The User's Software Company
Friday, December 8, 1995 by Dave Winer.
There's so much to write about today and so little time! Man.
Yesterday Bill Gates wrote his own DaveNet piece. Check it out at http://www.microsoft.com/internet/downloads/billg.txt. It's pure classic great Bill Gates.
It's not Bill Gates vs the Internet, it's Bill Gates vs Netscape! And the stock market heard him. Netscape was down $28.75 yesterday. Wow! In all my time following stocks I've never seen a drop like this. It's 4:15AM in California. The New York Stock Exchange doesn't open for three hours. What will Netscape stock do today? I'll be watching, that's for sure.
It's a clue to a bigger theme -- the themes these companies sing may play well in print media, but they have almost nothing to do with the work that web content developers do. The message seems to be -- we want to own the web, but we don't want to love the people. OK.
Quick fixes, instant reactions, huge deals, standards set, but how much delivered software? Is anyone offering anything but Blue Sky? Do they really own it? Is it theirs to offer? Hmmmmm. Uh.
Sun, Oracle, Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, and now Netscape, are just companies. Big ones. Legendary ones. Respectable ones. But do they know how to make users and developers happy? No way. Because they aren't happy people. Companies are not people, and companies are not happy places. They emit what they have. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt!
In Sysops I asked if Java is the next OpenDoc. Never heard back from anyone at Sun. I left voicemail messages. No answer. I never go this far out of my way to get information about new technology! Maybe they aren't ready to talk to me? Both as a developer and as a journalist, I have all the credentials I could possibly need.
The only big company that's responsive to my needs is Microsoft. They aren't scared of Dave. Cooool. Hey -- they just signed on to support Java. Bill -- could you send me some info about Java? Ideally I'd like a beta of the Java Runtime for the Macintosh so I can play with making my content development tools work with it. Maybe you can help me get the software. I do lots of websites.
To John Doerr and Marc Andreessen, and anyone in charge at Sun, this is silly. If you want a developer program, when a developer calls and asks if you want to make love, the correct answer is YES.
OK Dave, calm down. Please. It's coooool.
This is the kind of stuff that fills my mind. It's great theater. Bill Gates takes on Netscape. The man who owned the world on August 24 is scrambling. The investors are reminded that they're still scared of Bill. So when he barks, they sell.
The world changes accordingly. But, this system doesn't serve the users. Your money, the dollars you pay software companies, go into defensive measures, not useful features. Into fear, not fun.
To the users -- wake up! You can't depend on the business press and trade weeklies to keep you informed on technological developments on the Internet. They're caught up in a huge trance, they believe this FUD crap really means something.
The front pages are full of air and fluff and posturing and messages designed to make the stock market react, not to give more power to the people who pay the bills.
I think I finally got it. Here's how the system works. An editor spends half day in a conference room with four product managers from the company. They explain products that the editor will never use or understand. Marketing materials are beautiful. The people are beautiful too, they use big words like presence, alliance, convergence, and media. It sounds like they know what's happening.
So they write what the company wants them to write. They have big great products. Go with the flow. They're great.
A lot of the energy is negative. This product must hurt someone. Fear and pain. But what about joy and love? I'm having a blast using my system! My web server is the prettiest piece of software I've ever done. Other people are having fun too. The negative energy encapsulating the old world is in our way. Why can't we have fun? The always-quotable Indigo Girls said it beautifully, we "learn to pretend there's more than love that matters." Guys and gals, a reminder, maybe a wakeup call -- love *is* all that matters!
But we get fear. The big company says "PUFF!" The editor-in-chief says "Page One!" "Puffy headline" says the copy editor. "Rewrite the press release," says the writer. That's how your news gets delivered.
But, as Bill Gates points out all the time, it's your money that's fueling this system. If your dollars moved in a different direction, eventually the system would be replaced with one that more adequately represents the interests of users.
And... please don't blame the journalists and companies. Bill Gates isn't to blame for using FUD because you let him do it. Apple isn't to blame for shutting down developers because the users let them do it. You can't blame Larry Ellison because Business Week puts his picture in an article about the leaders of the Internet. And you can't blame Business Week either.
You get the software you pay for. In every sense. To the nth degree. That's the way the world works.
So if the users want to let go of the pain, we can have fun again. It's all that really matters!
A little story.
I wrote a piece for Guy Kawasaki's EvangeList mail service earlier this week. I talked about my software, my philosphy of software, and talked briefly about my track record as a Macintosh developer. I talked about ThinkTank and MORE, two early products. Both products were hits, lots of users, and lots of people still use MORE.
I heard from a lot of MORE users this week because of the Kawasaki piece. The common message was -- we love MORE -- nothing is better -- but Symantec doesn't support the product, so we're worried and unhappy.
They offer a solution. They want me to buy MORE from Symantec and continue to enhance it and make it better. It's very tempting. I still use MORE. I do huge high-tech web pages in MORE. I've hooked it into Clay Basket so Clay automatically converts my MORE outlines to HTML outlines, totally automatically, as it builds my website. It's very powerful stuff, but like a lot of MORE users, I really want a few features that would make it even more powerful for me. So, I'd be very happy to work on MORE. But I don't want to own it.
Instead of me buying it from Symantec, here's a challenging proposal for the users of MORE, why don't *you* buy it and contract with me to improve it?
The bigger question -- why don't the users own a software company?
The user's software company would not be dependent on the press to reach its audience. It would be a communication system. It runs a mailing list for each product. A product manager is hired to run the list and keep a website current. A bug list is maintained and is publicly visible. A current top-10 desired feature list is maintained, and the product manager is compensated according to his or her performance at delivering the requested fixes or improvements. Programmers are paid for putting features into the software.
Money flows into the company from users. The company is initially capitalized by a public offering. Users pay for stock. Users also pay money to be part of the community. Money is paid for every message delivered to the community. And money is paid to use the software. It's all distributed electronically. Updates are very frequent. If you want the latest version, you pay for the password that gains you access to the download site.
Money flows, software gets better, progress happens, FUD is impossible because delivery is all that counts.
It sounds pretty great!
The users represent an enormous economic force.
The current regime isn't serving their interests.
To the users, if you really want to see your software live and evolve, put your money where your mouth is.
Take charge of the situation and solve the problem.
PS: The full text of my letter to Guy's list can be found at http://ws2.scripting.com/guykawasakislist.html.
PPS: For a Netscape-friendly version of the Bill Gates transcript, see http://ws2.scripting.com/billgates.html.
PPPS: At 7:34:27 AM, NSCP is 127.000 -5.500.