A Blog About Nothing

Tonight was the 10th anniversary of the last episode of Seinfeld (and coincidentally, the last call for Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra). I always got a kick out seeing the Mac in the background of Seinfeld’s apartment, and how he silently “upgraded” each year to Apple’s latest and greatest. In the final season, Jerry even had one of those crazy 20th Anniversary Macs.

Seinfeld is my favorite show of all time, and tonight’s anniversary got me to thinking what my computing life was like ten years ago. The dot come bubble hadn’t yet popped in everyone’s face. Some grave nerds were warning us that Y2K would would be the end of all things. And in my apartment, I connected to the internet via my 28.8k modem, and a Performa 630 running Mac OS 8.1, and believe me, it was uphill. Both ways.

So tonight I set the Wayback machine (literally, the awesome Internet Wayback Machine) for the spring of ’98 to see what was happening in publishing tech. Here are my Top 7 Finds.

7. The May issue of MacAddict reviewed a new product from Macromedia called Dreamweaver 1.0 and gave it a rating of “spiffy.” They were glad that it allowed folks to use that cutting edge CSS stuff. But it was a tad slow, even on a smokin’ PowerMac 8500.

6. A shareware company called Casady & Greene released an application for playing MP3s. They called it SoundJam. I gladly paid for it, and here’s my serial number to prove it: sj1-024-917-43422. SoundJam ruled. Apple realized this, bought it, and harvested the code and re-named it iTunes. OK, you may not think this is publishing tech, but it was to me. I got through innumerable Quark pages only with the sanity-saving help of SoundJam and a good pair of headphones.

5. The W3C made XML an official spec. It’s taken 10 years, but we’re finally figuring out how to make good on the incredible promise of self-describing data. Now if only my data would shut up!

4. The search engine of choice was AltaVista. Most of us hadn’t yet heard of a project at google.stanford.edu which was still in beta, and would go live that September. Keep an eye on these guys, they might be onto something.

3. After sleepwalking through the decade, Apple released the iMac and changed everything. First it came just in Bondi blue, then in a rainbow of colors. By the turn of the millennium, everything from coffee mugs to Volkswagens came in 5 delicious, translucent colors. The iMac has a place in the top 20 consumer products of all-time, but why did it have to come with the dumbest mouse ever invented? Round? Really?…Really?

2. Engineers at Adobe were hard at work on a brand new application called K2, some called it “Quark Killer.” You know it as InDesign. It was still under wraps in the spring of 1998, but on September 2nd at Seybold, it “drew gasps from the assembled publishing professionals.” And soon they weren’t the only ones gasping…

1. In Quark’s Denver headquarters, Fred Ebrahimi, Tim Gill, et al hatch a plan to acquire Adobe in a hostile takeover. This is not a joke. Adobe was in the midst of some bad times, caught in the tractor beam of Apple’s blunders, and needing to lay off about 300 employees to stay afloat. Check out Adobe’s site in April 1998. They were touting Photoshop 4’s hot new features, lifted from Gallery Effects. Things like Chalk & Charcoal, Graphic Pen, Craquelure, Dry Brush, Plastic Wrap, and so on. I have never, ever applied any of these without immediately hitting command-z. Have you? They should be be in a menu called Pre-Undos. In fact, I think the Filter Gallery was invented just to remove the command-zness of undoing these silly effects. Something akin to speed dating to ease the pain of so much rejection.
It was nice meeting you, Smudge Stick. Have a nice life.

Anyway, back to the story.

Quark’s plan was basically that time-honored business strategy of, “if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em and smother ’em.” They intended to buy Adobe and kill PageMaker, FrameMaker, and K2/InDesign. Why do I think they came up with this idea after watching The Godfather? On August 18th they sent Adobe an offer they couldn’t refuse.

I think they also traveled to San Jose to make a personal appeal:

Fortunately for every person on Earth who has made a book, magazine, or web page in the last 10 years, Adobe’s response was, “drop dead.” After about a month of getting only John Warnock’s answering machine, Quark got the hint and returned to its core communications model of huge stretches of arrogant silence punctuated by perfunctory vaporware presentations. Man, I should write for Wikipedia.

Seriously, though, take a minute and imagine the publishing world we’d live in if that takeover had happened. The what-ifs boggle my mind. And not in a good way. Bad, bad boggling. I have a creepy feeling we’d still be on Quark 5–and it STILL wouldn’t run on OS X or do tables. Quark XposureShop, anyone???

I think this is all amazing when you look at it as a whole. One year, 1998, saw the end of Frank and floppy discs, Seinfeld and SCSI ports, and the dawn of the iMac, XML, InDesign, Google, and iTunes. Yadda Yadda Yadda indeed.

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