Free Speech & Software
Wednesday, June 12, 1996 by Dave Winer.
As this piece was in production -- A U.S. court this morning issued a preliminary injuction blocking the Communications Decency Act as being unconstitutional. Stay tuned.
Back to our regularly scheduled program.
Yeah! I think this is a positive way for Apple to get into the Internet market.
Claris's move onto the web is positive because unlike software that's shipped under the Apple name, Claris products are subject to competition. There's Eudora and Emailer. FileMaker and 4D. Claris Works and Microsoft Works. Diverse needs are served. Engineering teams are motivated to improve their products, to respond instead of dictate. It's a very different attitude and a much easier one to co-exist with.
Claris is a mostly-forgotten controversy of many years gone by. It was started with a tradition of excellence, and as far as I'm concerned it has never shipped a lemon. Quite the opposite.
So it's interesting that Claris is the acquirer of the Loma Prieta product, a product that claims to have stolen the cursor from Adobe's PageMill. An interesting faceoff has developed.
Watch the Claris website for a free public beta of their new page design product, due at the end of the month. PageMill 2.0 is coming soon too.
Check out TableWorks from Softtools of Quebec CA. It's a really nice HTML table editor. Does this seem like a niche product? Not to me. Tables are central to page design these days. They give you layout features not available from any other HTML tag. You could design a whole authoring environment around the concept of tables and have a winner. That's what TableWorks is! The marketing suits at the big software companies may not get this. But people who do serious web authoring shouldn't miss this one. It's a valuble product.
Another great product is WebPainter from Totally Hip Software of Vancouver CA. In its current release it's designed for doing GIF animations, a kind of content that I don't love. Moving GIFs on web pages are almost as distracting as blinking text. They're OK on directory pages, but they have no place on pages that contain text that I'm supposed to be reading. My eye can't stay on the text.
Anyway, I've been looking for a small memory, simple to use color bitmap editor that's moderately scriptable and uses GIF as its native file format. I need this tool to edit the small bits of color that I put on my low-bandwidth pages, and as a back-end for my CGI scripts. If WebPainter becomes that program, it could easily become the most popular web-based graphics program. It's available now in both Macintosh and Windows versions. I'll be watching this product carefully.
Developers complained about Claris at first, but the complaints died down when people realized that Apple would control Claris along with other developers, maybe even more so.
A case in point. MacWEEK reports that Apple is ditching PowerTalk in favor of including an Internet-compatible email client in the OS.
I have a question for Apple. On the day they ship their emailer, will Claris's product stop working? Or can I stay with what I use now?
I'd like to know now so I can save time and move my email loop over to a Windows machine or a Unix machine. I can't afford any interruption in service. Imagine what life would be like without email. How will Qualcomm and Claris justify continuing to invest in their emailers when Apple is taking over the market?
Believe me, users and developers ask these kinds of questions. When I get them about my product I want to scream so loudly at Apple: stop putting me in this situation!
I'm not a lawyer, but I live within the US legal system. I am subject to its laws, so I have to understand them. That makes me careful about what I say and sometimes how I say it.
I took a strong position against the US goverment's attempt to censor free speech on the Internet earlier this year. I stayed within the law. I didn't get arrested. I'm glad! And thankful. I remember that I live in a great country because of its tradition of free expression. I think I understand how the free speech system really works, even if our legislators don't. In the end, they didn't arrest me because I disagree with them. I don't even have to be respectful in my disagreement. The legal system protects free speech.
What about free speech for software writers? Is it guaranteed? If a platform vendor tells people not to use my product, are they interfering with my right to free speech? How do laws about fair competition apply to software platforms?
I'm confused about my rights. I don't feel fully free to speak thru my software. I am often penalized economically for implementing my view of the future in my software. I see other developers responding to this pressure, not even trying to solve problems that they fully understand and know how to solve. I see a pessimism in the software world that rings of the kind of surrender that I imagine people who live in a totalitarian societies succumb to.
In the software business, everyone struggles for government-like power in their own spheres, and sometimes they attain it. How much of this power derives from the ability to control speech and markets? And how well does that serve our interests as thinkers and consumers and citizens?
These are no longer small questions.
Time Magazine lists the most powerful Americans. Bill Gates is number two, second only to Bill Clinton, and more powerful than Alan Greenspan!
The New York Times reports that Microsoft is flexing its power with the government of the People's Republic of China. They have nuclear weapons! No matter. The leaders of China are listening, respectfully.
Platforms are economies and places where people express themselves. The owners of the platforms have enjoyed extraordinary power, beyond that normally allowed to corporations. I'm not asking for regulation or governmental presence in the software industry. On the other hand, the system that we've used hasn't been very effective in guaranteeing the traditional benefits of being part of a free society.
So, looping around, I think the economic and free speech issues of the web are inevitably linked to the economic and free speech issues of the software industry. There's an unprecedented wave of growth in the software world again. We've had a taste of totalitarianism. Are we going around the infinite loop again, or this time around, will free speech and entrepreneurship win?
I also think, and have said many times, that the economics are out of whack for the platform vendors too. It's good business for platform vendors to have rules about how they will compete with their developers, and stick to them. I think it's also good for users and developers to be aware of the issues.
Ever get writer's block? Can't figure out how to say something so that you'll be understood and get a positive response from your readers? Here's a trick that works for me.
Instead of writing in a word processor or an outliner, try using your email program.
Pretend you're explaining something to someone you like to send email to. Someone who tends to understand you.
Now, select-all, open up your word processor, paste.
That's how I do it.