MacOS. There was infighting over how the MacOS should progress -- some wanted to just keep tweaking what they had in System 6 (adding functionality in a traditional manner), and others (from the MacApp side of the fence) wanted to make a new Object Oriented Operating System. The Vice President in charge of OS's was tracking the two competing projects using Post-It notes -- Pink for the OOD OS, and Blue for the incremental improvement based OS. Well Blue became System 7, and Pink became the code name for the OOD-OS. Since Pink was a long term project it wasn't too heavily staffed, but was more than a research project that was creating some code.

IBM was working on an Object Operating System, and NeXT's release was starting to draw the attention of both Apple and IBM. Next's OS (NeXT-STEP, later named OpenStep) was much easier to write for than anything else (and it was also easier for NeXT to maintain, upgrade, add features to, etc.) -- and Apple and IBM both wanted that as well. Pink started getting more funding inside of Apple and was progressing nicely when Apple and IBM started talking alliances. So Apple decided to spin off Pink into a separate company with IBM -- called Taligent. IBM brought a little to the table -- but mostly money and name.

Once it was spun off it was basically dead. The company never got focused, and the internal politics of both IBM and Apple meant that it was doomed. Even though Taligent got a lot of code working it wouldn't be accepted by either company. Apple wasn't committed to a technology that was not invented in-house and Apple didn't have control of. Once Taligent was spun off, Taligent was out of the internal loop to influence decisions inside of Apple -- so Taligents' people couldn't even defend themselves. About the same happened with IBM, if not worse. It was a neat project, and Apple and IBM would throw money at it, but neither were committed to it. Because Taligent had two different companies pulling in different directions, merged with two different Corporate cultures, they did not progress very fast -- and as usual the task was much larger than anyone had considered. By the time Taligent released something, it wouldn't even run on MacOS, and IBM had taken over most of the control -- but only so IBM could kill it in their own special way (death by bureaucracy). IBM threw some support behind it, but not much -- Apple less so. It was still-born, even if it had some good technology. IBM gobbled up the remains of the company, both got some code that they won't touch, and each company went their separate way.

The interesting thing was the NeXT was progressing nicely this whole time, and kept getting better and better -- all while not having the muscle to really market what they had, or distribute it on enough platforms to entice lots of development. Being a smaller company let them stay focused, and being free(er) of in-fighting has its advantages as well. Then Apple bought NeXT and ended up with something that is more feature rich and more mature than Taligent's OS. Apple ended up (through acquiring NeXT) with a better OS than they were shooting for in-house, and they have complete control-- and it may even have cost them less than their own development of Taligent. Live and learn, or in this case, Die and Learn.

OpenDoc - A Document Centric view of the desktop.

I believe the OpenDoc momentum started getting momentum later than the rest of AIM. Motorola was not heavily involved, but IBM was (as was Novell). It was not really a spin-off like the others -- but the technology was controlled through cross-agreements and independent organization (CIL - Component Integration Labs).

OpenDoc was a way to create a cross platform development environment and middle-ware around a Document-Centric view of the world. What this means is that users work with documents first, and place data in them -- instead of running Applications first to work on documents. It is a paradigm shift that was a little much for the industry to digest quickly. It was to run on OS/2, MacOS, and Windows and would allow for programmers to write once and distribute anywhere.

Much of OpenDocs momentum was stolen by the fact that IBM is slow (but thorough) and Novell is incompetent. Novell took over the Windows part of the program, and then screwed it up. A year or two into the project it was learned that Novell had done little (if anything) while Apple and IBM were progressing nicely. Novell also started to back out of the deal, as they were doing lousy at their other projects and needed to focus and sell off parts of their business. IBM took over Novells part, but that took time and momentum away. By now the industry started losing interest (we have a fickle industry), and Java was coming out and looking to be a cross platform language (and tools) which diminished some of the need for OpenDoc.

OpenDoc's UI and functionality would have complimented Java, but Sun is very proprietary right now (they are trying to out Apple, Apple with doing it all themselves) -- so they had little interest (it seems) in OpenDoc integration and functionality.

There is much more to OpenDoc that described and it would have meant a lot to small developers and users -- but Apple realized that it was going to cost a fortune and take a lot more time for the industry to mature enough to realize its benefits, so OpenDoc was put in holding with little support coming from Apple. The technology and concept will likely be recycled in the future -- but it will take time for the industry to realize how valid those concepts were, and will take a long time before Java can mature into something that can do what OpenDoc did. There is a chance that Apple will add some OpenDoc like functionality to OpenStep -- which is a shorter path to the same goal. OpenStep itself does cross platform development, and is easier than OpenDoc, and so was also a competing technology (though only vaguely).

Kalieda - Multi-media

Apple had created HyperCard and QuickTime. HyperCard allowed users to script programs, and make applications and multimedia presentations -- but it was not as powerful or as universal as it could be. QuickTime allowed streams of multimedia data (Sound, video, pictures, text, animation) to be presented, but didn't allow scripting. Other companies had scripting that integrated multimedia as well -- but there was no universal format for scripting and dealing with Multimedia seamlessly. Apple decided to solve that problem.

QuickTime allows for linear playback, but scripting allows for user interaction and random access. So while QT is nice for playing back a movie, HyperCard is better for asking the user to click on an object or movie, and then doing something based on the context.

Apple created an internal project to create a universal scripting language that would allow everyone (all tools developers and users) to learn one universal scripting language that could control all sorts of add-ons and data types (including multimedia).

When Apple and IBM were playing "spin-off the companies", IBM decided they wanted to be involved in this area too -- so Kalieda was created. Once Kalieda was spun off, the same thing as Taligent happened. Apple was not going to bet its future on an outside venture, so they continued to develop QuickTime and HyperCard.

Politics and engineering kept slowing Kalieda down -- and they delivered way late, after all IBM was involved. Don't get me wrong, Apple is often late as well, but no one can be late like IBM. IBM wasn't really committed. Apple needed something that did way more (and less) than what Kalieda would deliver, and Apple wasn't committed either. So Kalieda was basically still-born, and couldn't get off the ground. ScriptX (Kalieda's scripting language) took too long, was too slow, and the industry was less than interested in a technology that neither Apple nor IBM was committed to.

Apple kept working internally to improve QuickTime and HyperCard. Once ScriptX (and Kalieda) were officially dead, Apple was free to recommit totally to HyperCard and QuickTime. QuickTime Interactive (QTi) is the merging of those two technologies. QTi allows users to run QuickTime Movies that are basically HyperCard stacks (with QuickTime media built in). This means that new QuickTime movies can actually respond based on where the user clicks, ask for feedback, and basically become an "interactive" experience. Many tools can use this universal file format to create their content, and then they can distribute their content anywhere that QuickTime does. This is a win-win for Apple and the industry, and this time Apple is committed.

So once again, Apple came out of the spinoffs with something that was better than the spin-off was going to produce. The industry realizes that Apple is committed to QTi, and so it is likely to be a raging success. Of course it is not released yet, but Apple is showing it to developers, and it looks very good. It will be integrated with QuickTime 4 (early '98).

General Magic - Communications and an OS for PDA's

Apple had created their NewtonOS and Newton devices which were meant to be PDA's (Personal Digital Assistants). This was actually selling the Newton short. The NewtonOS was way to powerful and versatile to be "just" a PDA -- it was a hand-held computer. But Apple didn't realize that right away. Another group inside of Apple was working on communications and creating software towards that goal. The idea was that PDA's and Computers would want to have an easy to use interface that would allow communications of a new level. Instead of the PDA having to do everything, the PDA could send out an "Agent" (a small piece of code) that would be run on many host systems, and find the piece of information that you wanted. Since this is basically a benevolent "Virus", there had to be a lot of security. This would not only run on PDA's but all sort of computers. This company got spun off, and became General Magic.

Apple spun off this company with Motorola and Sony (so it is technically not AIM), and this was done before the AIM Alliance (around 1990). But General Magic was sort of a forerunner to AIM, and may have shown IBM that Apple was willing to let go of some control.

General Magic had unique issues, compared to the other spinoffs. Unlike the others which died of infighting, this was a technology that was not ready for prime time, in an industry that didn't know how to use it. The agents part was cool, but everyone was scared of it, and the security implications, and adoption was not universal. Without universal adoption, the technology was not nearly as useful. It was going to take years (decades) to get the acceptance necessary, and General Magic didn't have the funding to go that long, so they had to adapt. So General Magic adapted themselves by creating a PDA-OS that was lightweight and cool, that was geared around communication. Without the agent technology (that wasn't being accepted) MagicCap offered little that was superior to Newton, and was in fact a "direct" competitor. So now General Magic was competing directly with the parent company (Apple), with fewer resources, no compelling product, and in an industry that wasn't ready to accept PDA's OR their communications product.

General Magic basically died in the first weeding out of the PDA industry. The irony is that the really compelling part of their technology (the communications) is great -- and will resurface. In fact many of the things that it did are either in Java (or even ActiveX), or are the inspiration behind them. Java in some ways is just a more generalized (and less focused) ripoff of General Magic's communication agents.

General Magic was the most independent of the spinoffs, and as such they adapted themselves to respond to the market. Unfortunately they went the wrong direction. They were pioneers; like most pioneers, they took the arrows (and these were fatal). Their pioneering has enabled others -- and their communication agents concept will return (in some form) at a future date. So they have inspired and affected the industry -- even if they could not survive in it.


These spinoffs just didn't work. Its not that their products were not good, but the systems were against them. Spinoffs must act like small companies, yet they have the politics of big companies -- or worse; the politics of two big companies fighting over different interests. This is why many die. Smaller companies are usually successful because they are adept (adaptable), light and focuses... these spinoffs are handicapped with being none of those things. It is also harder to get internal support from the parent companies, and the industry figures that without the parent companies support, then the sibling is "dead" -- and it is often true.

Apple came out pretty good in all these cases. They wasted a lot of money, and some time, but have the most successful products in each of the markets they were going for with the spin-off companies. In fact Apple is the leader in each of those areas, so it was a big win -- even if the industry pundits only remember them as failures.

I don't think it was Apple's intent, but the spinoffs kept the industry (and IBM) distracted, while Apple furthered their own products. By the time the industry realized the spinoffs were "dead", Apple had the leading products in the same space, and is the "victor". So ironically Apple's disorganization and many competing and duplicate projects worked out to their advantage (for once). Also as usual, Apple was driving the industry and innovation through their artistic chaos -- but also as usual, the industry only remembers the failure for Apple and ignores the success.

For the future I see that Apple will continue to have the best Object Oriented Operating System with Rhapsody (OpenStep), the best Multi-Media standard (QuickTime), and the best PDA and lightweight communication software (Newton).

Created: 06/02/97
Updated: 11/09/02

Top of page

Top of Section