Opinion: Calling Kai Krause

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To: Kai Krause, whereabouts unknown

From: Stephen Beale, Senior Editor, Macworld

Unless you're vacationing in Anarctica, you've no doubt been following the recent developments at MetaCreations, where the board voted last week to divest graphics applications that don't fit with the new MetaStream initiative. Perhaps you agree with this strategy, or maybe you're too busy seeking new adventures to really care. But it must be painful for you to see software like Bryce and Kai's Power Tools -- programs you worked so hard to conceive and deliver -- placed on the auction block. And I'm sure you feel for all those MetaCreations employees who are about to get the axe.

Here's a suggestion for you. It's time to take action. It's time to Think Different. It's time to get a group of investors together and buy back those programs.

You're probably rolling your eyes right now. You know how tough this business can be, especially when you're a visionary who isn't afraid to challenge cherished notions of software design. You certainly took a lot of heat -- some of it deserved -- for those wild-looking interfaces that often sacrificed function for style. But you also forced us to think about the way we interact with our computers, and you pioneered the radical notion that a piece of software could be a work of art. Your software demos were the stuff of legend; like a master magician, you made simple graphics programs act in ways we never expected.

I don't know what circumstances led to your departure from MetaCreations earlier this year. You must have been unhappy when the company chose to sell off Goo, Photo Soap, and Power Show -- three consumer products that all bore your name. Whatever happened, I'm sure it wasn't pretty. But when you did leave MetaCreations, the company in many ways lost its soul.

If you want some ideas about how to proceed, you might want to talk with another visionary who returned to his roots to rescue his progeny. Steve Jobs faced an even stiffer challenge than you do, but Apple now thrives after being given up for dead.

You might want to borrow a few pages from the Steve Jobs playbook, specifically the way he forced Apple to focus on a few well-defined goals. Too often, you showed a tendency to go off on tangents, developing products -- such as the Stephen Hawking CD-ROM -- because they were "cool" rather than making real business sense. And you have to admit that the MetaCreations team bit off more than it could chew when you went on that merger and acquisition binge a few years back. But we all learn from our mistakes, and by balancing your vision and creativity with a little self-discipline, you have the potential to once again define the leading edge of computer graphics.

Conventional wisdom says that off-the-shelf graphics applications are a dead end, and that the only growth potential lies on the Web. Without question, the Web is changing the rules by which software companies operate. But as we've seen time and time again in the computer industry, conventional wisdom is often wrong. If anyone is in a position to prove that, it's you.

Come on, Kai, give it a shot. Bring some excitement back to the Mac. Steve Jobs can't do it all by himself.

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