Two of the more important products revealed at last week's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), OpenDoc and Cyberdog, may find themselves among the most important products in Apple's near future.
OpenDoc (see TidBITS-256) is a next-generation model of software that uses small, reusable components that can be combined in different ways to create the equivalent of today's programs (although that's not to say that OpenDoc parts can't be combined in unique ways). An OpenDoc word processor might combine a spell-checker part, a search & replace part, and a part that might generate a continuously updated index. That's relatively cool in its own right, but let's face it, we've got those capabilities now. It will be nice to be able to mix and match, but we're not talking revolutionary yet.
Apple's Cyberdog project, though, could pull OpenDoc into the big time. Cyberdog is a collection of OpenDoc parts that provide Internet functionality. So, instead of Netscape or Anarchie, you could use the equivalent Cyberdog Web or FTP parts. Other Cyberdog parts planned include Gopher and email (and possibly Usenet news), along with viewers for common Internet file types like GIF, JPEG, and various sound formats.
So why did some of the Internet folks we spoke with after WWDC in San Jose last weekend call Cyberdog "compelling?" I can't remember who it was precisely who said this, but the term "killer app" was applied to Cyberdog in relation to OpenDoc as well. Cyberdog stands out in a number of ways:
Cyberdog includes a Notebook part that can store URLs for any Internet service, promising the universal hotlist/bookmark list that I've wanted for so long.
Cyberdog can log everything you do, and although that may seem pointless, I've found logs tremendously useful in the past. Just last week, someone asked me where they could retrieve the latest version of ARNS, a utility that can (in theory, I've had trouble with it) enable someone to connect to an AppleTalk network over the Internet. I retrieved the file many months ago, but a quick search in Anarchie's log turned up the FTP site in question (and before you ask me for that URL, here it is).
Cyberdog is a completely open system, so developers can either write OpenDoc parts that supplement Cyberdog's parts (I doubt it will ship with an IRC part, for instance) or replace them.
You can combine Cyberdog parts within an OpenDoc container (think of it as a blank generic document) to perform what I call "ad-hoc publishing." Apple's example is of a teacher creating a document that combines the full text of a Shakespeare play (retrieved live from the Internet) along with Gopher links to other Shakespeare plays and a Usenet news part pointing at a newsgroup for discussing the play. It's a relatively simple example, but strikes me as potentially useful integration of the Internet into education. Sure beats those purple-on-white mimeographed sheets that fill my grade-school notebooks.
Once other OpenDoc parts start appearing, it should be trivial to combine them with the Cyberdog parts to create new, customized interfaces to both local and Internet information.
These and other Cyberdog features serve to make Cyberdog the best hope OpenDoc has against Microsoft's heavily pushed OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) technology. In addition, although Apple now bundles MacTCP with System 7.5, making Cyberdog readily available, hopefully as part of the MacOS, could provide Apple with a much-needed boost in public perception regarding Internet support for the Mac. Helping this will be Microsoft's recent announcement that the Internet tools slated for Windows 95 won't ship with Windows 95 itself, but will come on the so-called Internet Jumpstart Kit that's part of a separate commercial product called the Microsoft Plus Pack.
Do keep in mind that Cyberdog isn't slated for release until the beginning of 1996, and its feature set isn't yet complete. Although Apple's goal is to release fully functional, feature-competitive parts for Cyberdog, there's no way to know how well Cyberdog's parts will compete with the versions of popular Internet programs like Anarchie and NewsWatcher available in 1996, and there's also no telling how quickly the major Internet developers will move to OpenDoc, if at all. Also, like current MacTCP applications, Cyberdog knows nothing about the Internet connection, and Apple's replacement for MacTCP, Open Transport, will play a large part in Cyberdog's overall success. Finally, it remains to be seen what Apple will do about email. Cyberdog is slated to have an email part that could combine with the rest, but there are undoubtedly some internal pressures relating to the misbegotten PowerTalk Mail functionality and to email via eWorld.
A few recommendations to Apple. Get Cyberdog out and make it good. That's the first step. Consider keeping the name - Cyberdog has personality and verve, something recent Apple names lack in spades (look at the recent "Apple Internet Server Solution for the World Wide Web" - you must be kidding!) Then, let people know about it. Jean-Louis Gassee (an ex-Apple executive with plenty of personality and verve) recently suggested to me a few brash Internet marketing slogans that Apple will never use (but should still consider):
Finally, and most important, make sure as many people as possible can get and use Cyberdog. I'm talking about modem bundles, deals with phone companies offering ISDN services, drop-dead simple configuration (Cyberdog will support the public domain Internet Config, which is rapidly gaining acceptance among Internet developers), and inexpensive Internet connections. Apple must not hide Cyberdog in custom installation options or require users to squirrel around in advanced settings dialog boxes to establish an Internet connection.
I won't make any silly statements about how Cyberdog must succeed for Apple to survive since $9 billion companies like Apple don't just disappear. However, the Internet is still wide open, and Cyberdog could enable the Mac, especially with Apple's strength in the Internet-savvy education market, to continue to cement its position as the Internet client platform of choice.