Computer Chronicles Revisited 98 — WriteNow, VideoWorks II, 4th Dimension, and MultiFinder

Apple CEO John Sculley’s quest to extend the Macintosh’s reach in the business market took an important step in November 1987 with the launch of MultiFinder, an extension to the System Software 5 operating system that finally enabled a form of multitasking on the Mac. This gave Apple a jump on IBM’s long-promised multitasking OS/2 by a few weeks. And while the Mac never posed a serious challenge to the IBM PC and its clone army in the overall business market, the combination of MultiFinder with more expandable machines like the Macintosh II helped to cement Apple’s place as the primary alternative microcomputer platform for many business users.

This next Computer Chronicles episode from early December 1987 focused on Mac business software, including MultiFinder. Stewart Cheifet opened the program by noting that the Macintosh had snuck into the business world through desktop publishing applications like Ready, Set, Go!, which he demonstrated on a Macintosh SE in the studio. But all of a sudden, people were starting to take the Mac seriously for a variety of business applications. Why the sudden change? Kildall said that when the original Macintosh was introduced in 1984, the machine had two major deficiencies. The first was that it only came with a floppy drive and no hard disk option. The second was a lack of memory (128KB on the original machine). So as a result, you really couldn’t run business applications on the Mac. Those deficiencies had now been addressed–you could buy a Mac with a hard disk and up to 2MB of main memory. So the Mac was now a serious business competitor.

San Francisco Lawyers Built Practice Around Mac

Wendy Woods presented her first remote segment, narrating some B-roll footage of Williams & Martinet, a San Francisco law firm that used the Macintosh to run its business. Woods said the Macintosh, still working hard to make its mark in the office, was beginning to get some serious attention from business users. At Williams & Martinet, for example, the Mac handled everything from basic accounting to court documents.

Roger P. Williams, a computer consultant with the firm, told Woods that the original reason for using the Mac was it had graphics capabilities that IBM PCs did not. The IBM could handle word processing. But the Mac made it possible to put legal forms, including court pleadings and the firm’s letterhead, directly into the computer.

Woods said that a software package called Trapeze provided the building blocks for many applications at the firm, including spreadsheets, client history, and billing. Trapeze also tracked the amount of time each attorney spent per client, as well as each employee’s productivity. (Trapeze and its creator, Andrew Wulf, were previously featured in an April 1987 Chronicles episode.)

The practice of law was beset with forms, Woods noted, each of which had to be duplicated precisely before it could be accepted by the courts. In the past, this meant relying on unreliable photocopies filled in by typewriter. But now, Williams & Martinet used a scanner and a program called TrueForm to enter and store the originals. Copies could then be filled-in on the computer and produced on a laser printer.

Woods added that in another departure from physical work, Williams & Martinet attorneys who were working out-of-town could receive forms via modem. Leonard Martinet, one of the firm’s partners, explained that the original documents were typically sent from the San Francisco office to a remote copy center equipped with a laser printer, which then printed out the faxed document for the local attorney.

Overall, Woods said that the Macintosh had opened up new areas of business for Williams & Martinet, such as direct-mail advertising. And for preparing common legal documents like wills, staff could take client information over the phone and enter the data into a program called Legalware, which produced a draft of the final will. Leonard Martinet added that his firm was lucky in that they didn’t have any IBM computers previously, so when a “refreshing idea” like the Macintosh presented itself as a viable alternative, they were able to adopt it.

WriteNow Developer Promised High-Performance Word Processing

Heidi Roizen joined Cheifet and Kildall in the studio. Roizen was co-founder and president of the T/Maker Company, which published the Macintosh word processing program WriteNow. Kildall opened by noting that desktop publishing and word processing had started to merge. How did you continue to differentiate the two products? Roizen said one difference was the role that graphics played in the document you wanted to create. In the case of a word processor like WriteNow, graphics were still an accessory to the words. WriteNow focused on handling large amounts of text formatting, such as columns and fonts, rather than drawing graphics.

Cheifet asked for a demonstration of WriteNow running on a Macintosh II. Roizen described the software as a “performance word processor” that included a number of features missing in the original Macintosh word processors. For example, she pulled up a one-column document and then selected a menu item to convert it into a two-column document. Cheifet noted this was a case of adapting WYSYWIG features from desktop publishing packages. Roizen agreed. She then showed off how you could select multiple sections of text–and their accompanying section headers–and change only the font used in the headers. Next, Roizen showed WriteNow’s enhanced “undo” function, which could undo virtually any last moved made by the user. She undid the font change she just made by selecting the “Undo Style Change” option from the program menu.

Kildall asked to see some examples of graphics in WriteNow. Roizen explained that the software supported both vector and bitmap graphics. To demonstrate, she inserted a bitmap image of a pair of scissors next to a section header in her sample document. Kildall clarified that this image was a MacPaint drawing. Roizen then showed that you could enlarge the image and otherwise treat it like a text element, such as by cutting-and-pasting it elsewhere in the document.

Roizen also showed how WriteNow could automatically re-size an image by double-clicking on it. This was useful when changing the number of columns in a document. She pulled up another sample file containing a two-column document with an image that was now too wide. By double-clicking on the image, its size reduced to fit within a single column.

Kildall asked about features like hyphenation and spell checking. Did those come standard? Roizen said yes, WriteNow had a built-in 50,000-word spelling checker and selective hyphenation. Cheifet mentioned there was also a footnote feature, which Roizen then demonstrated. She added that you also never had to re-paginate with WriteNow, as the program handled that automatically.

VideoWorks Animated Mac Presentations

Wendy Woods returned for her second remote segment, which discussed VideoWorks II, a Macintosh animation package developed and published by MacroMind, Inc . Woods’ report focused on the use of VideoWorks II by a Palo Alto, California-based company called Animatronix.

Specifically, Woods said that Animatrix used VideoWorks II to create animations for sales, marketing, and training presentations. Marney Morris, Animatrix’s founder and president, told Woods that animation could be an effective business tool. She said animation was much like writing. A good writer could write something beautiful, and if you didn’t take the time to keep your user as the focal point, you wouldn’t get your point across. Woods then narrated some footage of a sample VideoWorks II animation, a jungle-themed training disk designed in conjunction with HyperCard to help new hires at Apple Computer navigate through the “jungle” of people, places, and phone numbers on the job.

But why would a company come to Animatrix for these kind of animations rather than just buy VideoWorks II and do it themselves, Woods asked rhetorically. Because you couldn’t just buy the skill and hard work that it took to make a good presentation. And while computer companies were among the first to capitalize on this new technology, it was only a matter of time before the rest of coprorate America learned the value of these tools as well.

Taking Databases Into the 4th Dimension

Dave Dell’Aquila joined Cheifet, Kildall, and the returning Heidi Roizen for the next segment. Dell’Aquila was a technical support engineer with ACI US Corporation, which developed the Macintosh database application 4th Dimension. Kildall opened by noting that ACI US claimed its product had an “open software architecture” that could be used to build “custom environments.” What did that mean? Dell’Aquila said 4th Dimension had the ability to use external procedures written in other environments as if they were written in 4th Dimension’s own scripting language. 4th Dimension itself came with about 200 pre-programmed routines that could be used to build simple database applications.

Kildall asked for a demonstration of 4th Dimension running on a Macintosh II. Dell’Aquila pulled up a screen showing the program’s “design environment,” which was one of three environments available. The design environment was where the user created the structure, layouts, and procedures for a database. He opened a new project and proceeded to create a sample table for a product database. Among the features he noted was the ability to create a multiple-choice list of items for a specific field. Dell’Aquila added that you could have up to 99 “files”–which I think meant tables in this context–for a given database. He then showed how you could link one table to another table to create a relational database.

Continuing the demo, Dell’Aquila created a layout for his products table. 4th Dimension came with several default layouts. He selected one and created the layout (i.e., form), which also generated the necessary code to link together the two tables. You could then edit the finished layout.

With his new layout completed, Dell’Aquila entered a sample record. He then demonstrated how you could use the layout to search for an item, using wildcards if you didn’t know the complete term. He then created a graph–4th Dimension had eight default types–to display information taken from the database.

Kildall asked about creating a custom environment. Dell’Aquila said 4th Dimension could create a standalone database application. The user could define their own menus, dialog boxes, and other user interface elements.

MuliFinder Expanded the Capabilities of the Mac OS

For the final segment, Charlie Oppenheimer and Robert Wiggins joined Cheifet and Kildall in the studio. Oppenheimer was the Macintosh group product manager at Apple. Wiggins was a contributing business editor with MacUser magazine (and publisher of the new Macintosh Business Letter).

Kildall asked Wiggins what multi-tasking systems like MultiFinder would mean for the business user. Wiggins said it represented an opportunity for more productivity. Business users were currently “going nuts” for both multi-user systems and multi-tasking systems. They wanted each user to be able to do more things, and they wanted everybody to be able to share the same thing. But this was also the leading edge of technology, which meant it was dangerous. And business users wanted stability. This posed an issue when using something like MultiFinder, as some applications didn’t work with it, so business users ran the risk of losing data.

Chiefet then pivoted to Oppenheimer and asked him to demonstrate MultiFinder. Oppenheimer described MultiFinder as a “first-generation multi-tasking operating system for the Macintosh.” Basically, it added new functionality to the Macintosh system software while maintaining compatibility with a “large number of applications” and also worked across the entire Macintosh line of machines.

Specifically, Oppenheimer said MultiFinder provided three new capabilities. The first was the ability to view different applications at the same time and switch between them. The second was the ability to print a document to a LaserWriter printer as a background process. And the third was providing a foundation for third-party developers to create new applications that could run in the background.

Demonstrating this on a Macintosh II, Oppenheimer showed there were three applications open on the screen: Microsoft Words, the terminal emulation program VersaTerrm-PRO connected to a remote UNIX machine, and an MS-DOS emulator. Oppenheimer started a download in the remote terminal and kept that running in the background while he returned to his Word document. He then clicked back to the MS-DOS window and launched Lotus 1-2-3. Oppenheimer pulled a 1-2-3 file, copied data from it, and pasted it into the Word document.

Kildall noted that his company, Digital Research, started working with multi-tasking operating systems back in 1982, and when they first came out there were a lot of problems with incompatible applications. Specifically, there were issues at the file-system level that often crashed the system and destroyed files. How did MultiFinder avoid these problems? Oppenheimer reiterated this was a “first-generation” multitasking system. There were very strict guidelines that developers had to follow. (Kildall said he tried the same thing and it didn’t work.)

Cheifet asked Wiggins for his advice to a business user that was looking at the Mac world and something like MultiFinder. How safe was it? Wiggins said that most business software should be well-written enough to avoid problems. It was things like games that were more likely to not run well under MultiFinder. However, you never knew when a particular combination of programs running together would cause a crash. So it was important to save your work and back up data on a regular basis. Kildall added it was important to have a file-locking mechanism so that applications could share data safely. Without such protections, some applications could start trashing their own files. Wiggins quipped that MultiFinder 2.0 would probably be a lot safer in that regard.

On that note, Cheifet asked Oppenheimer about the next generation of MultiFinder. Oppenheimer said Apple wasn’t in the habit of discussing its plans in public. But people who were familiar with other multi-tasking operating systems would have a good idea of what functionality Apple was likely to add to MultiFinder in the future.

VideoWorks + Venture Capital = Flash?

This was the second consecutive episode to discuss VideoWorks II. In the previous holiday buyers guide show, Gary Kildall recommended and demonstrated the $200 program. The company behind VideoWorks II was Chicago-based MacroMind Inc. And if that name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the company would later morph into one of the biggest (and most reviled) names in early web animation.

The concept for what became VideoWorks actually originated at another company, Dave Nutting Associates. Nutting was a developer of coin-operated video games acquired by Bally/Midway. Three of Nutting’s designers–Marc Canter, Jamie Fenton, and Mark Pierce–realized that many of the tools they used to create sounds and animations for arcade games might be a viable product in its own right.

The trio left Nutting to form MacroMind, Inc., in 1984. Their original plan was to develop a single package for the then-brand new Macintosh that could both compose music and create animation. But as Marc Canter explained to the Chicago Tribune in October 1985, the sound limitations of the original Mac and pressure from their original publisher, Hayden Software, led MacroMind to separate the project into two programs: MusicWorks and VideoWorks.

Both programs proved successful, at least in terms of early Mac software. MusicWorks came out first, in November 1984, and sold 25,000 copies in its first eight months. VideoWorks released the following year, in May 1985, and sold 10,000 copies in its first two months.

VideoWorks II, released in 1987, helped cement MacroMind’s software as an early industry standard for businesses looking to develop animations on the Mac platform. MacroMind took over publishing responsibilities for the sequel, although Broderbund served as the distributor. The program received top marks from reviewers and quickly developed a following within a number of major movie studios, including Walt Disney and Lucasfilm.

By early 1988, MacroMind had expanded from its original founders to a team of 22 employees. Marc Canter, who served as the company’s president, told the Tribune in March 1988 that he was happy to keep the small company based in Chicago, despite the fact most of their customers were on the west coast. “On a personal level, Chicago is where I’m from,” Canter said, adding, “On a professional level, Chicago is one of the reasons we’ve survived as a company.”

That was all well and good–until the venture capitalists arrived. A few months after Canter gave that interview, the San Francisco Examiner reported that the Cole Gilburne Fund, a venture capital group that included a prominent Hollywood intellectual property lawyer, had “dumped a few million bucks” into MacroMind. And by the end of the year, in December 1988, Canter and his new investors decided that MacroMind really should be closer to Silicon Valley.

On December 12, 1988, MacroMind announced that Canter would step down as president. His successor was an outsider, John Scull, who had overseen desktop publishing and multimedia marketing for Apple. Canter remained as head of software development. But he and the rest of the company would move from Chicago to San Francisco in order to “get close to creative talent and the entertainment industry,” according to a corporate statement.

One of Scull’s first moves was to rename MacroMind’s flagship product and jack up the price. The $195 VideoWorks II was now the $695 MacroMind Director. Wendy Woods reported in February 1988 that this was part of Scull’s plans to build a “big company” based on multimedia products. Scull brought in a new management team and acquired another $2.4 million in venture capital, primarily from Kleiner Perkins.

Scull actually didn’t stick around long. After overseeing the MacroMind’s transition from small Chicago startup to heavily-funded Silicon Valley multimedia pioneer, Scull resigned from the company in November 1990, reportedly under pressure from Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr, a former Chronicles guest. Doerr then recruited Tim Mott, one of the original employees at Electronic Arts, as the new CEO of MacroMind.

Well, it wouldn’t stay MacroMind for long. As required by the venture capital handbook, Mott promptly went on a merger spree. After acquiring another $5 million in venture capital, in July 1991 Mott announced that MacroMind would merge with another San Francisco-based multimedia company, ParaComp, which produced 3D modeling software for the Macintosh. Mott continued to serve as CEO of the combined company, which was cleverly named MacroMind-Paracomop. And less than a year after that, in March 1992, Mott decided to combine MacroMind-Paracomp with Authorware, a Redwood City, California-based company that created software for interactive kiosks.

This new company was renamed Macromedia, Inc. Mott staed on as chairman with Authorware’s John C. “Bud” Colligan taking over as CEO. The duo then took MacroMedia public the following year so all those venture capitalists could finally get paid. Robert Burgess took over as CEO from Coligan in 1996 and ran the company until its acquisition in 2005 by Adobe Systems.

Throughout this history, the product line that started out as VideoWorks remained in development. it was renamed Macromedia Director following the creation of Macromedia. And after the Adobe acquisition it became Adobe Director. Adobe finally discontinued Director in 2017.

Of course, if you remember Macromedia today, it is likely because of an early World Wide Web media player it acquired in 1996 called FutureSplash, which was then renamed Macromedia Flash and later Adobe Flash. And thus Steve Jobs’ greatest enemy was born.

Roizen Navigated Choppy Waters of Post Apple-Jobs Split

Speaking of Jobs, he played a key role in another product demonstrated in this episode, WriteNow. In fact, while Heidi Roizen’s T/Maker Corporation served as the publisher and distributor of the Macintosh word processor, the program was actually developed by Jobs’ NeXT Computer, Inc., as it first software product. (Well, Jobs had acquired the original developer, Seattle-based Solaster Inc., in December 1985, but close enough.)

NeXT licensed the marketing rights to WriteNow to T/Maker Company in August 1986. The program started appearing on store shelves by that Christmas. As Roizen later told MacWorld, her company dealt with both Apple and NeXT and she was something of an intermediary between the two companies:

I’m sort of a Hong Kong between China and Taiwan. Each side has to value the other, but they’re not speaking. Politically we serve as a conduit–Steve couldn’t have published WriteNow himself. What would he do–go to Macworld Expo and do demos in Apple’s booth? I don’t even know if Steve drives through Cupertino these days.

I remember once talking to an Apple product manager who said that he hated seeing royalties on a great Mac product like WriteNow going into Steve’s pocket. There’s no way to answer comments like that.

Nevertheless, a lot of respect remains between the two companies. The people who wrote WriteNow are at NeXT, yet they identify with Mac and and are proud of what they did for an Apple computer.

Even after getting into word processing, T/Maker Company’s main focus was developing clip art and font packages for both the IBM PC and Macintosh platforms. WriteNow proved a modest success–selling about 40,000 copies in its first year on the market–but it was never better than the number-two word processing program for the Macintosh, lagging substantially behind Microsoft Word. Still, that was good enough for T/Maker to continue releasing updated versions of WriteNow until 1993, when Roizen sold the rights to the program to WordStar International, the one-time leader in the PC word processing market. Roizen said at the time that T/Maker divested itself of WriteNow in order to “aggressively pursue the rapidly growing electronic content market.”

It turned out that meant “selling the company a year later.” In June 1994, Deluxe Corporation–the company best known for printing bank checks–acquired T/Maker Company for an undisclosed amount. T/Maker was never a public company. Roizen and her brother, Peter Roizen, co-founded the company in 1983 to take over the sales and distribution of a program Peter had written called Table Maker (shortened to T/Maker).

Following the sale of T/Maker Corporation, Heidi Roizen remained as CEO of the now-Deluxe subsidiary for a time. In January 1996, she joined Apple as vice president of worldwide developer relations. It wasn’t exactly the best time to join the company, which was dealing with a failed boardroom coup against CEO Michael Spindler and rumors of a possible sale to stave off bankruptcy.

Roizen only stayed with Apple a year. She resigned in February 1997. She told longtime Chronicles contributor Tim Bajarin that she “found the level of commitment necessary for me to do this job does not sell with well with” her commitment to her family, particularly her two young children. Of course, not long after Roizen’s departure, Steve Jobs returned to Apple after it acquired NeXT.

Since leaving Apple, Roizen has been an active venture capitalist with Threshold Ventures and served on a number of corporate boards. She is also an adjunct lecturer at Stanford University.

4D Still Chugging Along

Another product from this epispoide, the relational database manager 4th Dimension, is still in active development under the direction of its original company. French programmer Laurent Ribardière started working on a Macintosh database as a 21-year old university student. In 1985, Apple contracted Ribardière to develop his program in-house, which he originally named Silver Surfer. But after existing database companies like Ashton-Tate threatened to cut off Mac development if Apple made a competing product, Cupertino cut Ribardière loose.

But he didn’t walk away empty handed. Two sympathetic Apple executives helped him set up his own company, ACI, with ACI US as its American subsidiary, so that Ribardière could publish the database himself. He renamed the finished product 4th Dimension. The new database quickly gained a following as the first graphical relational database management system.

After more than a decade in production, Ribardière shortened the name of the product to 4D. He then changed the name of ACI to 4D, Inc., in 2000. Today he remains the majority shareholder of the company, and the most recent feature release of 4D was in April 2023.

Notes from the Random Access File

  • This episode is available at the Internet Archive and was first broadcast during the week of December 9, 1987. The studio portions were recorded on November 21, 1987. The recording on the Archive is from a rerun that was broadcast during the week of May 27, 1988.
  • While at T/Maker Corporation, Roizen concurrently served as president of the Software Publishers Association from 1988 to 1990. The SPA was a longtime Computer Chronicles presenting sponsor, and Roizen will make multiple future appearances on the show in her SPA role.
  • Dave Dell’Aquila remained with ACI US until 1990. He later co-founded and served as vice president of Rae Technology, Inc., a short-lived software company spun-off from Apple that developed early website development technology. More recently, Dell’Aquila spent seven years at Apple itself as a user-interface designer for the company’s internal content management system.
  • Marney Morris continued to run Animatrix until its closing in 2017. During its three-decade history, Morris and Animatrix developed animation and web projects for a number of major corporations and nonprofit organizations. In 1998, Morris launched an interactive software product for children called Sprocketworks that she later distributed as freeware.
  • Charlie Oppenheimer previously appeard on Computer Chronicles in May 1987 to demonstrate the Macintosh SE.