Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Eating your own dog food - why it is risky

Eating your own dog food, or dogfooding, seems like a no-brainer, provided that your company offers the product that you need. If you need to perform word processing at Microsoft, why not use Microsoft Word? If you're an Apple employee who needs a phone, why not use an iPhone?

But we often forget that dogfooding can be very risky.

Take the aforementioned Apple, which used to be known as Apple Computer back when they only made computers. And Apple President Mike Scott wanted to ensure that these computers were used:

EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc. Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas. If word processing is so neat, then let's all use it! Goal: by 1-1-81, NO typewriters at Apple... We believe the typewriter is obsolete. Let's prove it inside before we try and convince our customers.

At first glance, it sounds simple. But remember that this was 1980, not 1984. The typewriter-less employees weren't using Macs, or even Lisas, to compose their letters. And they certainly weren't using LaserWriters. So what was Mike Scott's Apple using for its dogfooding?

Instead of typewriters, the several hundred employees involved in composing or disseminating letters, memos, documents, or reports use a typewritersized Apple II with built-in keyboard, a pair of add-on disk drives, a video monitor, and Apple Writer, the company's own disk-stored word processing software.

This is clearly no IBM Selectric.

During these years, I was working summer jobs with the U.S. Federal government. In most cases I was using the Selectric, but in one case I was using a dedicated word processor - not from Apple. It was a klugy device, and I saw no real advantage to it. (I didn't adopt word processing until 1982, when I began writing my thesis on a PDP/11-70 with nroff.)

Yet Apple Computer was able to run its company with those Apple IIs...and a few leftover typewriters...and a DEC minicomputer. And despite the lukewarm response to the latest Apple model - the Apple III - Apple's Ann Bowers promised new things on the horizon.

"If you think what we're doing is going to change the workplace, stick around -- this is only the first wave.
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