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Bill Gates vs The Internet

Tuesday, October 18, 1994 by Dave Winer.

I sat down to write some code this morning, but I'm having trouble concentrating. Why? There's another essay lurking in my head! It has to get out before I'm going to get any work done. So here goes...

The users outfoxed us again. It happens every fifteen years or so in this business, We lost our grounding, the users rebelled, and a new incarnation of the software business has been created.

What is it? The Internet, of course. It's a very magic thing whose potential has barely been explored. New stuff is happening almost on a daily basis. There's a rebellious spirit to it. What are they rebelling against? The greedy VCs that funded the software industry who were too busy inventing scams to make Mitch Kapor-style money. (The scams didn't work.) And they're rebelling against Bill Gates, who has already made Mitch Kapor-style money, many times over, and posesses something much more offensive -- the power of FUD.

In the software business, FUD is the power to set the agenda, to keep anyone else from moving, to make everyone wait for you. It isn't entirely negative. FUD makes it possible for there to actually *be* an agenda. If the industry is run by random idiots, then this is preferrable. At least we're going somewhere, even if Bill always gets to name and play the tune.

But FUD leads to inbred thinking, a stifling of ideas, stagnation. FUD is the opposite of FUN. It brings things to a halt and makes things like the Internet possible. While the software industry was looking one way (obsession with Bill Gates), the users went the other. They stopped waiting for Bill and the rest of us.

Now the tail is wagging the dog! The old software industry is struggling (even flailing) to not be random idiots. The next versions of Windows, Macintosh and OS/2 are all Internet clients, with the standards supported -- Gopher, WAIS, FTP, Telnet, Mosaic, news groups, etc. It's an incredible thing because none of the platform vendors had any say in the definition of these standards! It isn't based on OpenDoc, OLE 2.0, Kaleida, Taligent, AppWare, or any of the various database standards that Philippe and Bill were arguing about a few years ago. Or even MAPI or VIM. Remember OCE? Do you remember how important those things seemed at the time?

I think Bill got caught flat-footed here. At the Agenda 95 conference in September, I was surprised to hear him say that Microsoft's upcoming online service, Marvel, is a bet-the-company venture for the company. Now I think he's right. Bill is scrambling, he understands the stakes, and is doing the only reasonable thing he can do. The stakes are huge for him at a personal level: is he the next Ken Olson? Will Marvel be the DEC Rainbow of online systems???

[Respectfully, who remembers the Rainbow, or Ken Olson for that matter?]

Bill can bring Apple to its knees. He may have Novell pinned down. Microsoft is a very impressive company. But Marvel can't compete with the Internet. Once the users take control, they never give it back. They allow a new industry to form, let the old one wither and fade, even die, and then repeat the process all over again. It happened in the transition from mainframes to minis, in the transition from minis to PCs. And it's happening again.

Marvel might end up being the IBM PC of the online world. I bet a lot of people will use it. But Microsoft is too heavily invested in the way things are to let it grow in the random way that the Internet is growing. The innovative fun stuff will happen outside of the reach of Microsoft's FUD.

Dave Winer

PS: The first guy to turn me on to this line of thinking was Doug Michels at SCO. I bet he's chuckling as he reads this. Sally Atkins at Stanford understands it too. Any Unix shop on the planet gets it.

PSS: Remember, fear is frozen fun. Not sure about uncertainty and doubt.

PSSS: As always. if you aren't interested in this kind of stuff, send me email and I'll happily delete your name from the list. And it's OK to forward it anywhere you like. The list is expanding -- I'm always happy to add new names.

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."