Sipping Cappuccino at 280 North
The Silicon Valley dream of young entrepreneurs starting their own company is alive and well at 280 North. Named after the highway that travels the hills above Northern California’
Graham thinks that 280 North is essentially following Microsoft’
The rivalry seems friendly enough, and ultimately, Cappuccino and SproutCore may both attract separate followings who are each pursuing the same goals. Ryan Carson of the UK’
As for Graham, he has no illusions that all software will eventually be built on top of Cappuccino. “But pretty much all software will be built on top of something like Cappuccino. Even Microsoft is gradually and grudgingly moving their applications to Web-based versions. All software data is going to live on servers and you’
Robinson spoke with me by phone:
- How did 280 North get started?
- We all met at USC as undergraduates, all majoring in computer science. After graduating, my colleagues, Francisco Tolmasky and Ross Boucher, worked at Apple for a short time. I just finished school last year. But we actually began the business while we were in college with the idea of making it easier to write Web applications. Our background was mostly in building desktop applications running on Macs OS X. But when we tried to do similar things on the Web, we found it a lot harder to create real applications in HTML and CSS. It’
s easy to make dynamic Web pages, but when you try to go beyond that, the model breaks down.
t this already a crowded space?
t require any plug-ins. We also wanted to push as much application logic as possible to the client while still using the server to deploy the application and store data－as opposed to server-side web application technologies like Rails. The advantage is that you can access your application anywhere. Users don’ t need to download any special plug-ins or worry about what version of Flash or Java they have, and they get instant updates. For the developer, the main benefit of Cappuccino’ s being interpreted on the client side is that you don’ t need to keep recompiling for every change you make. You just refresh your browser and the new version works.
- You wrote Cappuccino in your own language: Objective-J. How did that project come about?
t widely used, but it’ s bundled with Xcode in Leopard－so it’ s free. So we broadened our focus, realizing this technology would be useful for any sort of Web application, not just dashboard widgets.
- How does that work?
- How close is Objective-C to Objective-J?
- For some developers, the steepest part of the learning curve will be the Cappuccino framework, which is a re-implementation of the Cocoa APIs built with Objective-J. Those APIs began with Nextstep and OpenStep－which became Cocoa when Apple bought NeXT. But there are also some other implementations of the Cocoa APIs, such as the open source GNUstep. There’
s also Cocoatron, which is essentially Cocoa on Windows. Cappuccino is Cocoa on the Web. It provides developers with a solid foundation of technologies to develop very rich web applications. It gives you features like undo, copy/ paste, document management and better graphics, together with a rich set of UI widgets.
- Cappuccino has been mostly compared with SproutCore. Are you saying Cappuccino’
s advantage is in a faster learning curve?
- Are you suggesting that SproutCore and Cappuccino are really for two different types of developers with different kinds of background?
- Yes－they both have similar ideas and goals. SproutCore still uses HTML and CSS, whereas when you write a Cappuccino application you never touch HTML or CSS. That’
s an advantage for a lot of people, but if you are used to HTML and CSS, you might prefer SproutCore.
- Whereas if you have an Apple development background, Cappuccino sounds like it might be a better fit.
- Definitely. Even if you don’
t, we still think the benefits of it are worth learning it if you are trying to make the sorts of applications that Cappuccino is useful for.
- When did you decide to make Cappuccino open source?
- We always knew we wanted to go open source, but we just weren’
t sure when to do it. We only licensed the framework under the LGPL [GNU Lesser General Public License] in late summer. This is a very young open source project.
- Is there an open source development community forming around the project?
- Yes. There’
s a pretty significant sized IRC chat room and mailing list that we are always hanging out in and helping people out with their problems. It gets pretty decent traffic.
- Our overhead is fairly minimal, but it’
s always great for us to have faster engines－our applications will run faster for free. Anybody who uses the new browsers gets a speed boost for free. The latest versions of Firefox and Safari are our recommended browsers.
- Have you seen any boost in Google’
s Chrome browser?
- Chrome is also very fast, but is not, that we’
ve seen, significantly faster than Safari or Firefox.
- Besides 280 Slides from you, I’
ve haven’ t seen any other applications developed under Cappuccino. What’ s in development?
- There are not a lot of other applications out there right now, just because this is such a young project. But there are a few people in the open source community that are beginning to share what they are working on. We’
ve seen a media player similar to iTunes, a Twitter client, and a dashboard-type home screen with a bunch of widgets. If you are doing something very simple, the overhead of Cappuccino is probably not worth it. The application needs to be sufficiently complex in order to benefit.
- What about porting apps to the iPhone?
- In principle, that should work because the iPhone’
s browser is based on the Webkit open source browser engine. We’ re still working on optimizing Cappuccino for that very limited memory, but there is definitely potential for Cappuccino on iPhone applications.
s the revenue model for 280 North? Do you plan to make money by developing more apps?
ve got several things in progress that I can’ t talk about, other than to say that we think 280 Slides, which is free, has the potential for a premium, fee-based version. There are a lot of features we could add and charge for. That’ s one option. Another is in building a business around Cappuccino.
- You and your colleagues are part of the newest generation of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. What’
s that like?
s a lot of fun and a lot of hard work－but its great being here. Pretty much every week we’ re going to some sort of event, whether it’ s an entrepreneur meet-up or a technical talk or parties with different start-ups. Silicon Valley definitely seems like the place to be for start-ups, especially young start-ups. Y Combinator also provided a great network of people doing interesting stuff.