I’m Old, Part XIV: Platform Cliques

When we were working on Acrobat 1.0, there were several distinct cliques within the group. For 1.0, we were writing code that would run on Windows 3.1, Windows NT, DOS, Mac System 6.something, and Mac System 7, but these divided up into 3 groups: Windows, Mac, and DOS. Each group had 2 people dedicated to it, but the Mac group had 3 (I was the third, but honestly, Mike Pell was split between doing UI code and being responsible for the builds and the installers, so he was a little thin). On top of that, there were engineers who were dedicated to the main portable engine that was shared across platforms.

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For sure, the various platforms were cliques. Ken Grant and Mike Diamond on Windows routinely referred to the Mac as “The Dead Platform”. The Mac people teased them about kowtowing to the Evil Empire. And the DOS people? Well, they were just sad because they knew they had no future.

At the same time, as much ribbing as we handed out and received, we also had to work together. When I was working on the Find tool, I was actively making the underlying code more complicated as I came to understand the complexity of the problem.

As an aside, there are sections of the PDF specification that, if you’re code to it, you look at and thing, “holy shit, my life just got a whole lot more complicated.” And me, having worked on it, can point at those portions and name the person responsible for it. Blessed few of the pain points have my name on them, but there is one in particular that was informed by me, and it has to do with highlighting search results.

When I finally got find word/phrase limping, I was constantly irritated by how the results looked. The code would find the approximate axis-aligned bounding box of the word and highlight it. Unfortunately, when you have anything more complicated than simple blocks of rectilinear text, the bounding boxes look like shit. On top of that, words may be split across lines or be bent along curves, and so on. So in my mind, a highlight wasn’t a single (or set of) axis-aligned rectangles but a set of quadrilaterals that don’t have to be axis aligned nor do they have to be rectangles.

The PDF highlight annotation is represented as a set of quadrilaterals, and that complication is totally my fault.

So after I had reworked all the search code on the Mac, it needed to happen on Windows, so I spent a lot of time in Mike Diamond’s office working with him to make sure that the Windows UI mapped onto the underlying code.

So cliquish or not, we still had to work together to make sure that features had parity.

In an ideal world, we would have been less specialists and more generalists and were writing code for all the platforms, but like it or not, there are only so many hours in the day to become a specialist on a new platform.

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