The AppleMatters Interview: Rick Ellis
Rick Ellis is the CEO and Lead Developer of pMachine, Inc. pMachine is a weblogging tool that powers many sites across the web, including AppleMatters. It is a fine piece of software that is being followed-up with ExpressionEngine, the latest and greatest to come from the minds at pMachine. The software uses MySQL and PHP and was developed on a Mac. Apple caught up with technically adept Rick Ellis to discuss ExpressionEngine, and why he develops on the Mac.
Hadley Stern: You are a developer using open source technologies like PHP and MySQL. Seems like you would be developing on Linux, why use the Mac?
Rick Ellis: The short answer is because I hate using the command line. I prefer using a computer with a graphic interface. The longer answer is that I’m a long-time Mac user. When I was a teenager, I worked a summer job for Apple building Apple II and Lisa (remember those!). Later, I became a recording engineer and sound designer. In that industry, Macintosh is the platform of choice for non-linear recording, editing, and sequencing systems. I became a specialist in computer-based audio, doing projects for film, TV and interactive. When I discovered the web, tools like Photoshop and Illustrator were predominantly used on Mac. Fortunately OS X emerged just when I was getting into web programming, so I never had to use Linux. With OS X you have all the benefits of Linux in a stunning industrial design with a gorgeous interface.
What was your first Apple product?
An Apple SE 30 - the original portable! I later owned a Performa, then various towers. In the last few years I’ve totally abandoned desktops in favor of using PowerBooks.
Having been a Mac user for such a long time, does the way Macs work inspire the way you work or develop?
Using a Mac definitely enables my creative process more than other platforms.
Tell us a little about ExpressionEngine.
It’s our new generation web publishing system. We’ve had over 50,000 people download pMachine over the past couple years. ExpressionEngine takes everything we’ve learned from that and rolls it into a shiny new program.
Is ExpressionEngine a weblogging tool or a content management tool?
ExpressionEngine is a publishing tool that has strong roots in weblogging but can be used effectively as a content management system. Our goal is to blur the distinction between the two.
Do you see products like ExpressionEngine integrating more tightly with OS X? For example, Apple has introduced, through .Mac, the ability to use iBlog.
One of the benefits of a system like ExpressionEngine is that it is platform-agnostic. It will run on any web server, from OS X, to Linux, to Windows, and as a user, you can access it using any web browser on any desktop computer. This neutrality is the cornerstone of the web. As much as I love Apple, I’m ambivalent about embracing platform-specific tools. Of course if Steve Jobs wants to make us an offer, I’m all ears!
Could you have used OS 9 to develop ExpressionEngine?
Not really. I certainly could have programmed using BBEdit or a similar text editor, but I would have had to use a web server to test and run the actual web application.
What programs do you use to write code?
BBEdit. That’s basically it. And a web browser to run the program. I occasionally use the Terminal to run some command line stuff.
Do you develop using Mac OS X or, OS X server? Which packages of php/mysql do you use?
I do almost everything on my PowerBook, currently running OS 10.3.2. I use Marc Liyanage’s PHP and MySQL packages, compiled specifically for OS X. I should mention that Paul Burdick, my CTO, runs the same setup.
You have, in the past, received some great press in Mac publications. Are users of pMachine/ExpressionEngine predominantly Mac OS users?
I think we have a higher percentage of Mac users than other web software, but overall our user-base is quite diverse.
Why, if you develop on the Mac, does pMachine hosting use Linux? Are there disadvantages to hosting on the Mac?
As incredibly cool as Xserve is, it’s simply more expensive. The margins in hosting are very low so you have to be very careful to keep your costs under control. Xserve also lacks the redundant power supplies that our IBM hardware has, so if there is a catastrophic power failure, you’re dead on an Xserve. There were a few other factors that kept us from choosing Xserve, like the depth of its chassis, which barely fits in a standard enclosed rack without cables and connectors.
Does Apple Matter?
Absolutely. They provide the computing world with innovation, aesthetic, forward-vision, and sheer coolness. The industry would be beige and boring without them.