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Cool Tools – Where are They Now?

In his interview in TidBITS-305, Peter Lewis suggested checking in on the recipients of Apple’s Cool Tools Awards from September of 1994. It was such a good suggestion that I gathered up email addresses for those folks and sent out some queries, and I received responses from everyone other than the Cornell CU-SeeMe folks. I wanted to know, first off, if the Power Macintosh 7100 that Apple had awarded to each recipient had been useful, and what it was being used for now. I was also curious what the recipients thought of Apple giving out awards recognizing innovative developers. Back in TidBITS-247 I wrote:

"Finally, as much as my cynical side wants to say that this is a freak occurrence, I sincerely hope that the attention and positive press these awards provide for Apple encourages the company to continue in the same vein periodically. Apple’s most powerful allies are its loyal users and developers, and it can only help Apple to give them a quantifiable nod every now and then."

Well over a year has passed since those original awards, and there’s been no word from Apple about repeating the program. I think awarding a few programmers a Mac each year would be great publicity for the Macintosh platform, and in the overall scope of things it would be a cheap way of attracting talented programmers to the Mac. Perhaps this article can raise the issue within Apple one more time.

John Norstad of Disinfectant and NewsWatcher fame wrote:

My "cool tool" has been enormously helpful in my work. Previously, I had the choice between a Mac Classic and a PowerBook 180 for work at home. A 7100 was a big step up, and it has increased my productivity enormously. I wrote a ton of NewsWatcher code and other code on it over the last year.

My kids certainly enjoyed the upgrade from the old Classic too! "Wow, Daddy, color and everything!"

I think the Cool Tools awards were a great idea and continuing them in other fields would be wonderful.

Steve Dorner of Eudora fame also commented on the home use of that Mac:

My 7100 has been my main development machine ever since I got it. I’ve done all the Eudora 3.0 development on it, as well as 2.x releases. This week [some weeks ago, at this point -Adam], I’m going to get a PowerBook 5300 to use for development, and then my wife will get the 7100, which she’ll use for dealing with her desktop publishing needs. The Quadra 605 she currently shares with the kids will then be the kids’ alone, promoting family harmony.

So there you have it; my livelihood and tranquility for my home, all in one Power Macintosh 7100.

John Hardin, who wrote MacWeb and MacWAIS, wrote:

The Power Mac 7100 Apple awarded me as part of their Cool Tools awards contributed directly to the development of the Power Mac-native version of MacWeb. It was literally my second development machine (in addition to the Quadra 800 I was using at the time). I now have a Power Mac 9500 at work, so about four months ago I took the 7100 home, where it enables me to continue development there occasionally. On the lighter side, it lets me connect to the Internet so I can surf with MacWeb when I’m not writing it.

The 7100 is now my family machine, so it gets a lot of use along those lines, as well, with things like educational programs, games, and home publishing. My children are young and have known no other type of computer, so I guess it’s helping to produce little Mac zealots. [Perhaps we can get Guy Kawasaki to start a program to donate Macs directly to children to create lots of little Apple addicts. -Adam] Who knows, maybe Turtle Logo will eventually turn into C++ or Java. We might have little Mac developers in the wings!

As far as the award itself goes, I was flattered, honored, and encouraged to have been publicly recognized by Apple with this award. I would wholeheartedly recommend that they continue to recognize Mac developers in this or similar ways. I’d also like to thank TidBITS for providing this opportunity to express my gratitude publicly.

Peter Lewis, author of Anarchie, NetPresenz, and many other programs, answered:

I received my 7100 late in 1994. With it, I had a viable home office, so shortly after that, very early in 1995 I started working part time from home. Later in 1995 I finished up at Curtin University and now work full time at home writing shareware, mostly Internet applications. Without the 7100 that came with the Cool Tool Award I would probably have had to delay my plans for at least several months, so the 7100 had what I think was Apple’s desired effect, namely enabling me to spend more time writing Mac programs.

I would certainly like to see Apple continue with the awards. However, the tricky part is figuring out who is most in need of the computer – people who are already visible probably will not benefit as much. I also think Apple should print some certificates for the awards (maybe they did and mine didn’t make it to Australia?). As wonderful as the computer is, in a few years it’ll be a door stop (or at least a low-end server), whereas a printed certificate could be framed and would last forever. I would also like to see two different sorts of awards, one for individuals and the other for companies. There’s no need to give computers to companies – they can generally afford them anyway – but it was a shame that companies like InterCon weren’t recognized for their work in promoting the Internet on the Mac, even if that meant just getting a nice certificate and no Power Mac.

Jay Whittle of the Internet Society wrote:

The Internet Society is not a development shop but gets a great deal of use out of the Power Macintosh 7100 anyway. Prior to the award, the Society did not own a single Macintosh. Part of the Society’s mission is to remain familiar with the new and innovative applications available for use on the Internet. The 7100 has opened the door for the Society to explore those applications which were developed first or exclusively on the Macintosh platform.

In addition, its ready-made multimedia capabilities makes this machine an excellent demonstration platform. Many Internet Society guests have browsed the Internet using this machine.

Thomas Redman of the Software Development Group at NCSA wrote:

The 7100 awarded to NCSA has been very useful in the development of NCSA Mosaic for the Mac. That particular machine was used by one of the developers to pursue such flowery technology as the inter-application API used by Mosaic, enhancements to the communications facility and direct support for Open Transport and Internet Config. Coincidentally, the developer who used that machine was without a reasonable development platform at that time, so the award was both timely and very appreciated. There is no metric to measure the usefulness of the machine to the group; PowerPC machines are leaps and bounds superior to the alternatives!

Should Apple continue the program? Damn tootin’! Any way to acknowledge developers of Macintosh software is very important to Apple’s future. Mac users and developers have a special interest in seeing the platform being successful. That attitude must be nurtured by Apple, and programs like this one are very useful to that end.

Thanks, Apple!

Farhad Anklesaria of the Gopher Team at the University of Minnesota commented quickly:

The 7100 that Apple gave us as part of the Cool Tools Award is being used by a graduate student intern on another cool network tool project – more info when that gets closer to release!

Aaron Giles, author of JPEGView, wrote:

Well, I can pretty much say that my Cool Tools award helped me land my dream job. Shortly after receiving the 7100, I picked up a copy of LucasArts’ Rebel Assault and was disappointed that it wasn’t PowerPC-native. So, in a furious fit of late-night hacking, I managed to write a patch which was at least partially native – enough so the game ran decently on my new machine. Foolishly releasing the patch to the net, I was on the verge of getting a cease and desist order before LucasArts decided to hire me. Now my 7100 allows me to work late nights cranking out great games for the Mac.

I definitely think Apple should consider doing the Cool Tools thing again. As a struggling shareware developer, having a hot new system dropped in my lap was both a great way of recognizing the years I spent working on JPEGView and an invaluable help in working on PowerPC-native versions of all my shareware. I think that using the Cool Tools awards to recognize great shareware/freeware contributions would be a fantastic direction for Apple to take.

Chuck Shotton, author of WebSTAR, said:

Apple’s Cool Tool Awards couldn’t have happened at a better time, both for me and for Apple. In my case, I’d been developing MacHTTP on a Mac IIci. I managed to get MacHTTP 1.3 out the door as one of the first PowerPC native Mac applications to ship using a loaner Power Mac 8100 from Apple. (Aaron Giles beat me with JPEGView only by virtue of his one hour time zone advantage!) Anyway, the 8100 had to go back to the mother ship shortly thereafter, and I was stuck trying to test and maintain PowerPC code without a Power Mac. Needless to say, the arrival of the Cool Tool 7100 made life much easier! MacHTTP 2.0 was birthed on that 7100, as were the initial versions of WebSTAR.

In Apple’s case, the timing was great for them. Under increasingly harsh criticism from their developers, it was a great gesture on Apple’s part that recognized the hard work from a lot of people that made the Mac the awesome Internet box that it is. While many developers bemoaned the state of Apple development, a few individuals at Apple came up with a great idea to motivate and reward some of the non-commercial developers that needed a pat on the back. The only downside to the award was that there was a limit to the number of Cool Tools that could be awarded, and some very deserving developers didn’t get the kudos they deserved.

Apple should definitely make this an annual event, perhaps expanding the scope beyond just Internet tools. There are a lot of unsung heroes developing for the Mac and this is a great way to tell them Apple appreciates their efforts. As for my 7100, it’s now part of the site and is merrily chugging away, serving its little heart out to the Internet.

Jeff Ferguson of the Weather Underground wrote:

The Weather Underground used the Cool Tools 7100 for the development of an Internet manager for six months. The 7100 provided us the machine to develop this code.

The 7100 then moved to our TV studio where it was used in producing a live program in which viewers were taken on a tour of the Internet. The content was meteorology and the audience was K-12 teachers and students. The program was hosted by Perry Samson and Herbie Fox, our puppet friend. An A/V video card was added and the 7100 was one of three machines in the studio during productions. It was used to create a virtual set, including Antarctica, an ocean beach, and a scene in the midst of a hurricane.

Now the 7100 is being used to ingest hourly weather images and display them on the university cable system’s UM-WeatherTV.

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