On the day we celebrate tricks, it's perhaps a good time to remember a major computer industry hoax: Rosebud Technology. At the April Macworld Expo in San Francisco (this is no joke), a group of Mac tricksters hoped to lure the press into covering an exciting and new networking technology for the Mac. Of course, some took the bait.
Following the great Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, there was no January Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Instead, it was held in April 1990, with the first day of the show falling on April Fools Day.
Several tricksters produced t-shirts, press releases, and announcements for a nonexistent group of products. People wore the shirts on the show floor, adding to the buzz.
Since this was way before the commercialization of the Internet, there was no website — all of the tricks were hardcopy. Sadly, I don't remember the team that created this hoax (and others including the later Xanthoma joke press release that I include below).
Here's what I wrote about it in my column in the MicroTimes monthly magazine (it was in the form of a quiz):
5) The hardest thing to find at the Expo was: a) a place to sit down and rest your feet. b) your badge. c) Rosebud Technology booth.
Answer: C. Rosebud seemed to be everywhere at the Expo, with t-shirts, press releases, and a booth that was very hard to find, even though signs and flyers directed interested parties to the booth. The company announced a series of provocative products, that sparked the interest of several reporters and editors. The major difficulty was that Rosebud was a hoax — “rosebud” was the word that fueled the investigation in the movie, Citizen Kane. This joke was a celebration of April Fool’s Day (Expo trickster observance always falls on the first day of the show) by some old Mac hands.
The principal products in the Rosebud line were PowerLink and Silicon Valet. PowerLink was supposedly an Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) device that would allow a Mac to communicate with another Mac, or printer, over the existing electrical wiring in a building. They claimed their “AppleTalk-compatible protocol allows you to transfer data at many times the speed of a modem!” [Remember that back then, a very fast modem had a data transfer rate of 14.4 Kbits per second, that's bits not bytes. Speeds of 9,600 bits per second or slower were the norm.]
Silicon Valet (pronounced Val-lay, get it) was an “elegantly simple engineering breakthrough” that connected your Mac to any phone plug or AC wall outlet. This would allow your Mac to control any connected electrical device, using its SLED, or SmartNode Logic Emulation Driver software. Movie buffs remember that Rosebud was really the brand of sled that Kane rode as a kid.
You can see how obvious some of the hoax clues are, if you are looking for a hoax. It all sounds reasonable. And there were t-shirts! I recall that at least one business publication wrote about it. So, the tricksters achieved their goal.
Back in the days, it was said that before any work on a new product was done, managers needed to create an unusual and fun code name as well as a t-shirt. So, this hoax provided both.
For computing newbies: AppleTalk was the networking protocol built into the Macintosh, which helped pioneer local-area networking for PC-style computers. It was later called LocalTalk, when the Apple brand created trouble in the business world. PowerTalk riffed on that name.
As for using power lines for networking, this technology became a real product, which I remember using before WiFi came on the scene. It's still used today.
Later in 1990, the jokesters sent out a take-off press release, or broadside, commenting on Ted Nelson’s Xanadu Project. Futurist Nelson is the father of hypertext, and he had been pushing the Xanadu vision for years even then (Wired calls it the "longest-running vaporware story" in the computer industry).
Here it is:
Tomorrow’s Paradigm: A Seamless and Reunited Computer World. One World! Almost Ready to Ship!
The long-awaited Xanthoma™ stowage program, under development even as you read this, at the Xanthoma Company, Ltd., a subsidiary of A Real Big Corporation, Inc., may have insanely dramatic consequences throughout the universe as we know it and will set a record for using run-on sentences inside of crowded press releases that look suspiciously like New-Age advertisements.
A New Universe—No Kidding! This new way of using your computer, which we not really even describe, will permit anyone to access any data, anywhere, made at any time since Creation (we have it in good with the Big Kahuna), all shared thru links forged of iron. All Data! Yes!
Applications. Read our lips, dude: You might make some money or get famous or even something better, maybe, but only if you use our stuff. We take care of all of the problems, leaving you with fame, fortune, and fending off up to thousands of attractive admirers Your only worries! How ‘Bout That?
User Interfaces. Yeah, o.k., you still have to write the applications. But it’s only the simple stuff, like linking and occlusion and stuff, so you won’t have to work real hard or anything. We’ll probably even be able to point you in the right direction code-wise. No Nasty Toolbox Learning Curve!
Groupware. Pretty hot topic, huh? Once you buy into our weltanshaung [world view], you can throw around words like “Rotostowage,” “Groupware,” and “Paradigm!” MacWeek columnists will grovel at your feet, begging for interviews. You won’t even need a product, Just a Good Broadsheet!
Open HyperText Publishing means that we hope a lot of people are going to put out stuff that will be interconnected to other stuff, in all forms of data, including text, graphics, 3-D lab data, clips from old movies, demo tapes from garage-bands that never made it to the Big Time, digitized family vacation photo albums, and all other conceivable forms of information; all automatically cross-indexed in microseconds with no red tape or psychoactive drugs.
Paradigm Warp. This is a new way of thinking about everything. It is wrenching to the mind. That’s why this broadsheet doesn’t really even tell you what it is. Dramamine™ should be included with every package. I’m getting sick now, just reflecting on even considering the possibility of pondering it.
Real Soon: We’re just about ready to tell you what we’re going to do! Full details of everything, with graphic color photos (must be over 18), new FEEBLE protocol, and certain new concepts that we don’t quite have a grip on ourselves.
Sooner than You Think: Something will be released that shows we’re serious about all this.
Just a Little Bit Later: Everyone on the planet will own a copy and want to buy your stuff!
While You’re Still Young Enough To Enjoy It: Early developers could make Big Bucks with Xanthoma™ Rotostowage™ applications. Think about it! Could be worth your while.
XANTHOMA™ Rotostowage® MORE PARADIGMS™ THAN YOU CAN SHAKE® A STICK™ AT™