Sal Soghoian: In Appreciation

Last week, Sal Soghoian announced that his position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies at Apple had been eliminated. Today seems like a good day to reflect and say thanks…

I first met Sal when he was an independent consultant. It was 1996 at Seybold Seminars, a print-industry expo.

A tiny group of us from CompuServe's DTP forum were wearing protest t-shirts, asking Adobe to improve support for AppleScript. Sal was already a respected AppleScript authority. When I met him on the expo floor to show him the shirt he said something like, "That's nice. But I'm trying to improve scripting support by working within companies."

At the time I found this answer a little haughty. I wanted him to join in with our protest. Then a few months later we heard he had been hired by Apple. In our small group people thought, "Let's hope he is successful working within Apple.”

By all accounts he was, and the difference was remarkable in only one year.

It is hard to describe how low Apple was in 1996. At that expo, Apple had no booth. A VP hosted one noontime Q&A in a corner of the giant hall, and one reception off the show floor in a small room. Meanwhile, the experts in the seminars I attended all delivered the same message: Apple is dead. The future of publishing is Windows NT.*

That was the sinking ship Sal boarded in January 1997. I made my own much smaller leap of faith that summer, quitting my job and forming Scripting Matters to work full-time as an AppleScript consultant.

At the expo that fall the difference was mind-blowing. Apple had a large exhibit space on the floor. When I entered Moscone West the first thing was a booth proclaiming the great benefits of AppleScript in large letters of Garamond Book. THE FIRST FRIGGIN’ BOOTH!!!

There stood Sal. He studied my brand new business card, asked a few questions, and then gestured for two engineers in the booth to come over.

"This guy, " he said, “This guy is developing AppleScript solutions full-time. Full-time! This what I've been telling you guys about. People are doing serious things with scripting."

The engineers looked surprised and still somewhat dubious. That was my first glimpse of the challenge Sal faced at Apple. He not only had to struggle to get other product managers and and developer teams to take AppleScript seriously, but I suspect sometimes he faced the same challenge with his own team members.

Thank goodness Sal is a fighter. One battle was do-or-die: getting AppleScript into Mac OS X. Rumors were that some at Apple were saying things like, "Why would anyone need AppleScript? They can use perl!”

I played a small role in that battle. Unsolicited, I sent Sal a written report of how much time and money AppleScript was saving one of my clients. It included photos of racks of iMacs running scripts 24/7 for all three shifts. The report gave Sal something concrete and real-world to take around Apple as he fought the battle. And somehow he won: AppleScript survived and transitioned into the new OS.

More adventures followed. As part of his goal to make automation accessible to everyone, he introduced Automator. I've always wondered if some of the shortcomings in its interface and functionality were due to battles fought and lost. Regardless, it was a valiant effort.

Sal also employed a great strategy to at minimum keep AppleScript alive, making sure that various Apple programs and processes were dependent on Apple Events, and getting a couple of incarnations of AppleScript into Xcode.

There may have even been one time when he persuaded an engineer to include AppleScript support in a new product release without the product manager’s knowledge. Once a feature is shipped, it is in.

I don't want to give the impression that I know Sal well. I don't. During the times he came to our AppleScript Pro Sessions he told a couple of stories, and sometimes let a few things slip out. But he didn't dwell too much on the past.

We did recognize him for his battle spirit once. I heard he was a Tolkien fan. At an AppleScript Pro not too longer after the Peter Jackson movies, Shane Stanley and I gave a Sting replica to Sal. We presented the sword on a hotel pillow with Howard Shore’s soundtrack in the background and a few words about how “even the smallest technology” can change the course of the future.

As Apple grew exponentially, Sal continued to be a fighter, but always a rebel with a cause. He hosted his own independent web sites the entire time, which enabled him to easily distribute free automation tools to the community.

Now Sal is gone from Apple after almost 20 years. That’s a long time for any manager to survive at a such a demanding corporation. When the news hit, people started speculating, and quickly descended into opinions of How Things Could Have Been Done Better during Sal's tenure.

Already there is much discussion of one sentence from Sal: "If user automation technologies are important to you, then now is the time for all good men and women to reach out, speak up and ask questions."

I won’t speculate on that in detail now beyond one thought: I bet the future death of AppleScript will be discussed for the next 10 years. I have no more details to support that than people speculating otherwise. But you only need to read a little further at to see Sal’s optimistic conclusion.

Regardless, none of this discussion about AppleScript’s future would be taking place if not for a guy boarding a sinking ship in 1997—a bigger risk than many of us have ever considered taking. Thanks in part to that risk, I’ve made a decent living and helped a lot of people with AppleScript for two decades now.

Thank you, Sal. If you’ve still got the sword, I hope you can mount it on a wall and let it rest now.

–Ray Robertson

*Interesting how Seybold Expo has been long dead while Apple is still flourishing. A caution for all speculating about the future now.

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