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Xmas Eve 2004

Seventeen years ago. And how it started.

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This was found when rummaging through an online server. It was evidently distributed to our five thousand subscribers right before our move to Crete.

[1]  Looking Back And Forward

The XPT started in the mid-1980s with Radsoft. Radsoft means 'rapid application development software' and is a response to all the COBOL programmers around us who thought they were so cool with their 'CASE tools'. Despite their working in such a 'G4' language and our not, we were always ready for production before they'd done their initial 'Xmas tree ornaments'.

We even published an underground paper, The Jackson Structured Weekly, which attacked COBOL, the suits, and G4 CASE tools.

The XPT's first version was for MS-DOS and borrowed as much as possible of the spirit of our native platform Unix. Half a year after we were rolling, the system was used in contractual work to build a project planning system.

The financial department received a series of 'what if' budget analysis programs called PayPack which were developed with the system. Colleagues on several of our platforms enjoyed the games Chess, Checkers, Othello, Yatzy, Tetris, and more.

We also developed a number of 'player piano' programs complete with bouncing balls and lyrics and with their own 'piano roll' metalanguage.

Especially the games spread to distributors such as Ericsson, Burroughs, and later Unisys 'the power of two'.

Much of the libraries were written with access to the IBM ROM-BIOS, the source to which a friend at that company provided.

By the time Peter Norton entered the publishing market we knew more than he or his cohorts did. It was always a tedious exercise to check his new books and make sure he didn't come up with something we didn't already know better - no worries.

'Find anything there?'

'Nope. You?'

'Nope. Waste of paper.'

In retrospect it may perhaps not be overestimated what a difference it can make with annotated (commented) source to the IBM ROM-BIOS, but that was for the 'DOS' era and had little to do with the 'dark years' that were to come.

Programs for Windows and OS/2 PM and CTOS were written a few years later. Focus on Windows and PM was sporadic whilst the toolkit on CTOS - and later Unix - was core work affecting thousands of fellow employees.

As Windows 3.0 neared completion more attention was paid to that platform; as it sold well, based on the hardware improvement with XMS, even more attention was paid to it, and when Windows 3.1 hit the world it became, for better or worse, the main target platform. (OK, admittedly mostly for the worse.)

In 1993 the full 16-bit kit was licensed to the telecom giant Ericsson on an enterprise basis and work stopped. With the advent of Windows 95 the old source code was pulled out, dusted off, and the port to 32-bit code was finished in two to three weeks. During this time several new applications were also added, bringing the total up over 140. This is also when John Cattelin joined the crew.

1997 saw the relocation to Cambridge, ostensibly so yours truly could do his PhD, and Radsoft went online for the benefit of our friends back home. The domain was registered but not used, servers at Demon and UU instead hosting our downloads.

Discovery of the atrocious program 'Dependancy' [sic] led John and myself to attempt a 'bombardment' of the Internet to negate the bad effects. Studying the trails of Alexander Danileiko, author of NetLab, we learned how to 'get around'.

Two decisions were taken at this time, both at my behest: we added Registry registration info to be picked up by the 'about' boxes, and we whittled down the toolset to just over 30 applications, removing over 100.

By April 1998 we were getting drenched in site uniques and didn't know it. On 12 April Chris Pirillo wrote and said we'd be featured in the next Lockergnome. But no one trying to visit us from that issue got through - the site had been closed down two days earlier and we didn't know it.

We scrambled to move everything to UU. Chris redirected the thousands of messages he received to the new URL, as did we. We averaged over 1,500 enquiries per day for that two week period - and then Chris featured us again.

Chris then had a circulation of 160,000; we together estimated over 50,000 people tried the download those first few days, and then the word spread and we got more.

John and I took turns answering the mail, and I developed sores on the palm of my hand from all the mouse pad work. As time went on we suffered more and more from my wacky Registry registration info scheme and had to quickly construct ad hoc apps to deal with it. Every request received a unique registration number; the toolset came with a special registration program to get the data into the Registry.

Due to the difficulties on 15 April, Chris John and I decided Lockergnome should again use us as the headline article in the issue slated for 1 May.

Agneta and Tracy had come to Cambridge to visit. Agneta told me what I did was my business; Tracy was not kind with John. He was literally wasting his time and even hurting his health doing something for free for which he received no recompense.

By 3 PM GMT 1 May it was again hopeless with at times over fifty messages per minute and there was no point in even trying to download the mail, so we took the afternoon off and all went to early dinner in Brinkley. Later that night John told me he wouldn't be around much longer.

A couple of weeks after that I managed to move us to our own domain where we've stayed ever since. Things were scratchy back then; the software had its foibles; it was still better than almost anything else out there; and it was still free.

Chris inquired about what was to become CIP - 'Chris's IP Probe'. This was an app to supersede a VB app Chris had otherwise been using. CIP was initially branded as a Chris Pirillo and Radsoft joint effort with Chris's old Lockergnome icon. Chris was in fact solely responsible for the initial design of the program.

Incessant complaints and totally dumb enquiries about our XPT led us to finally decide we had no way out: as one fan expressed it, 'a price tag will separate the wheat from that other stuff'. So after a month of conversations with Chris Farris of Digital River (his dime, not ours) we went with them.

We received numerous enquiries at this time, all protesting that there would be a price tag. We offered to keep the product free if we received help in maintaining the product online; no one offered to help.

The idea, in other words, was never to make money, only to not lose it.

Running the site ruined one marriage and threatened one career, and every day spent running it was $1,000 out of pocket. Both John and I were making so much money back then we didn't seem to mind. (But Tracy, John's wife, did. Agneta, mine, stayed out of it.)

The XPT had been scattered around Scandinavia for years. Dropping into development teams as 'energisers', we brought the tools with us, and yet found few programmers around us were willing to go the extra mile as we did. Thus the literal 'explosion' on the Internet came as more than a surprise - it was a shock.

Perhaps the worst was when John showed us a letter he'd received from Chris.

    'Norton should be shaking in their boots.'

I asked Agneta if she understood what that meant. She did. Was it fame? The lust for it? I really don't know. 1,500 mail messages a day is a lot of attention. We kept at it despite not having a single sou to show for our efforts. After John's departure things didn't change.

During one week in 1998 we had four of the top five downloads at Beverly Hills Software. This was right when Internet Explorer, WinZip, and Netscape had all come out with new versions. A fifth product was lodged at number six the same week. I don't think anyone else has ever done that anywhere, ever.


The Digital River Halloween promotion: Digital River had written their own Windows screen saver; it would be available for free to anyone who made a purchase. Vendors had to opt in.

The opt in consisted of a 50 KB MS Word document that had to be returned in toto only for an 'x' in a box at the bottom. But oh heck, we opted in.

Then reports came in from customers. They clicked on the button for the free screen saver and their browsers crashed. This happened to both Netscape and IE browsers. I went to the purchase page and checked the code.

A click on the 'take screen saver' button attempted to add the screen saver to the customer's shopping cart, but only pages with more than one product had a shopping cart. We, as most vendors then, did not have more than one product, and thus we had no shopping cart.

The code tried to access a memory object that did not exist and the browser crashed ignominiously. Clear as black on white in the source.

I wrote to DR about it. Things take several days to reach the right person at DR. Finally I got a reply through a customer rep. The rep had been in touch with their web department. The web department reported back - and this deserves a graf of its own it's so good:

'Tell the vendor there's probably something wrong with his installed random access memory (RAM). He should take his computer to a repair shop and have his memory chip replaced.'


On a trip to London for Pygmalion our good friend Russell A tried to purchase at Digital River, got the kind of run-around only Digital River could accomplish, and when I returned and read all 45 of his letters I decided on the spot that DR was to be put out of the picture and signed us with Reg.Net.

The difficulty with Reg.Net was twofold. Neither part was evident at once. Our contact Nathan was a brilliant guy, and so we didn't notice what we were to later notice.

Reg.Net run an IIS site - something which in our age is totally unforgivable. They are always getting hacked into and one time were down seventeen days while our good customers were clamouring for product they'd paid for.

No matter how many times we told Reg.Net they needed to get more secure servers, they changed nothing. So we went with Kagi.

We still have contracts with Digital River, NetSales, Reg.Net, even RegSoft, but stick with Kagi because Kagi are the smartest and most honest people going. They are true heroes and treat everyone with respect.

And when all we want to do is get by, we need that.


The Bloatbusters was my idea and came about in the aftermath of getting mugged. A black event. Agneta lived in a 'gentrified' area of Stockholm and I was out shopping for dinner. A little girl was making trouble in the checkout line, pushing around, and I calmly told her to stay with her mother and be patient.

When I'd got to the street a gang came up at me from behind and tossed me into a wall and started making threats. I had no idea who they were. The issue seemed to be that I had actually made physical contact with the little girl.

The Turk who ran the local kebab shop explained it to me: they were Afghans and they were scary, and when he gave change to them he had to lay it on the counter. If he put it in their hands, their men would come charging over the counter. Nice people.

I ringed the police; they came and visited, took a report and consoled. One male, one female (and comely as per usual there, even for the police). I didn't want to know how many of those idiots were 'packing', they said, took down the details and went off into the night.

Working my way out of that I came up with the Bloatbusters, and soon an IT suit from California, a sysadmin from California, and a marketing wiz from Boston were in on the act. I kicked back and let them supply copy - I only formatted it and put it online. Their identities are kept a secret to this day. We had a great time and it all helped me work my way out of the shock of the assault.


The XPT membership idea was very simple: keep out 'that other stuff'. It also helped keep down our bills, as everyone pays for bandwidth.

As we weren't trying to turn the XPT into a cash cow, if you proved you were serious by buying, that was good enough. You became our friend and we'd keep on going with you. Everyone knows that the best customer is the customer you already have, so we've undoubtedly thrown away hundreds of thousands by now with our weird system.

But the idea was to avoid 'impulse purchases' by people who had no business trying to use the stuff. We didn't want to spend the days giving courses in bits and bytes and office automation. Everybody thinks they're special and the rules only apply to everyone else. You tell them you don't have time to teach them, but they figure you can make an exception for them. But they're all exceptions.

Putting a price tag on it meant you better know what you're doing before you buy - you can always take a refund within thirty days, but the level of bandwidth and all the unnecessary and soul-killing correspondence gets cut to nil. That was needed.

The XPT is, after all, for developers. And it's only coincidental that sysadmins can find use for some of it too. But ordinary users? No.

The name 'extreme power tools' comes from an interview John gave with an online news agency. He was asked if these tools - ostensibly for developers - could also be used by 'power users'.

'Yes', John replied, 'but in such case EXTREME power users.'

And the name stuck. We fought the 'XPT' thing as soon as we heard of it - first with Chris Pirillo's Lockergnome - but had to finally give up. Others had named our product and we had no influence over its name.


We still get our share of crackpots. Following is a smattering of the kinds of things we see.

* Customer A writes after one year six months to say he's not received enough new programs and is therefore entitled to a full refund.

* Customer B, after seeing our latest letter about please not destroying your AVC file, does so anyway - deliberately. He's been a subscriber for three years.

* Customer C, from White Russia, takes our download URL and turns it into big business. Only when we give CNET a beta of AWSA does he react - or rather his black market customers do. He lost all his money and he was pissed. He was not nice.

* Customers D, E, and F, from Pennsylvania, Canada, and the Netherlands respectively, begin a nightly hunt around our FTP site that continues for several years, causing us to finally shut down the site.

* Customers G through Z put our mail addresses in their Outlook address books, get infected, and spam starts pouring in to the tune of over 300 messages a day.

* Customer AA protests that he cannot download from our FTP when we give the two month warning, insists he doesn't have a street address where he can be sent a CD, and ever since - about once per half year - opens four or five bogus mail accounts and dumps tonnes of obscenities at Sydney.

* Customer AB, aware of how thick Reg.Net are, purchases our product, waits half a year, then writes to them and says that inasmuch as he isn't getting X-news anymore he should be entitled to a full refund. Reg.Net grant the refund without so much as consulting us first.

* Customers AC through AZ, hearing we would have to close down the 24/7 FTP access while we worked out what had happened and figured out a new way to do things, write us nasty hostile pompous letters with tonnes of insults and obscenities.

* Customers BA through BZ, when we opened our members section, invite in all their friends and make a mess of things.

* Customers CA through CZ write once a week and whine that they've thrown away the message explaining how the members section username and password work. We tell them but they still write back regularly with the same story.

* Customer DA puts us on his hacker mailing list. We protested; he insisted. We warned him; he kept going. We cut off his subscription; he went online to tell his friends we were a 'chain letter scam operation'.

* Customer DB whines online that he has a subscription but cannot get an update. He refuses to identify himself and others protest that they always get updates. He all but gives the game away when he writes: 'I won't buy anything more from them until I get a Mac' and then suddenly - out of the blue - claims we have contacted him and all is now well again. (We had not contacted anyone with such an issue.)

* A professor from Berkeley on sabbatical in Salt Lake City writes to register his copy; we reply the same day. The next day his wife writes off the same account and accuses us of roping her husband into a 'children of god' cult and screams we must get her off our list.

* A sysadmin in Salt Lake City born in Teheran sees nothing wrong with the nutty wife because 'she is an American and it is every American's god-given right to be rude'.

* An owner of a software site in Malaysia writes to say it's wrong to put a price on the XPT. We reply that if he promises to host the downloads and take 100% of the support, we will let it remain free. He never writes back.

* A college coed writes to tell us we are scum because Rocket Download promised her thirty nine free applications and she can only count thirty eight.

* Sysadmins all across the globe write to get details of our educational licence programme; they're looking for a rebate, but when they're told our system is a way for everyone at their university to get the XPT for free and all they have to do is store the download image, not a one of them replies. We finally shelve the entire programme.

* A confused user writes to ask us for help in 'iconising' his menu; when we write to say we don't really know what he is talking about, he writes back to say we are anal-retentive assholes.

* A hispanic immigrant to the US is taking a course in programming at a university and is supposed to write a simple networking tool. He demands we write a core ping utility that he can wrap in a Visual Basic program so he can pass his course. When we refuse and suggest he study a bit instead, he gets nasty and obscene.

* The US Department of the Interior in Denver are moonlighting looking for ways to crack our site. John finally writes to the DOI in Washington and they agree to help - but then they tell us their sysadmin in Denver went in one afternoon and shouted: 'OK everybody! Nobody can stay late tonight! We're putting a sniffer on the line to catch a thief!' The attacks began again several years later.


If you read the not so fine print on the lifetime EULA you will see it applies to Win32 and only Win32. If there ever is a 64-bit version of the XPT, you won't get it. It will be a new subscription.

In the event there is a 64-bit version of the XPT, it will not be lifetime either. We've made our mistakes; we don't even use Windows anymore; if there is going to be any more work for Windows, it will be run as a business and not as now.

We will justify every effort we put into it in terms of profitability - after all, someone (Sydney) is paying our bills right now anyway. Every bit. If we can't get a fair amount back, we won't do it.

For that matter, the 'lifetime' disappears after 31 December anyway. And for a few good reasons:

#1) There isn't much product to update.
#2) What needs updating everyone can and will have anyway.
#3) Windows might not be dead, but it smells awful.


We're trying to keep our jobs. Our jobs are not running the Radsoft site and supporting the XPT. The idea with the price tag was to avoid all the kinky letters that seem to come in from everywhere.

As spam got worse we found ourselves forced to change email addresses. We know that anyone who needs to contact us will still find us, but we cannot, repeat CANNOT, be at the mercy of lamers who put our addresses in their Outlook address books, let it all go to the dogs with new viruses and trojans so that we have to continually swap addresses all over again.

About 5% at most, perhaps only 2% realistically of everyone who writes is an ignoramus. This is unfortunate, because it ruins things for the rest of us. The above examples show you a bit of what we've been up against.

We're fully aware that there are at most a handful of you out there who care what happens to us, and that for the rest of you - you don't give a damn. No form of any abuse is too much to ask or perpetrate; you bought a product, so that gives you the right to be obnoxious and abusive.

Were we to have a straight system where you got quid for quo, it wouldn't matter. We could tell you to buzz off, you've got your download. But we're trying to make friends here, people we can trust and care for just as much as we'd like to be seen and cared for. Unfortunately, as stated, there are idiots out there who ruin it.


2004 saw one program revised and another one created. E3 Finalizer is better today and E3 Nighttime came about as a direct result of a customer request and was added to the XPT. That brings the total up to 146.

This is about all you can expect from anything on the Windows platform. The Windows platform is not worth writing for, and anyone enough of a fool to keep using it can regard themselves as an utter fool.

When Windows was not yet connected, when connections were a new thing, when the Love Bug had not yet hit, Microsoft software was still not good - but at least it was not overtly dangerous.

Things have changed today.

When we saw the Love Bug hit it confirmed our worst suspicions. We didn't like the Microsoft product line for purely aesthetic reasons, and we didn't like Bill Gates for purely ethical reasons, but we did not yet realise the dangers inherent in the type of software Bill Gates was willing to put on the market.

Nor did we realise the type of market bullying he and Steve Ballmer had already been engaged in. The TP Jackson Findings of Fact opened our eyes and the eyes of a lot of people. Things diffuse became suddenly clear.

It is no longer a matter of taste to choose or not choose to migrate from Windows. Anyone who is an honest 'someone' on the Internet has been proselytising about this for ages now. You need only follow suit.

As things devolve only more and more indications and evidence comes to light about how bad Microsoft really are, both as a corporate unit and as a source of software engineering. Our main objection had always been 'it's poorly engineered', but Fred Bjorck quickly pointed out that the poor engineering in Microsoft products would be a significant danger in the New Millennium, and he was right.

It's not just aesthetics anymore; would that it could be. But it's not. It's a matter of saving your own skin, of every man for himself. There are dangers out there, real dangers, and we're not talking about losing a hard drive, we're talking about losing one's life savings, one's identity, yes perhaps one's life.

Microsoft have been spying on every Windows user since at least 1999. All your actions, mouse clicks and menu selections have been silently and secretly recorded by Microsoft.

Microsoft made it impossible for you to delete your web caches. They told you they were deleting them and then didn't do it. The infamous 'index.dat' issue is today a well known fact.

Microsoft deliberately engineered their Windows 98 and Windows 2000 products to entangle ordinary API calls into modules under the control of their web browser Internet Explorer, all so they could tell the judge that IE was an integral part of the operating system when it wasn't. From one release of Windows to the next all applications linked to different DLLs despite the code being the same.

Now Steve Ballmer is threatening the governments of the Far East with retaliation if they dare abandon Windows. Eric Raymond would surely have something to say about this, and probably already has, but that at any rate is the face of Microsoft: they don't care and will pull any trick at all to remain where they are.

Mozilla's products have eaten away at the IE market share. What is puzzling is that so many - 88.9% - stick with this horrid web tool. It has no tabs; it cannot block popups; it's got more holes than a colander - averages about ten new exploits each month nowadays - and yet - what are people doing actually?

We do not access the web with a Windows box and will not do so. We have used FTP on rare occasions but will go no further. We have too much of a responsibility to each and every one of you to make sure you remain virus free. An ordinary Windows box is going to get hit two to three times a minute; any open hole and it would be 'game over'. We shall not take the chance.

All our development today is on Unix. Unix is the platform of choice today, and has been for several years. The bottom of the food chain are still wallowing in the old stuff that came about with the dip in Unix use between 1995 and the Millennium. But now it's all Unix again, and the coming years will only be more so.

Apple are out in front with their server hardware. Suspicion is IBM won't deliver better 64-bit 970s because they'd help Apple outsell them in their own market. IBM are ditching their twenty some year old PC business - their brand steward was close to being let go and today is in upper state New York working with something else.

iPod users who run PCs are gradually migrating from Windows. 6% have made the plunge and another 8% say they will at next upgrade time. That's one sixth of them all, and that's a lot.

Linus Torvalds made it to Mars. The only way Bill Gates will make it into outer space is if the US DOJ invents a new punishment for monopoly abuse. And at the same time a US battleship was left totally helpless by a Windows NT navigation system - yes, it crashed - what else did you expect? If that boat had been in a battle, each and every sailor on board would today be dead.

Ballmer's got so desperate he's now taken to threatening government officials. It all breaks down to those Halloween Documents Eric Raymond got ahold of so long ago now: they're beat and they know it and only by escalating the level of crime could they have a theoretical chance of survival.

OS X is the obvious choice, and for several reasons.

#1) Mac hardware is more dependable and cheaper than PC hardware.
#2) The OS X GUI is dazzling and the other desktops will never touch it.

But the perhaps most important reason is this:

#3) The software development process means lean and mean and no bugs.

As developers, we feel a responsibility to help the grunts get out from under the shite they're being weighed down with today. This is the way to do it. GUIs will be around for quite some time, regardless of voice input. The only way to program GUIs that's ever appeared reasonable is the method built into NeXTSTEP. Period.

Programmers - the pros, not the idiot amateurs - are good people. They deserve better. We meet them all the time in our teaching and they're a constant source of inspiration. They'd like to have it better, and the only thing stopping them is the obsession with the shite products of Microsoft.


We're proud of what we've done on the Windows platforms. We have more than a right to be. We're also proud of how we've handled the hysterical popularity. But that's all water under the bridge. We fail in our mission to be honest no matter the cost if we don't tell you it's time to leave.

We've been telling you for over five years now.

So yes, it's time: you've had long enough.


Seasons Greetings - Happy New Year.

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