Apple Developer Demo Leads to Biggest Breakthrough Ever

I was expanding my learning channels online. I was part of AOL’s lead tech group. I was an early member of Apple’s iWorld. I was sitting in my office messing around with the Apple Developer CD, as part of my new “developer” subscription. This was the early days of interactive media. Apple was pushing the envelope with Quicktime(tm) and making moving pictures work on the computer. This was pre-internet. We had AOL’s online tech support for some of the big vendors. AOL was still dial-up and slow. But it was the best “online community” we had. When Apple announced iWorld, we were all excited to see how Apple would innovate the online destination and conversation portal.

One of our Dell clients was on-site and being given the tour of our expanded offices. Kenny, our Dell lead, poked his head in my office to say hello. “What is that?” he exclaimed. My Mac was walking through a demo of Apple’s developer tools for creating a multi-media experience.

“Oh, this? It’s Apple’s Developer CD-Rom.”

“Can we do that?”

“Sure. We’re already working on this stuff.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. My group (me and an outside vendor, Rick) had just landed a sales motivational tool for Motorola’s 68000 processor group. The High End Hideaway was a training game built to test Motorola’s sales teams on their product knowledge.

Motorola's High End Hideaway

My friend, Rick, and I proposed a game with five islands. At each island you must “sell” the natives on the processor they need for their project. The reward for completing the game was being registered for the annual trip to the actual “hideaway,” an unknown, “White Lotus,” location in some tropical paradise. The game and program were wildly successful for Motorola and my agency, Sicola Martin Koons & Frank. Rick and I took this win, and the money from this project, to propose the next big idea to Kenny @Dell.

The proposal, fired up by an Apple Developer CD-Rom would become Dell MultiMedia Works (DMW). Again, Rick and me were charged with building a multi-year CD-Rom for Dell’s remote sales teams. They would be heading to Austin, in June of ** for the annual training retreat at Dell’s new Round Rock campus. We had three months to “make it up.”

Fortunately, Rick was an early Apple developer and a seasoned Lingo programmer. Lingo was the programming language under MacroMedia’s Director. (The precursor to Flash – which was a dumbed-down and less capable sibling of Director.) Rick had worked with Apple to develop and optimize the QuickTime(tm) codecs that allowed video to playback on a computer screen. The files had to be small enough to be delivered by modem. It was a highly technical solution, that Rick was consulting with Apple on how to make it work.

Turns out, the DMW project would provide a number of challenges and breakthroughs for QuickTime(tm), Rick, Dell, and me.

At the time DMW was imagined, Dell’s laptops had no speakers and no CD-Rom drive. Apple had coined the phrase “multi-media ready.” Dell would not include any multimedia features for a year. (More on that story, later.) The Dell Latitude we were given as the “base-spec” for our design looked like this:

Dell's 316LT notebook computer 1989

Notice the lack of a trackpad or roller ball. This notebook computer, released in 1989, required a mouse. For our purposes, a Sony 2X CD-Rom drive and set of multimedia speakers. We were going to push the Sony, Dell, and QuickTime(tm) to the limit.

The first thing we discovered: even though the Sony was rated at 2X the speed of earlier CD-rom drives, the throughput was more like a 30% improvement. It would’ve been more accurate for Sony to call it a 1.25X speed CD. But, these were the early days. So, we took the specifications and began building the DMW content for delivery on this.

I rented 6 top-end Macintosh computers from a local company, and we set up our video compression lab in Rick’s apartment, down near Austin’s 6th Street. We juggled codecs and size and bandwidth. We’d setup six different compression routines and wait. The process of compressing video for playback on a computer took hours not minutes. Once we had our source files, we would burn the files to a CD-Rom with an app called Toast. Each blank CD-R cost about $50. We coined the phrase “makin toast” when the burn would fail to produce a WIN-compatible CD-Rom. When we had a viable CD-Rom we’d pop the gold disc into the Sony and determine which compression formula was going to work on this pre-historic notebook computer.

With a ton of toast, and hundreds of hours of compression time, we finally produced the shaky but workable results that became DMW.

Dell Multimedia Works (DMW) sales enablement tool

Dell had just hired John Medica away from Apple and was in the process of relaunching their laptop computers with the new “keyboard back” design that we all take for granted. But, before Apple entered the laptop market, all notebook PC’s looked like the one above. By the time V2 of DMW was available Dell had introduced their new sleeker machines. Still no CD-Rom or speakers, but we were making progress.

Dell's DMW v2 Shipped on the new notebook computers

In typical Dell fashion, by the time DMW 2.5 came out (a fix to reflect a few new SKUs) the company had determined they didn’t need us to build their sales tools for them. DMW died just before Dell began adding CD drives and speakers to their notebook computers. It would still be another year before they would make “multimedia-ready” desktop computers.

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