Geeks Rule the World
Tuesday, October 24, 1995 by Dave Winer.
Good morning people!
Yeah man here's another DaveNet. Wowowowowow. Yeah. Coooooool. I'm happy. Hope you are too. I've been up to stuff. But I don't kiss and tell. At least I don't tell all. Hmmmm. Zooom.
Someday maybe I'll write a book, then I'll tell all.
Assuming I can remember. ;->
As previously advertised -- I've been making love -- with my compiler. That's done. Now I'm making love with my new product. It's a website builder. So I'm building websites! Of course.
I think this is a new category. Website building. Desktop Websites!
Got a Mac? Want to do a website?
It's called Clay Basket 1.0b5.
Go get it!
I've learned a lot about free software in 1995. I spent the first few months pondering it. In May I flipped the switch and Frontier went from being a commercial product that wasn't working as a commercial product to a free product that's still troubled. We've invaded some markets, notably CGI scripting on the Mac. In other areas AppleScript still dominates. I find this frustrating of course, but I try to learn from the experience.
I also try to follow the stock market, and although I didn't buy or sell any high tech stock this year, I think I figured something out that a lot of other people may be figuring out too -- the market doesn't value distribution strength. It doesn't place a high value on the number of units you'll sell in the future, especially if your margins are staying the same or shrinking. The normal boring details of running a business don't interest the stock market. This is very contrary to my education! They always taught us that the purpose of business is to make profits. But we have to let go of that idea.
The value in a business these days is ownership of standards. To what extent does the company influence its own destiny? A company that's adrift in a market controlled by other companies has relatively low value. A company with lots of influence on standards even with few products and little revenue gets (and deserves!) a stellar valuation.
How many developers do you lead? Developers are C programmers of all kinds, script writers, animators and musicians, writers and editors. They all have computer screens in front of their faces; they have hard disks and they move stuff around on the net. And they need software.
Thanks to the boom of networking, once again, there's a vacuum of tools. Yes! If you can provide a new tool, hopefully with new uncontested power, and if you can get people to use it, and thereby gain the aura of "standard" -- then your PE ratio will soar, and you'll get huge dollars to fund your future development efforts.
So, the free software strategy is actually just a tactic. What better way to establish a standard? You can use my software but you don't owe me any money. Then another phenomenon kicks in. People wonder what your intentions are. How could there ever be an upgrade if I'm not paying for it? They overlook the fact that somehow the software got developed to this stage without them paying any money. Why shouldn't it go to the next level? They have trouble believing. I know, just look at my inbox. [Well I can, you can't.]
The issue isn't whether or not people pay for the software, the issue is will they build on it. When you see a web page that says Netscape 1.1-enhanced, you're looking at the value of Netscape's stock. If they can get people to say their pages are Netscape 2.0-enhanced, they continue to win. As soon as the developer community breaks with this, their stock could crash. We'll see how quickly Wall Street figures this out, or if investors have to learn the lesson the hard way.
That's how I'm navigating this landscape. I think I can make a contribution. As a developer I've always wanted to play an important role in the setting of standards. That's part of what being a developer means to me. I have actually authored some standards (one of them is supported in Netscape 2.0!) -- but I want to do more. So why should I let a little bit of money stand in the way? No way.
There's a role for high-risk developers, people who are willing to invest their time in exploring new standards. If they're right, they get a choice -- go public and sell their stock, as Netscape did, or partner with an already-public stock and lift their PE ratio. Either way the goal is the same -- to accumulate the financial resources to completely explore the standard you're playing with.
I remember what it was like running a commercial software house in the mid-80s. When we'd ship a product we'd plow back every dollar into marketing the product -- up to a point, usually about six months into the cycle, when we'd try to go profitable. We'd put people in the air, on the road, on the phone, ads in the weeklies and monthlies. All this costs lots of money. The first six months of sales finances the effort. After six months, either you have a winner or you move in another direction. But rarely does this approach yield a standard. Especially so in the future.
The physical distribution infrastructure is already valueless, the stock market has adjusted for that. Computers need physical distribution, yes, but software does not. The system that makes software boxes show up on retail shelves is technologically obsolete. Companies that own standards will continue to give their software away and distribute it thru the net. Software companies that make boxes will find it harder to respond.
I know this is an extreme position, and I can certainly see future uses for the boxes-on-shelves system, but I don't expect it to drive the process, and eventually I think it will go away. There just isn't enough value in shelves and boxes.
I used to have a slogan at UserLand Software (another programming motto!) that went like this -- Script Writers Rule the World. This expressed my belief that users who were willing to learn to program would be very powerful people.
It turned out that way. The web, that wonderful, enabling, PE-ratio boosting thing, is totally run by geeks who write scripts.
But the Macintosh press and Apple, for the most part, don't get it.
The Mac platform enjoys a tremendous advantage in scripting tools. If Unix users only knew what we can do on the Mac! I know -- I grew up on Unix. The value in scripting is in the depth of the development tools and the throughput of the machine. The Mac has so much that Unix geeks would totally adore -- what a shame that they don't know.
MacWEEK could help, but they don't get it. They systematically exclude user-programming news and issues from their magazine. I was struck by their front-page coverage of Netscape 2.0 in last week's issue. No mention of the Mac-only scripting enhancements in 2.0. These issues are tremendously important for web content development, much of which happens on Macs, but they're missing it over there at MacWEEK.
This slant was also evident in their breathless review of PageMill, and very disrespectful slam of the deep and powerful BBEdit product that many content developers use.
They do get this much -- the web is a big thing. What they don't get is how thoroughly the geeks run this world. The platform that they cover is a leader in this area. But they refuse to acknowledge this. Their loss. And ours too, of course.
Remember the hot debate back in March (see Taking Candy Seriously) about Microsoft Bob, and it being a good thing or a bad thing? I went contrary to public opinion and said that Bob is a good thing. As I'm popping out of intense development mode now, I realized, as I was making the decisions on how this software would come together, that Bob is a great thing, because it says that there are two types of software -- stuff that's trivial to learn but not very deep, and stuff that's non-trivial to learn but deep and powerful, perhaps even somewhat mysterious.
I'm glad someone else is making Bob-like software, because that means I don't have to!
I prefer to make the other kind of software. Always have, always will. Certainly I do end-user stuff. Check out the yabbadabba site. But I always try to include depth and mystery in my software. And now that Bob is out there, I can say that I don't have to bend over backwards to accomodate the disinterested user. Use Bob if you like. I can make software for the intensely interested and intelligent user, and leave the other kind of software for other people to make.
I've had this argument with Apple over the last seven years. They wanted the Bob of scripting languages. I said that was silly. I was wrong. Over the weekend I got involved in an intense discussion on the Macintosh Scripting list. I asked why people were still using AppleScript now that Frontier is free. I learned a lot from this discussion, about other people and about my own goals and intentions.
We need more docs, I definitely got that message. We can meet the serious AppleScript geeks half-way. But I think some people get comfort from AppleScript that I can't give them. I believe programming in English is a lie. It isn't anything like English. This is English. AppleScript is programming. I think programs should look like programs. But maybe not for everyone.
I don't want to have this argument anymore. I want to move forward, and in doing so, will leave some people behind. That's OK. I strongly believe that if you really develop content on a Macintosh that Frontier is the only scripting framework that works. Our website building software works with both AppleScript and Frontier. Without tilting the table in favor of either scripting environment, I believe the mass of people using our website builder will use Frontier as the scripting software that backs it up.
Why? Because something other than perceived ease-of-learning matters.
To me, and I think to other serious script writers, what matters first is -- Can I Do It? If you can do what you need to do in one world, but can't in the other one, which one do you use? Not much of a question! The second question, which is related, is How Does It Perform? If it's slow as a dog, it's a science experiment, not software. If you can't deploy it, it's just a proof of concept, not a tool.
Ease of learning counts only for people who are meek about making an investment. Geeks are not meek! Once you've learned how to do something, ease of learning is a non-issue. I'm already doing it. It's very easy to learn since I've already learned it.
So -- some people will use AppleScript and some people will use Frontier. Cooool. We'll continue to make it easy for people to run AppleScript inside Frontier, and hope that more AppleScript users will accept the invitation to learn the Frontier environment. We'll do more docs, even printed ones, that serve as great reference material and have tutorials with screen shots. But the cost to play in this playground is your own time and committment. If you're willing to invest alongside us, we can play together. If you won't invest, we can't play.
PS: This is the first time I've made the release of a piece of software coincide with the release of a DaveNet piece. That's why the gap in DaveNets. Software is harder than essays. You can't hurry love, the Supremes used to sing. Me too!
PPS: My deal with Marc Canter is off for now. It's just me and another programmer doing Clay Basket. Last I heard, Canter & Company are doing a super rollout of the Meet Media Band CD at the MacroMedia Developer's Conference in San Francisco at the end of the month. Tune into www.mediaband.com for info on Canter Technology's coooool stuff.
PPPS: The next direction for Clay Basket is outline-based browsing of the web. A new kind of web browser. We're diggin it! Yeah. Hmmmmm. Zoooooooom.
PPPPS: Watching TV last night -- a new ad from Apple. It's awesome! A man giving a presentation to 300 people. Sorry. I just installed a new OS. It isn't working. Someone shouts try config.sys!. Someone else says autoexec.bat! A few more taunts. A tired voice, clearly disgusted by All This says Get a Mac. (Sounds like Get a Life!) Ohhhh. I laughed then I cried. It's a beautiful ad. Even a Windows user would think so. It's nice for Mac advocates to get some wonderfully irreverent air cover from our platform vendor. Thank you.
PPPPPS: Seen in a signature file -- "Why yes, I speak Geek." ROTFL!