Subject: PTF's MacPerl experiment
From: Rich Morin <rdm@cfcl.com>
Date: Fri, 24 Apr 1998 17:18:16 -0700

I don't know whether this will fit everyone's idea of free software,
but I'd like to describe what PTF has done and is currently doing
about MacPerl and our new book "MacPerl: Power and Ease".

MacPerl has been around for several years, but it has nowhere near the
following of Unix Perl.  The MacPerl email list, for instance, is only
1K - 2K in size.  Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that no
book has ever existed for MacPerl.  Occasional CD-ROMs have included
it, but none ever concentrated on it.  In short, a lack of formalized
support and marketing "push".

There is also a widespread perception (with some basis in fact) that
Macintosh users are allergic to anything that looks like programming.
Unix users have to program (at least a little) in order to get through
the day; Mac users can click and drag and accomplish most of the same
results.  (If I said that the Mac is an interactive system and Unix is
a glorified RJE system, I'd probably get an argument, so I won't. :-)

Anyway, PTF decided to meet this challenge by creating a book and
trying for some publicity.  We figured that, if we could introduce a
reasonable fraction of the Mac and Perl communities to the existence
of MacPerl, selling a book on the subject shouldn't all be that hard.

We developed the book under a "Bazaar" model, releasing new chapters
and updates every few weeks over a several-month period.  About 50
members of the MacPerl email list sent in comments, ranging from nits
about spelling and punctuation to full-blown discourses on language,
pedagogical style, and more.  All told, it was a very interesting and
useful set of feedback.

Now that the book is in production, the marketing problem remains.  I
have looked over the magazine stands, and believe me, there aren't any
magazines for casual Mac programmers.  There is MacTech, which targets
high-end Mac developers (perhaps 100K, all told).  There are MacWorld
and a (diminishing) band of "user" magazines, none of which spend any
time on programming topics.  NetProfessional, recently acquired by
Xplain Corporation (which also publishes MacTech) covers web-related
issues in the Mac community and is starting to get more technical.

In short, the formal avenues for publicity in the Mac arena are not
well suited to our needs.  The situation over on the Perl/Unix side
is a bit better, but there is still a limit to how many articles they
will take on MacPerl.

So, we needed a different approach.  Noting that the Mac community is
well served by email lists, ezines, USENET groups, and web sites, we
decided to take our story to the 'net.  The story?  MacPerl is real,
it's free, and it even has an introductory/reference book which can be
read online, for free (http://www.ptf.com/macperl/ptf_book/HTML/).

It's unclear, at this point, what the results will be.  Orders are not
storming in, as yet, but the web traffic has been pretty impressive.
(We had to enlist Adam Richter's aid when our 56 kb/s Frame Relay line
started to melt down!)

If someone wants to tell me that this is simply a marketing stunt for
a proprietary product, I'm really not in a position to argue with them.
OTOH, I believe it's a bit more than that and even a rather interesting
experiment.  Time will tell whether it should be repeated...

-r


Rich Morin, Canta Forda Computer Laboratory | Prime Time Freeware - quality
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