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Breaking into Apple

Larry Osterman comments on The Graphing Calculator Story

It's an "interesting" story, and I have to say that I was aghast when I read it.  And my jaw dropped even further when I read the Digg comments about it....

For some reason, the people reading the story actually thought it was COOL!

Now think about it.  These people were so dedicated to their product that they were willing to BREAK THE LAW to get it into Apple's OS....

Apple CANCELED their project. Apple made an executive decision to not produce the product.

And the developers decided to override it by BREAKING INTO APPLE.

There are a bazillion other ways they could have handled it: Building it on their own and trying to convince Apple to put it in the product, etc.  But no, they chose to STEAL from Apple.  And the policies of Apple were sufficiently lax that they let them get away with it.

The discussion going on the comments on Larry's blog is a fascinating consideration of the ethics of the situation. I find myself largely sympathetic to his reaction. He is not wrong.

I am still tickled by the ethical ambiguity. It is only trespassing if we did not have permission. We were given permission later, retroactively making it legitimate. But there was no way we could know that at the time. I certainly told myself that we were "doing the right thing" and believed that. But at the same time, I was self-aware enough to realize that that was just frustration and bull-headedness and my ego talking. Even looking back it now, I'm still not sure if I pulled one over one them, or if I was horribly naive and taken advantage of, or perhaps both.

I was certainly arrogant to think that I knew what was in Apple's best interest. Had I been arrested I would have accepted the consequences knowing I had earned them. Yet, when we came clean with what we had been doing, management confirmed my judgment and agreed that it was worthwhile and ought to ship.

We could not have done any of this without the support of a lot of people who knew us, trusted us, and helped us at every step along the way. We were not strangers breaking in during the dark of night. Our behavior arose out of the chaos and culture of Apple at the time.

The events are 13 years old. I wrote the story 10 years ago, but did not publish until 2 years ago, waiting until Apple was no longer "beleaguered" and the story could be read as an amusing history rather than a reflection on Apple today. The Apple of 1993 was entirely unlike the Apple of today. Nothing like this would happen there today - nor would there be any need or desire to operate that way in what is now a healthy and well-managed company.

I invite folks who were at Apple in that era to reminisce about the culture and the chaos.


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there are too few adventurers today... and we live in a world beleaguered by approvals, subcommittees, progress report meetings and layers upon layers of unnecessary middle management. This story requires no apology, and a renegade development team is certainly not going to pose any significant threat to a major (if chaotic) organization. Kudos.

It's an interesting story, made moreso by the fact that it does force us to evaluate the subtle issues involved.

I'd hardly call it "breaking in". And I hardly think you caused any "damage". Quite the contrary. You did something that was positive. Even those who helped you along the way could see that.

Count me as another one who thinks the world is too paranoid about "security" issues where none exist and not paranoid enough where there are real risks. And I have a special loathing for bureaucracy. Luckily for us, organizations are organic, and you were able to operate under the radar of the bureaucrats, where the people on the ground determined the merit of your enterprise. There is much good to be found in the skunkworks.

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