Udanax ? (was Persist or not persist : comment)

shapj@us.ibm.com shapj@us.ibm.com
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 10:34:03 -0400

> Remember Xanadu, the huge hypertext system Ted Nelson imagined but never
> managed to finish?  Udanax = reverse(Xanadu).

As a former Xanadu CEO (I managed the Autodesk spinout), I feel this is a
distraction.  At the time I took over, Xanadu suffered from three problems:

1. Ted's personal issues about control.
2. Lack of money
3. The Xanadu group's inadequate understanding of production development, basic
engineering skills, the desire to ship, or the fact that closure must sometimes
be preferred over perfection.
4. A design that really hadn't been thought out well with regard to common cases
and/or simplification and/or I/O management.

Understand that these are generalizations, that all of the people involved very
much wanted to do the right thing, and that most worked hard to learn how; they
simply didn't have enough time to apply what they learned.  Autodesk bears a
good part of the responsibility. They were supposed to have provided Xanadu with
good management. They did (Marc Stiegler), but then slipped from #4 to #5,
looked around, realized that the only guy they had who could recover things was
Marc, and promptly moved him to VP Software at Autodesk to reorganize the
company's software operations. It was the right decision for Autodesk, but in
the process, Xanadu's chances of success were lost.

By the time I resigned, (1) and (3) had been fixed, (4) had been deferred in the
interest of shipping something (anything). (2) was on the way to being fixed,
though Ted was managing to do incalculable damage.  The decision to open source
the code represents a very fundamental change in perspective for Ted.

The Xanadudes were quite brilliant architects. Problem (4), however, is serious,
and I think that any system built from either of the original Xanadu code bases
will fail. I am hopeful that udanax will eventually succeed, but I don't think
that they will do so from the current code base.

Jonathan S. Shapiro, Ph. D.
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Email: shapj@us.ibm.com
Phone: +1 914 784 7085  (Tieline: 863)
Fax: +1 914 784 7595