Macworld Show, I Remember It Well

October 15, 2014

Sad to see that Macworld is no more. This was the one computer show I went to every year for nearly a decade.

In the early days of the Mac I spent a lot of time in booths and wandering around the show twice every year (and once three times). Both my first startup (where we sold Trapeze) and the second (where we helped build Persuasion and then Deltagraph for 5 years) kept me coming back continuously as an exhibitor or at least watching my work.

The show used to be in Boston in August and San Francisco in January; one year they tried a mini-show in Dallas so it was easy for us to go.

At the Boston show in 1986 our whole company went, we were working on the Trapeze spreadsheet app, and I figured it was a good idea to see what other people were doing. Before the internet, the only way to see what anyone else's app looked like was to buy a copy, or go to a show like this one. Seems so strange now.

At the show I discovered to my horror that the interface I had designed and built was terrible and didn't match up well with what other people were doing. We had hoped to ship the app by the next Macworld in January. I just remember the feeling of despair at every booth. So when we got back to Texas I started over but still maintained the old interface so my two partners could continue on the rest of the code. I worked 100 hour weeks for the next four months and somehow got it finished by January.

At the show I had seen a demo of a university project which was showing off a new idea called a popup/hierarchical menu; this became the centerpiece of Trapeze's interface. It debuted at the January Macworld in 1987 five months before Apple put the new menu type into MacOS.

At that show I remember the guys in the next booth had an outliner app called More which featured the awesome tag line "Your Boss has three questions you have only two answers, you need More". That was Dave Winer's company which later merged into Symantec. It could have been the following Boston show but one of them anyway!

After Trapeze was sold (we simply couldn't compete with Excel with so few resources) a guy at Apple put us together with the author of a MacDraw clone; he wanted to build a presentation app like Powerpoint (though I only remember talking about another one, Cricket Presents) and my new company, made up of folks from the previous one, worked on the charting and data features. He eventually got published by Aldus and we got to be at the launch party in Boston in 1988 at the Constitution Museum.

At that same party we sat down with the new owners of Trapeze, Deltapoint, and sitting in the exhibitor's tent we talked about the product that would ultimately become Deltagraph. We decided that Cricket Graph, which was the dominant app in the charting area (remember this was before Windows was really viable), was ripe for taking down. 14 months later at the January Macworld Deltagraph debuted and in fact did become the new king of charts since we had focused on print output with full Postscript output and Adobe Illustrator export. Seems so quaint now but at the time these two features, plus an enormous library of charting features, made Deltapoint a lot of money. We worked on it for 5 major releases and it was cool to walk around the show and have everyone know what you worked on.

Today computer shows are so yesterday but before the internet it was the only time you could see everything going on, meet the people behind the other apps, and generally have 5 days of fun. Of course it probably didn't seem like fun when you spent 60 hours on your feet.

Both show locations featured tough union rules. I remember the rule at one was that you could only put your own booth together if you carried it in yourself and could put it together in like 20 minutes with a union guy watching. One of my friends practiced with his booth at home for weeks to get it down. If you couldn't you had to pay the unions (usually multiple ones) to do it and hope they did it right. Before and after the show it was crazy to be in the hall with only your fellow exhibitors and otherwise silence. The last day of the show was usually the least fun; your feet hurt and lots of people pushing strollers leading to lots of clock watching.

That world is long gone, none of the reasons people had shows exist any more. You can see everything on the internet now, the pace of everything is too fast to have two times a year to make a splash. I don't miss it at all (I live for today and tomorrow) but remembering a bit of the past isn't a bad thing. I do miss the friendships you made with the other developers and companies. Even WWDC is boring today, you rarely actually socialize any more.

It was amazing sometimes to see a company start in a half booth sharing with another small company and then a few years later have a massive booth next to Apple's. Or have a massive booth and then not show up at all the next year. We all knew what that meant; unlike today people actually went out of business.

So salute to Macworld of the past!