One of the longest-running traditions in the Macintosh world — the 27-year run of the annual Netter’s Dinner at Macworld Expo (now Macworld/iWorld) in San Francisco, has called an end to the festivities, based largely on the fact that, with most Mac users on the Internet and able to interact in real time, the event has clearly done its job of connecting all the right people.
Organized primarily by Mac developer Jon Pugh, the Netter’s Dinner launched in 1986 as a way for early Mac users on the nascent Internet to meet in person. When I first attended in 1992, I remember being amiably mocked by Jon during his often lengthy and always amusing audience survey — at some point in the middle, he mugged for the crowd and asked “And how many people read TidBITS?” only to be greeted with quite a number of raised hands. (And just imagine how life would have been different if the question had been met with only puzzled looks!) Other questions would reveal just who had been on the Internet the longest (a few had participated in its creation), who had the most bandwidth in their house (networking guru Bill Woodcock always won that one), who had the most storage online (I remember answers in the terabytes back when hard disks were measured in hundreds of megabytes), and so on.
The attendees at the Netter’s Dinner were a veritable Who’s Who of the Macintosh community through the 1990s and 2000s. Marshall Clow, who worked on StuffIt Deluxe and Eudora, among much else, is the only person to have attended all 27 Netter’s Dinners, but many others were nearly as regular. Kee Nethery, who worked on the Apple Internet Servers and moved on to start the Kagi payment service, handled the money since 1995. Then there was Mark Johnson, who was responsible for starting Apple’s first Internet server (ftp.apple.com) on a Mac IIci under his desk in 1989. And until the last few years, Leonard Rosenthol, one of the main guys behind Aladdin Systems and now the PDF Architect at Adobe, was a mainstay.
While I could never hope to list all the other wonderful people I’ve enjoyed eating with over the years at the Netter’s Dinner, it’s also impossible to avoid thinking of folks like Tim Holmes (an Apple evangelist now running his own coffeehouse), Jon Callas (who later co-founded PGP) and his wife Tamzen Cannoy (who worked with Jon on an early virtual meeting space program), Richard Ford (the Open Transport product manager, now managing his own iOS device stands and case company), Amanda Walker (then an Internet app developer at InterCon, now a security guru at Google), Alan Oppenheimer (one of the creators of AppleTalk, now the co-developer of the Art Authority iOS app), David Shayer (then a disk recovery utility developer, now working on iOS at Apple), Raines Cohen (a BMUG stalwart), Martin Minow (a SCSI guru at Apple who died in 2000 — see “The Passing of Martin Minow,” 1 January 2001), and Tom Weyer (an Apple networking evangelist and system engineer). At its peak, the Netter’s Dinner hosted about 200 people; attendance in subsequent years dropped significantly, as the Apple industry evolved and people moved on to different pursuits.
One of the nice things about the Netter’s Dinner was how it was always the same. We’d gather in a large group as the show was closing, and then walk 1.2 miles to the Hunan on Sansome and Broadway. It’s surprisingly amusing to walk in a large group of geeks through crowded city streets, and for a few years when Jon Pugh couldn’t make it (and before there were GPS apps or even good Internet mapping services), I had the terrifying task of leading the way. After everyone had gotten drinks, Betty from the Hunan would open up the buffet-style service, and we’d jostle into line to load our plates with hot and spicy Chinese food. Once the eating slowed down, Jon or I would launch into the audience survey, taking questions from the crowd and playing the audience for as many laughs as possible. Eventually we’d run out of questions, and everyone would trickle out to walk or cab back.
Marshall Clow summed it up nicely when we were making the decision to wrap it up this year: “A lot of fun was had; a lot of Szechuan food was consumed.”
So long, everyone, and see you on the net. I think it’s going to be more than just a geek fad.