Seattle Trip Report
Thursday, July 20, 1995 by Dave Winer.
Thanks to all the kind people who responded to my last two DaveNet pieces. If I ever open my own massage workshop, kind of like WaterCourse Way in Palo Alto, you'll all get a free gift certificate. I can see it now! DaveNet Bodywork. After five sessions, if your neck doesn't release, you get your money back. One minute off 280. Easy on easy off. The 1990s answer to power lunches. Silicon Valley goes inward. Namaste y'all!
Over the years I've made many trips to see Microsoft. Bundling deals, technology conferences, design review groups, I even made several trips in 1987 to negotiate Microsoft's acquisition of my first company, Living Videotext. That deal fell thru, but I learned a bunch about the company and the people in all these meetings, and as I've said before, I enjoy the energy of Microsoft.
There's an amazing continuity to the company. People who worked there ten years ago tend to still work there. The company has competence and enthusiasm nicely tempered by realism. Things tend to tie together, products have a purpose beyond serving their markets.
There's an intricacy to Microsoft that's interesting to unravel. And you can tell that Microsoft people are trying to unravel it too, which makes them curious about what *you* think, which makes for interesting two-way conversations. I learn something, they learn something. It's cool.
On June 27 I flew from San Jose to Seattle. It was hot and cloudless in San Jose. Same in Seattle! In all my trips up north, this was the first time the weather was perfect.
My first stop was the Seattle KingDome to see the Mariners play the Oakland As. My host was Carl Stork, email@example.com, a Microsoft executive, co-owner of the Mariners and a DaveNet subscriber from way back. Carl manages Microsoft's relationship with hardware OEMs. We talked about the industry and baseball.
I chuckled when they announced the name of Mariner outfielder Edgar Martinez. I have a Seattle friend whose cat is named Edgar Martinez. Now I know why!
After the game we sat in the Mariners dugout and talked about the baseball business. A bunch of myths exploded. Baseball is in trouble. I could see why.
There's trouble at Microsoft too. Like baseball, they've hit a wall, they're struggling to deal with it. The public comments, brave and bold, mask an underlying confusion. They're making a stand. The bundling of MSN isn't really the issue for Microsoft. It's on the battle line, it just happened to be the lightning rod.
Distribution of client software is an issue, but more realistically, throughput and uptime and the ability to grow to serve 15 million users are the real issues in the upcoming faceoff in online services. AOL has a huge lead on Microsoft and lots of strategic options. If I were an online information provider, I'd bet on both AOL and MSN.In many ways the bundling of the MSN client with Windows 95 is the best news possible for AOL. Microsoft is going to have trouble supporting all those users.
I think the bundling controversy is a smoke screen. But Microsoft can't give in. For them, a bigger principle is at issue -- the right to evolve their operating system. Microsoft has ambitious plans for Windows. And they have competition: the Mac OS, all flavors of Unix, Oracle, Sybase, Novell, Notes, OS/2. All are planning major growth in the coming years, lines are blurring, even exploding, everywhere, and none of the competition has to deal with the Department of Justice as co-architect of their products.
Microsoft is powerful. Rumors of a delay in Windows 95 sends the worldwide stock market into a dive.
The Department of Justice is powerful. They're part of the US Government, which has a huge army, navy, air force, and nuclear weapons.
How will this faceoff be resolved?
Something is going to have to give.
Microsoft hasn't pointed out, but I can, that if things are so closed on Windows, if Microsoft is so predatory, why doesn't one of their competitors take advantage of it? I've been lobbying Apple to withdraw from territory it can't hold, allowing safe havens for developers to plant products in newly uncovered niches. So far there have been no withdrawals by Apple, but the mood at Apple is right for this to happen. Limited opportunities on Windows? A few years later all the cool new stuff is on Macs. If Apple had the competitive smarts of Microsoft that's exactly what would be happening now.
Philosophical question: should we force Microsoft to come down to the competitive level of Apple or should we force Apple to meet Microsoft's standards? Why can't Microsoft be better and smarter than their competitors? The shift we're seeing at Apple is because of competitive pressure by Microsoft. There's no way Apple would have made these changes without being forced into it.
If Steve Case thinks that Microsoft is being unfair, why can't he do a deal with Apple to give an unfair advantage to AOL? There are so many other ways to undermine MSN, why does this industry choose to bring nuclear weapons into it? Couldn't we find a more constructive way to co-exist with Microsoft?
On the other hand, could Microsoft provide a statement of philosophy on its relationship with smaller developers and service providers? Are they willing to self-impose some groundrules, some limits on the direction of the operating system, in exchange for a few years of peace?
PS: MSN stands for Microsoft Network. AOL stands for America OnLine.
PPS: Funny website: http://www.rice.edu/~gouge/twinkies.html. Two Rice engineering students explore the solubility, density, gravitational and intellectual capabilities of an American dietary standard. Starts slowly, but it'll have you laughing out loud many times before you're finished.
PPPS: From George Bernard Shaw via Sally Atkins, firstname.lastname@example.org: "I dread success. To have succeeded is to have finished one's business on earth, like the male spider, who is killed by the female the moment he has succeeded in his courtship. I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind." Yeah!