The conception of Apple DocViewer

Apple DocViewer Read Me
Apple DocViewer Read Me File

I coded the proof of concept of Apple DocViewer.  Not because I wanted to, but to create what had been beyond the grasp of others.

A decade later, David Eyes wrote  “Leo took a concept that was a little more than a glint in my eye and very quickly prototyped an innovative solution that became Apple DocViewer. He grasped a new problem space, made it his own, and created.”

Of course I thanked David for that written recommendation.  Probably that is what it looked like to him – different points of view can be valid.  Or maybe time had blurred memory.  For example, one gentleman honestly could not remember me having made for him a distinct version of his disk locking software for Macintosh PowerBooks, which he branched off as a separate product.  Thank you again, David, please don’t get me wrong.

Here is what happened – according to my memory.

Inside Macintosh books took space on my desk at Apple.  Those books were heavy to haul home, too big to take traveling.  One couldn’t search Inside Macintosh paper editions.  At the same time I had a two-page 21” display.

Discussions involved David Eyes, Rudi Diezmann, and people in technical writing, people in product management.  This wasn’t my main job, but I wanted electronic documentation.

The company was on a quest for electronic documentation too.

I listened.  I had a vision of what I wanted:  Facsimile of the books, electronically readable.  I wanted the pages of those books on that screen, with Command-F to search, and with Command-C to copy words and sample code.

Something wasn’t working right when trying to use SuperGlue software for this specific purpose. Had it met the need, I would have used it.  There was a usability problem at least.

I was suggesting what I later made – what then evolved into what many Apple software developers got to know as Apple DocViewer.  I was told it wasn’t possible and it wouldn’t or couldn’t be done.  People could not imagine it.  Colleagues foresaw prohibitive problems.

At that time David Eyes suggested if I wanted it then I should code it.  I very well remember that logic.  I fell for it.  Possibly I should speak about it more nicely:  “Thank you for encouraging me.”  But I am not sure it was worth my time invested.  Maybe I should have spent more time with family, or taken care of myself.  Or maybe it was good.  Making product, changing the world, that are young men’s dreams when coming to Silicon Valley.  I did notice, however, more than once people got me to do stuff with an encouragement of “you can do it” – which then cost me a lot of time.  I have become more careful.

I walked over to printer driver engineering, asked and got some info, possibly from Jay Patel.

Some time after the 1989 earthquake I spent I think a couple of months or more working all awake time outside my day job responsibility to implement a proof of concept.  I named the project Dawn because I worked until dawn, many days and weeks.  I neglected an excellent Japanese class I had attended.  I neglected my friends, who once were so worried I didn’t show up and didn’t answer the phone, they started calling hospitals thinking I had an accident.  I wanted to get it working.  I got it working.

After tech docs people inside Apple saw this proof of concept they considered it their ticket to electronic distribution of documentation, Apple would use it.  That was 1990.

To be more colorful about its effects on people:  This was years before Adobe Acrobat.  The Dawn proof of concept of what would become Apple DocViewer was able to load facsimile images of printed books at a speed comparable to flipping pages in a book, both from a local hard disk as well as across company internal networks.  One could Command-F search for a word and be there essentially instantly, at any page number.  And as I demoed on a two-page display it was impressive, some folk possibly envisioning more hardware sales.  Optionally showing two pages next to each other like a printed book was a final touch to wow 1990 audiences.

Few people liked how thick software development documentation was if printed, or how quickly it got outdated.  This proof of concept in 1990 was Apple’s ticket to the benefits of electronic documentation.

Note the official inception of Adobe’s Acrobat was spring of 1991.  A release history indicates a first Adobe Acrobat for Windows release 1993, a first Adobe Acrobat for Mac release 1994 .  After a few years Apple DocViewer yielded to Adobe Acrobat.

I had an odd relationship with my direct supervisor.  For example, I hadn’t known he was my manager for the first six months of employment, because he only had talked a few sentences with me in that time.  His manager was heading all meetings.  I wasn’t a recluse – quite the contrary:  I was talking with many people across the company, all the time.

I overheard and possibly was told directly it wasn’t welcome I had developed that proof of concept.  One issue was not asking for prior approval – despite working my day job full-time, doing Dawn development in extra time, nights, weekends.  I was also told my choice of programming language was horrible, it wouldn’t be portable – which turned out to be unfounded.  I had used the very language used in then available early Inside Machintosh volumes, Apple’s own Object Pascal, in a spirit of “fitting in” with the company.

I was given first dibs on being the software engineer implementing it to production.  One condition was it had to be written in C++.  I had witnessed pain in colleagues using C++, they couldn’t stand how slow compilation was, so I passed.  I felt my contribution was done by showing how to solve the seemingly impossible problem.

More importantly, my bigger lasting interest was visual representation of complex systems in software engineering, to which with intervals I have returned to.

Before Christmas 1990 Henri Lamiraux stopped by to have the code explained.  January 1991 I asked him how it went:  He had ported the source code to C++ without problems in less than a week.  The new code name was Blue Note.

Sometime later, probably 1991, there was an Apple internal release event to which I was invited.  I don’t remember whether my name is mentioned in the About box.

Inside Macintosh CD-ROM
Inside Macintosh CD-ROM Artwork

By 1993 I was able to benefit from Apple DocViewer:  Coding in an airplane over the Atlantic, on the passenger seat of a car on I-5, and in a tent on the coast, having enough documentation provided by Apple in DocViewer format, on the internal hard disk of my PowerBook 140.  Look Ma, no trees cut.  No physical space used, no extra weight.  I used Apple DocViewer in the process of making MicNotePad.

When discussing number of users with one or two former colleagues, we thought around that time APDA had on the order of magnitude of 500,000 subscribers.

In the 2010s I ran into people who were teenagers when they first saw Apple DocViewer when learning programming.  Some still remember the experience of having so many books on a single CD-ROM, 25 books at one point.  One remembered his amazement at being able to copy and paste example code from a book.

Someone mentioned searching worked much better in Apple DocViewer than in Adobe Acrobat.  I have to admit much of search was Jeremy Bornstein’s contribution, I merely had made possible certain aspects.

Apple DocViewer was Mac only.  In contrast, Adobe Acrobat became Mac and Windows.  Adobe was serious about it.  Adobe Acrobat replaced Apple DocViewer after a few years, coming from the outside.

In 2004 Bruce Chizen explained how Adobe Acrobat is essential for Adobe profits, at that time $108 million sales in one quarter.

I have written this down to document a process of creation.

Teamwork may be essential.  But at some point it was important I did it, and didn’t sit in meetings.  The prevalent or expert opinion was my plan was impossible to make work.  I was told if I wanted it, if I knew how to make it, then to make it myself.

As a closing note, here is an heretofore undisclosed secret:  I believe an essential part of my motivation I got from a few seconds, maximum minutes video clip I saw when visiting my dad, maybe 1988.  I think it was a video from the MIT.  There was a skeuomorphic book on a computer screen, imitating the appearance of a real book, and one could move from page to page, like flipping pages.  It didn’t have copy and paste, it was fuzzy, it was text only, lacking sophisticated formatting like Inside Macintosh.  It wasn’t as clear, clean, or fast as we made Apple DocViewer.  That video clip didn’t teach the techniques needed for Apple DocViewer.  But, it gave me the idea books could be on a computer screen.  Seeing something, even if for a short span of time only, can motivate action months or years later.

A final note for those technically inclined:  One innovation to make it work was to figure how to store in one file both text and QuickDraw PICT resources representing individual pages, and using extensibility of the PICT format to store information that allows to reliably correlate locations on the page with character positions in the text.  This duality enabled reliable searching, highlighting of search results, and reliable mouse selection for copying text from a page.

One thought on “The conception of Apple DocViewer

  1. This is a great story- thanks for posting, Leo! My first modern computer was in 1995, but I certainly remember DocViewer on the Mac Classics in my High School library. Thanks for posting!


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