John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Mac Daddy Serlet's Surprise Departure More of a Planned Transition

“Inside Apple there is a system to search the source code for every product they ship. The idea is that when you need to track down the definition of that primitive method that keeps crashing on you, you just go to this site, type in the function name, and get the source laid out in front of you (nicely syntax highlighted, of course). Well, one day I got the idea to use this tool to search for people, instead of functions. For a while now the policy at Apple has been that engineer’s names don’t go in the public headers that ship…but there’s no rule about internal code that the outside world will never see. So I typed in “Bertrand Serlet” into the search, and the first thing that popped up?

malloc.c

Seriously! The rest of the list was equally impressive including the original implementation of NSObject, a bunch of CoreFoundation, and on, and on. Avi Tevanian often gets credit for the work that he did on Mach, but Bertrand was most of the brains behind Cocoa.”

A former Apple engineer on Bertrand Serlet

So Bertrand Serlet, senior vice president of Mac software engineering and the guy who spent the past decade defining, redefining and iterating Mac OS X, is leaving Apple. Why now?

The party line says he’s decided “to focus less on products and more on science.” That’s a plausible explanation, given Serlet’s mad scientist airs and background, which includes stints at Xerox PARC and NeXT. And while the timing of the announcement might seem odd–Apple is ramping up for the release of Lion, the next iteration of OS X–the truth of the matter is that this is a planned transition.

There’s a reason Craig Federighi, who is to take over Serlet’s role, handled demo duties for Apple’s Lion preview demo last year (see video below). And there’s a reason Serlet has been selling off Apple shares recently. They’ve been preparing for this day, which sources tell me is not at all the result of a spat over differences in strategic direction or the diminishment of OS X’s importance to Apple.

“There’s no acrimony there,” one source close to the company told me. “Bertrand’s just decided it’s his time to move on. Avie (Tevanian, former senior vice president of software engineering) handed off to him and now he’s handing off to Craig. It’s just a changing of the guard.”

In other words, Serlet isn’t leaving because because Lion heralds some subsuming of OS X to iOS and the setting of his star at Apple. He’s leaving because he feels it’s time and likely because Lion seems a perfect monument to his legacy at Apple.

Below, video of Serlet and Federighi in action.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik