Developer Week in Review: Two giants fall

Steve Jobs and the App Store, goodbye to Dennis Ritchie, and an internal Google critique goes public.

My apologies for the lack of a Week in Review last week — I was taken by the seasonal plague that’s going around the Northeast, and spent most of the last week in a NyQuil haze. Fun bonus fact: Did you know certain prescription drugs inhibit the function of the CYP2D6 enzyme, which means that you can’t metabolize Dextromethorphan (aka Robitussin)?

Thankfully, I was able to pull myself up from my sickbed and get my order in for one of those newfangled iPhone 4S contraptions. It’s currently sitting at the UPS sorting facility in Kentucky. The faster processor and Siri are nice, but for me the big attraction is the 64GB of storage. I was always bumping up against my current 32GB iPhone 4’s disk limit.

On to the Review …

So long Steve, and thanks for all the apps

iOS App StoreAt this point, pretty much anything I could say about the passing of Steve Jobs has been said so many times already that it would be irrelevant. I was fortunate to see him in person once, at the last WWDC, but like many people, I’ve followed his career for years. I have somewhat of a unique perspective because I worked at Xerox AI Systems in the mid ’80s, selling the Xerox Star (and later Dandelion) with Interlisp, and got to use the Xerox Alto at the MIT AI lab before that. In other words, I was able to use what pretty much became the Mac before the Mac existed.

It was a tremendous source of frustration to those of us who worked at Xerox that the company seemed to have no clue what an incredible breakthrough the Alto and its successors were. Obviously, Jobs had significant amounts of “clueness” because he raided the mouse and GUI wholesale from PARC, and a good thing he did, or we’d still be using CP/M.

One important legacy of Jobs is the App Store model. If you owned a Windows Mobile or Palm device at the turn of this century, you know what a mess it was to get applications to run on them. Until the App Store came along, you either had to hunt around the web for interesting things to run on your smartphone, or you were at the mercy of what your carrier chose to allow. The App Store created both a distribution model and an even playing field for independent and large software makers alike.

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Goodbye to Dennis Ritchie

The other significant passing we have to mark this week is Dennis Ritchie, father of C and one of the brains behind Unix. It’s no exaggeration to say that if you had walked into any programmer’s office in the early ’80s, you would have probably found a copy of “The C Programming Language” on the bookshelf. Between C (which begat the majority of the modern languages we use today) and Unix (ancestor of Linux, BSD, Solaris, OS X, iOS, and countless other POSIX spin-offs), Ritchie has likely influenced the computer field more than any other single individual in the last 50 years, Donald Knuth included.

Ritchie was a veteran of Bell Labs, the organization we have to thank for fostering the innovative environment that let him be so creative. I’d be hard pressed to find an organization today that is offering that kind of fertile soil, out of which so many beautiful flowers bloomed. Jobs may have been the flashier showman, but he never would have gotten off the ground without the contributions Ritchie made.

Worst reply-all ever?

We got a rare view into the inner workings of Google this week, thanks to an inadvertent broadcasting of a long rant by long-time Google employee Steve Yegge. Yegge accidentally made his short-story-length critique of Google’s API policies public on Google+, letting the world know how he felt.

While it will be interesting to see if Yegge’s posting turns out to be a career-limiting move, what’s more interesting is the insight it gives us into the problems Google is facing internally. Yegge’s main complaint is that Google doesn’t eat its own dog food when it comes to APIs. He particularly singles out Google+ as an example of a product with almost no useful APIs, and charges Google with developing products rather than platforms.

Those of us who have been frustrated with Google’s inability to implement “simple” things like a consistent single sign-on infrastructure would tend to agree.

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