Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

found this in Marc Canter's Blog

Memories of General Magic
A long time ago I offered to develop for a hot startup called General Magic. I was going to do the work for free. I wanted to explore a new platform. They turned me down, saying they already had enough developers. Yesterday they announced they are shutting down the company. Now no one knows if one developer's software would have made the difference, but it's been known for a long time that exclusive platforms die and inclusive ones have a chance. It's why the Mac worked and Lisa didn't. If you're lucky enough to get a gazillion dollars invested behind your ideas, never say no to a developer. They might have the next VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, PageMaker or Mosaic.

I myself (I was still kind of famous then) was sent to talk to Steve Perlman - who has gone on to prove that he's quite a case unto himself - about Telescript 2.0 and the future of multimedia and General Magic. Basically Steve would have nothing to do with me. He wouldn't even answer my phone calls. Oh well.

I remember when Megan Smith who was working at General Magic took me to see Marc Porat. I was really excited about General Magic and tried to find some way to work with them since they had some licensees in Japan, and I had actually given a high level presentation to NTT about General Magic before their deal with them... Marc seemed very uninterested in seeing me and told me he didn't need any help.

There were so many people who were excited about General Magic and there were really a lot of cool people working there. It's really too bad they weren't more open technically and socially.


I always liked the name too... I just registered, and That would have worked. Open Magic.

I love the name OpenMagic. It seems that right now it is the name of some type of portal. (.com)

As for my memories of GM, I started working on GM when it was inside of Apple and it was called Paradigm. Marc asked me to work on the marketing and channel plan and we had a good time conceiving a simple device that would handle addresses, calendars and to-do lists. (think Palm). It was a contrarian's answer to Newton (also in Apple and still under development at the time). Paradigm devices would be simple, low power and low cost. Then the"rock stars" arrived. Ideas became big ideas, thoughts became genius.

In late '89 I was asked to be a founding member of the team. I remember sitting down with AH in Palo Alto (AH and BA had a skunk works office downtown behind CPK) and he explained to me that when the history books were written, he would be remembered for Magicap, not Mac OS. I expressed my opinion that the last technologists to be remembered in the history books were Alexander Graham Bell and Tomas Edison and that a company was not about history but about products and customers.

Needless to say I didn't stay. I went to Apple Japan as a consultant just about the time Megan left to go to GM, I remember talking to her about the opportunities and risks. It's amazing how many great people brushed up against that company. Maybe Kara can right a book, kind of a mirror image of AOL.COM

Like the death of many great companies (including my own), it was killed not by famine, but by feast. A feast of money, brains and egos caused indigestion and an amazingly slow death. We can all learn from that.

Yes - lots of lessons to learn from the past. I certainly have made many smyelf, but I write it down for growing up. If we could only go back and have it to do over again!

I remember when Miles Gilburne and myself had the ear of Furukawa-san at Fujitsu - right as they were launching the FM-Towns machine. They offered me the presidency for a U.S. sub to bring it to the U.S. I told them it would cost $50M. But Stewert Alsop told them it would cost $200M. So tey backed off. Oh well.

Just selling audio upgrade cards could have made them $2B.

I wonder if the world would be a different place if we would have had a 386 machine with 8M of RAM and a CD ROM - in 1990?

The FM Towns folks in Japan are really mad at Bill Gates. Apparently he bought over a dozen of them, took them back to Seattle, took them apart and stole everything. Fujitsu had a very weak IP strategy and got raped by MS. Like everyone else... or so I'm told.

I still have my Motorola Envoy...

This comment about General Magic rings a bell.I had the same treatment by Mark et al at Plumbdesign in New York and this after having battled with Joi to get them a mention for their elegant Thinkmap Thesaurus at the Ars Electronica prize when Joi and I were both on the jury. I guess success goes to people's heads even in this democratic age. DdeK

I was always enthralled with Magic Cap. From a user interface standpoint, and a as a former Mac developer, I still think it bore some fundamentally intuitive features.

I was big on agents too. My big beef with General Magic was that when promoting Telescript and agents, they got all mysterious and acted as if they had solved "The Halting Problem."

This usually came up in the context of the question "How do you know that an agent won't get out of control?"

While the limited "purse"/lifetime the agents had was a reasonable real-world mechanism to make them shut down, the General Magic folks spoke as if they had invented fire (magic?) and had some rocket science to deal with this issue.

This, and the aforementioned attitude toward prospective developers, turned me off.

It's too bad, because something like the current Danger Research "Hiptop" device running Magic Cap would be exceptionally cool and useful.

As for weak Japanese IP strategy, it's a problem for most Japanese companies, actually. Patents in Japan are usually fairly specific. My Father (Attorney) is always trying to get Japanese companies' patent departments to write broader claims than they usually do for the U.S. Many of them have been damaged by over-narrow claims, but it's hard for them to learn how to generalize their ideas and make them broader...

I came to General Magic in 1992 to "help handle the partners like AT&T," and in the view of some Magicians, because I was Marc Porat's friend. Indeed I was.
On my first day at work and shortly thereafter, I was treated with a certain distinct coldness by some. It was difficult for me.

Some of the most important folks that helped me get through this were Megan Smith, Rich Miller, and Jane

Anderson. I left GM having learned much about the Silicon Valley culture of the '90s and have stayed ever since. I loved my GM experiences and consdier them a critical part of my education. I also remember with fondness the honesty and clarity of Tracy Byers about Telescript. What an unusual group of people at an unusual time. I have all the old videos- by the way! My best to all.

ah yes - Tracy - just don't mention her name around Dave Winer. :-) And no one has mentioned Susan Kare? Tell me what major GUI did she NOT design?

Susan did the design for one of the companies I worked for. Magic Box. She was great. I think Megan introduced us...

Well, I did not work for GM. However, I was with a technology vendor (voice and handwriting recognition)who tried to sale these guys our product. It was clear to us that this company will never make it (regardless of subject) because of its business culture. It was a company full of high-ego-kids-mentality-we-are-genius approach. I am yet to see any company with such attitude to succeed.
They had their share with inovative ideas but ideas alone are far away from a true product.
GM should have been shutdown a long while ago.

was is happen with General Magic?