What is “dogfooding” in the area of ​​hardware and software development?

With regard to Apple's own chatbot, called "AppleGPT" for lack of an official name, insiders say that it is being used for dogfooding. Other services and products are or have been subjected to this process before publication. But what is dogfooding anyway? And where does the term come from? In this post I have summarized the meaning, origin, examples and alternative phrases for you.

What does dogfooding or “eating your own dogfood” mean? Here you will find the definition for software development and hardware production including the history of the term and a few examples.
What does dogfooding or “eating your own dogfood” mean? Here you will find the definition for software development and hardware production including the history of the term and a few examples.

TL;DR: Dogfooding means using your own products

  • If a company uses “dogfooding,” then it uses its own products or services internally. This can range from production machines and computers to network technology and software.
  • For example, Apple uses Mac computers instead of Windows PCs, and Google emails each other via Gmail instead of Yahoo or GMX, while Windows collaborates via Teams instead of Slack or other competing products.
  • In addition to the internal recognition of weak points in one's own offering and the associated improvements, dogfooding also includes a positive message to the outside world that the company itself believes in the quality of its own products and services.

Where does the term “dog food” come from?

The term “dogfooding,” and previously the phrase “eating your own dogfood,” is often used in modern software development, but supposedly dates back to television advertising in the 1970s. At that time, actor and musician Lorne Greene claimed in a commercial for Alpo dog food that he gave his own dogs that same food. However, this vague testimonial reference is not said to be the only origin of the expression.

Because another anecdote that would fit a little better as a possible origin concerns the president of the Kal Kan Pet Food company. He is said to have eaten a can of dog food produced by his company at a shareholders meeting, also around that time. This is closer to the current meaning of “Eating your own dog food” or the shorter term dog fooding, as it communicates good internal quality control and belief in your own product.

The term came into the technology and software world through Microsoft

In 1988, Microsoft tested its network operating system “LAN Manager” for later release on the software market. However, at that time a different system was used internally for its own network. Therefore, the test manager Brian Valentine was asked by his superior Paul Maritz via email to include the internal use of LAN Manager in the tests. The subject of the email is said to have been “Eating your own dog food”. Since then, the phrase is said to have been used publicly, both internally and for marketing purposes.

In the early 1990s, for example, the development of Windows NT was driven forward by dogfooding. The software engineer in charge, Dave Cutler, insisted that the operating system be used internally. This made it clear how often individual programs or even the entire system crashed. These experiences made it possible to work on the performance and stability of the system directly - and even more importantly: before publication. The same publicly applied to Microsoft Exchange in the mid-90s and Microsoft's network management, which was equipped with its own software, in the mid-2000s.

More examples of dogfooding in the industry

Even before the use of one's own products, software offerings and action concepts in one's own company had a special name, it was e.g. B. practiced at Apple. In February 1980, then-president of Apple Computer, Michael “Scotty” Scott, announced in a memo that typewriters would no longer be used within Apple. It was also directly forbidden to purchase new typewriters. The company's own belief that typewriters are obsolete should be proven internally by everyone only writing on Apple computers.

There are further examples from the turn of the millennium, when internal projects called “Alpo” were carried out at both HP and Mozilla. The project name refers to the dog food brand mentioned above and confirms that dogfooding as a so-called concept had found its way from Windows to other tech companies. Both projects had to do with using and testing our own offerings internally. In 2016, Oracle reported that more than 20.000 of the company's developers were using Oracle Linux. Google is another big example, with internal use of Gmail, Google Drive, Google Workspace, etc.

The meaning and purpose of dogfooding for individual companies

If dog food is practiced in a company, it can have several advantages. On the one hand, you look at your own product and its possible weaknesses for the purpose of improvement and further development. On the other hand, this sends a positive message to (potential) customers and the trade press. Because the internal use of your own offers is perceived as quality control, or better yet: as a quality guarantee.

In addition to the actual quality control and the fully thought-out development for the purpose of publishing a functioning product, there is also an advertising message. This can of course weaken the significance of the information about alleged dogfooding. If a company claims to use its own offers internally, but then customers make so many mistakes that the statement is revealed to be nothing more than an advertising slogan, then of course trust in the company and its intentions is lost.

The subtle “We use it ourselves” at Apple

If you look at the presentation videos for new Apple products, in which Tim Cook, Craig Federighi and Co. present new iPhones, Macs, operating systems and the like, dogfooding is not directly addressed - but it is shown. Because everyone who talks about devices and systems in front of the camera wears an Apple Watch. Even and especially when it's not about the Apple Watch. The message is “We use it ourselves because it makes sense for everyday life!”

Alternative terms for internal use of your own products and services

As you can probably imagine, eating dog food isn't the most positive idea for most people. However, dogfooding is supposed to be a process with positive consequences. In some companies, alternative names and descriptions are therefore used, such as “drinking your own champagne”. Or “Icecreaming” as a short form of the production of “ice cream that our customers want to consume”.

The phrase “eating your own cooking” used by IBM developers is less geared towards specific foods or drinks. A more technical term that has nothing to do with food, pet food or the like is “self-hosting”. Self-hosting means the use of software or parts of software to create a new version of yourself. This is certainly true with regard to the further development of applied operating systems, mail services, computers and the like. Or as a short answer to the initial question: Dogfooding is self-hosting.

Other terms from hardware and software development

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