Almost exactly two years ago, Apple announced the Swift programming language to massive cheers from the audience.
Developers love Swift: It’s fast, it’s elegant, it’s easy to learn and easy to develop with. It’s the Apple philosophy, as applied to programming languages. And it’s a huge hit.
Apple VP Craig
Federighi has said that he sees Swift as “the major language for the next 20 years of programming in our industry.” But since its inception, the major area of focus for Swift has been on using it to build slick iPhone apps.
To broaden that focus, Apple released Swift as open source in December 2015 — meaning that anyone, anywhere could download the technology for free, and do whatever they want with it. It means Swift can hit new and larger markets than ever before. It’s even coming to Android.
This is where PerfectlySoft comes in: A Canadian startup, with a weird legacy with Apple that dates back to the era when everybody thought the company was doomed, and a strange journey to the present.
“We have this Apple DNA that no one else has,” says PerfectlySoft CEO Sean Stephens.
And because of that history, PerfectlySoft was able to get its flagship product Perfect out before anyone else — including titans like IBM, which has been doing its own legwork to conquer the world of Swift in the workplace.
Now, PerfectlySoft is working to push Swift into the enterprise server room — and beyond. And to that end, PerfectlySoft today announces a $1.2 million (that’s Canadian dollars) round of seed funding from Impression Ventures to get that mission off the ground.
“Swift is inevitable,” says Stephens. “It’s gradually going to seep everywhere.”
To understand what sets PerfectlySoft apart, it helps to know a little of Apple’s history.
Circa 1987, software developers for the first Macintosh computer were concerned that Apple’s built-in tools for stuff like word processing and painting were too good for them to compete with.
And so, to create the illusion that Apple wasn’t competing with its own partners, it formed a new subsidiary, gave it the rights to all of the Macintosh software, and named it Claris. Silicon Valley legend and early Apple exec Bill Campbell served as CEO.
Claris continued on as its own company for a long while. Its flagship product was called FileMaker, a database product that also helped customers make their own apps. Claris thrived, even while the Apple mothership’s future was less certain.
In 1997, Claris bought the rights to the up-and-coming Lasso programming language: This whole “world wide web” thing was starting to take off, and Lasso was helping people publish their FileMaker software to the internet. It was one of Apple’s earliest plays to get in on web publishing.
Not too long after, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO. In 1998, Claris got the new name FileMaker, after its most successful product. And Lasso development gradually fell by the wayside. In 2004, Apple sold the rights to Lasso to a Florida-based firm.
In 2007, a bunch of the original Lasso team got back together, bought the rights, and formed a new company called LassoSoft. The rise of more popular languages like Python, Perl, and PHP had basically killed Lasso’s momentum, but there was still a small-but-active community and a demand for updates.
Stephens had formerly been working at Claris for most of Lasso’s ups and downs. In 2010, Stephens’ digital consulting firm Treefrog made a deal to buy LassoSoft, mainly because he wanted to keep the dream alive.
Then, in 2015, Apple announced it would be releasing Swift as open source. Stephens and the LassoSoft team realised that their expertise with the Apple programming language philosophy could give them a huge leg up in what they knew would be a high-demand market.
“Hey, there’s an opportunity based on our history,” Stephens recalls thinking.
Because of PerfectlySoft’s history, it was able to beat Apple’s enormous enterprise partner IBM to getting Swift running on a server. Apple released Swift as open source in December 2015; the first version of Perfect came out in January 2016. It was a huge step forward for the Swift language, and developers went nuts.
The key idea here is “server-side.”
When you open an app, you’re running the code on your device. That app could be written in Swift, Objective-C, Java, or a million other languages besides.
But for the vast majority of applications, especially business applications, there’s software running on a server, passing data and information back and forth. More often than not, that server application is running on an old stalwart of a programming language like Java.
Well, to Stephens’ mind, Swift has a lot of potential to change that. Because it’s got that Apple pedigree, developers love using it for their smartphone apps — so why not turn around and help them use it to write the server apps, too?
Enter PerfectlySoft’s flagship Perfect framework, which lets you write server apps in Swift. Less muss, less fuss, fewer skills needed by any team of programmers, and a greatly diminished chance of anything getting lost in translation between a Swift app on a phone and a Java or PHP backend system.
Thanks to its experience with Lasso, the PerfectlySoft team had solved many of the hard problems of getting code to run on a server in the first place.
“That’s how we were able to beat everyone else out of the gate,” says Stephens.
Plus, Swift is just more fun than languages like Java, Stephens says. “It’s not very particularly pleasant for developers to write,” he says.
Now, the goal for Stephens and PerfectlySoft is to spread the good word of Swift’s amazingness. It’s a goal that PerfectlySoft shares with IBM — more developers using Swift is good for everybody, Stephens says, and so they’re not currently competitors. Still, he says, they’re well-positioned to rule.
“We’re way ahead of the game,” Stephens says.
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