Hire Steve Ballmer
Saturday, August 3, 1996 by Dave Winer.
Over the last week I've been invited to participate in two standards bodies. I've never been part of one before but I've certainly read about them. I come from the personal computer software business, where standards are proprietary, even if they're open. Yes, I do see the irony! Coool.
A friend from the Sun Unix world has a different perspective. "Get a room," she said, "have a BOF meeting." Only a Unix person would think of the world this way. At the Expos at the Comdexes and WWDCs, there's no opportunity for ad hoc collaboration. It's all orchestrated to simulate collaboration. The press can't tell the difference.
Big press releases spoken about on gigantic stages with huge screens, which usually means that one big company strongarmed a bunch of less powerful companies into giving them a piece of their future for the price of space in a tradeshow booth.
The net teaches us how to work with other people. Microsoft is releasing source code for things they want to be standards. I gulped when I heard about their plan for ActiveX. How unusual! How brave. How different. I guess I have to release some source code too? How much? Hmmm.
And Microsoft complains when Netscape tries to claim a proprietary lead. I understand why Netscape moves quicker than the standards bodies, and I think I understand why Microsoft complains when they do. Netscape started in the Unix world, where open standards are the norm. Microsoft grew to become the PC software industry where they were not. Now an amalgram is happening, a mix, a bit of the each is washing off on the other.
Netscape is hiring out of the Silicon Valley talent pool. They're getting introspective like Apple. They're young, inexperienced, idealistic leaders. Microsoft has seasoned execs, they live for battle. Netscape gave them one. And it appears it's a fight to the end. Netscape is in the unenviable position of needing to defeat Microsoft. But why does Microsoft have to defeat Netscape?
I wonder if Microsoft could acknowledge Netscape in some meaningful way. It's clear that Netscape led Microsoft into the net. I'm sure that Microsoft would acknowledge that. Does Microsoft see any value to having a healthy growing Netscape? Is there any place Netscape can move that Microsoft won't move to also? This may not be possible for Microsoft. But, if it is, we can all win.
We want Netscape to grow. We also want them to learn. Microsoft can be an excellent teacher, and can help Netscape and others compete more effectively. But is there any area of specialization that Microsoft can look to Netscape to lead in? If not, the complaints will continue. How can Microsoft expect Netscape to play fair if Microsoft doesn't grant Netscape the right to exist?
These are funny times. Microsoft is investing in the survival of the Mac platform. This will become clearer next week when a new standards body is announced and Microsoft's role is evident. I've been over it with the Microsoft people ad infinitum. I'm convinced that their motives are what they say they are. Gates and his execs look at a world without the Macintosh and they don't like what they see. So they're making an investment in being sure that the Mac gets back on track.
Surely the same reasoning that led Microsoft to invest in the Mac can lead them to see Netscape as a positive force, even when they're fudding Microsoft.
Microsoft, throw Netscape a bone. Make it a big one. And maybe we can all work together even more effectively.
I spoke with Eric Hahn, firstname.lastname@example.org, a Netscape exec, who's working on standards for net-based collaboration software, and working on his own collaborative software. He was the founder of Collabra, which merged with Netscape in 1995. I had some advice for Eric. In the spirit of openness I'd like to share that advice with my readers.
First, make a decision. Maybe it's OK to *not* support open standards all the time. Reading the tea leaves, it seems that sometimes Netscape doesn't. Be precisely truthful. Resolve the contradiction that I, and others, see.
If Netscape always implements the open standard in synch with the standards bodies, where's the opportunity for Netscape to win and deliver value to their shareholders? This is not the University of Illinois, this is the PC software market. The politics here are bigger and even more intense.
Finally, the best advice possible -- hire Steve Ballmer. Give him 20 percent of the stock in your company. Marc and Steve would be an unbeatable combo.
My last piece, The Compaq of ISPs, got an unprecedented response. It seems I'm not the only one who sees an opportunity to improve Internet access for smaller net users. Here's what I heard...
Service is too shaky, professionalism is too hard to find. But there are exceptions, services that are focusing on excellence first. I think this is the right way to go. We're in the period when reputations are being established. The initial rush of enthusiasm for the net is settling down and people are recapitulating and deciding how they want to go forward for the next few years. I know that's where I am.
What do I value most? Uptime, throughput, and (get this!) personal relationships. I want the people at my ISP to get to know me. Visit my website, watch my News page. I want them to learn that I often get it right. I want them to trust me, and I want them to help me. Get rid of the glitches, then work with me. Suggest ways we can do better. Get to know how I'm using the net and develop services that are complementary. There are lots of collaborations possible.
An example, I'd like to have a upstreaming arrangement, where once an hour, a faster server, upstream from me, polls my server for changed files. I want the convenience of a LAN-based website, but the performance advantages of serving static pages from a dumber server. The dynamic pages stay close to home. The ones that don't change gravitate upstream. This requires cooperative ISPing.
Outages. There should be a financial penalty to the ISP for every one. The penalty should percolate up the chain. A guarantee of uptime, or your money back. That would be a welcome policy for people like me. I would pay more for such a guarantee.
Scheduled outages require notification. If a scheduled outage happens without notification, the penalty should be much greater, like a year's free service. I would believe that kind of a promise. Acts of god don't count, but some ISPs don't even *attempt* to tell users when they're going down. Newsgroups and web pages don't count. At least email notification is required. A voicemail message would be cool. [You can automate voicemail. PacBell does it. Ask them how.]
Net access providers who provide great honest service, admit their mistakes, remember that the customer is always right, pay for their sins, and truly care about their customers and their businesses, will be the ones that survive the shakeout. Let's make sure that's what happens. Let's take some positive steps.
Let's put a system in place where we can share info about who the best ISPs are. Think of it as the Connoisseur's Guide to the Internet. Let's look at the Great ISPs of the world. Show us what an ISP looks like on the inside. Review them like we review software products.
The most to-the-point response (and the most common theme) was echoed by Paul Gomory, email@example.com. He said: "When you find the Compaq of ISPs, please tell me!"
Yes, Paul, I got a lot of pointers.
Here's a sampling...
Andrew Johnston, firstname.lastname@example.org
Near as I can tell, there already *is* a Compaq of ISPs -- AT&T's WorldNet. I've been using them since April (I used a friend's PC to register my account since I'm a Mac guy and they hadn't shipped their Mac software back then). They're way more bulletproof than any of the many New York City ISPs I've flirted with -- I haven't experienced a single busy signal in over three months of extremely heavy use, nor have I ever connected at a rate of less than 26300 bps.
Anthony Bay, email@example.com
I may be biased, but I think UUNET may end up filling this role.
Barry Campbell, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Southeast, Mindspring. http://www.mindspring.com/.
Nationally... IBMnet. http://www.ibm.net/. IBM has been maintaining high-availability WANs with hundreds of POPs for years now.
Chris Ryland, email@example.com
Use PSInet -- they're absolutely professional. If my leased line-based connection loses contact, they call me right away & tell me they're looking into the problem. Usually it's solved within a few minutes, maybe hours if things are really bad. But they're awfully good -- I'd call them pretty close to the Compaq of ISPs.
Christopher Allen, firstname.lastname@example.org
I use zocalo.net. They do not serve the general "19.95 a month" public, nor do they serve ISDN. The minimum connection is a very reliable Frame Relay 56K.
There have been a lot of Internet brown-outs over the last month, and some problems that even Zocalo is responsible for (due to upgrading equipment, load issues for a mail server, etc.) but I've always been able to get 24 hour support either through their cell phone or pager. Even when the staff were at the IETF conference they were available and were able to fix a small problem.
Before Zocalo we'd been through a number of different Internet providers to offer our web pages (since fall of 1994) and none have performed like Zocalo -- so far they come closest to meeting the performance requirements that you speak of in your rant. They are not large, but because they limit their business to serious businesses it is much more managable. They seem to be proactive, with routers now that have much higher capacity than other ISPs of similar size.
Dan Kibler, email@example.com
As you probably know, Pacific Bell has just entered the ISP fray. We have a long history of providing great customer support, and we keep trying to make it better.
Check it out at http://public.pacbell.net/business.html. By the way, although I am a Pacific Bell employee, I have nothing to do with Pacific Bell Internet, a separate subsidiary.
Jedd N. Haas, firstname.lastname@example.org
My ISP is PSI Net. 800-827-7482. They are national, so they are sure to have a POP near you. They know what they are doing.
I used to have the kinds of problems you describe. When I first got on the Internet, there was only one ISP in New Orleans, so I didn't have a choice. When a choice came along, I switched. In the nine months since, I have been down maybe five times, and for less than an hour each time.
Mark Richer, email@example.com
I won't say they are Compaq but I'm pleased with the ISP we're using --- conxion.com. Our web sites are still on Michael Hauser's system at CMP but we plan to move them to Conxion real soon. We get a 56K frame relay from Conxion and they have the right attitude and the technical expertise. I can't say they won't go through growing pains, but these guys really care about what they do. And they only support high-speed connections --- frame-relay, fractional T1, etc. No modem accounts, etc. They don't have ISDN because they believe frame-relay is a better deal (fixed cost, no per minute costs).
Sally Atkins, firstname.lastname@example.org
Toooooo Shaaaaaaay! And I'd add we need an ISP that hosts NT if we are to use all the fab new tools from Microsoft to develop with. Most don't port to Unix! So how's a user to outsource hosting without anyone who hosts NT? I've been asking Microsoft this question for the past week. So far, they've pointed me to a small ISP in Olympia Washington with 1000 dial up customers.
Scott T Boyd, email@example.com
Two names: quake.net and zocalo.net. I use them both, one for my home-based networking and community ISP gig (e.g. www.montara.com, www.hmbreview.com, www.tunnel.org, www.lempert.org); the other for my day job (www.qks.com). Both are professional, courteous and answer the phones.
Stephen Bove, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi Dave. Boy do I agree with this! My current solution, although, not quite yet the "Compaq of ISPs" is a little company based in Berkeley called DNAI (Direct Network Access, Inc.). They have three POPs (Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Jose). My home ISDN is from Russian Hill in SF through PacBell (of course) and then to them (they use Ascend's Max 400s, so if you have an Ascend ISDN box you get both B channels and proprietary 4:1 real time compression as well -- which feels every bit as fast as a private T-1 -- real throughput of 300+K/sec). Last time I checked, they were buying bandwidth from TLG and at least one other provider.
The service is remarkably stable (I have never heard a bad thing about their service from any of the folks I have recommended them to and who have subsequently started using the service).
They know me by name when I call and say I need something "interesting".
They are amazingly on top of what it means to deliver web savy customer support to people who *use* the web (e.g., they would never take service down without a LOUD and CLEAR announcement).
My connection is never slow and I always connect on the first try. Period.
I keep waiting for their service levels to decline. But, so far, they are true to their mission of being the low cost provider of premium Internet service to small businesses and power users.
They're still a bit of a rebel outpost operation (I say that in a complimentary sense -- e.g., no marble lobby, no fancy offices) but, maybe they're the company you'd be willing to "seed." Take a look at http://www.dnai.com/. If you feel like giving them a ring, the President founder is named Dror Matalon. Tell him I sent you. - sb
Steve Zellers, email@example.com
Check out www.tlg.org; my provider. They were just bought out by www.best.something, but they have tremendous service. I've called and gotten an answer and satisfaction at 3am. They have a 24-hour NOC & web status page. They're into redundancy and fault tolerance. Even dial up customers (me) get to use a backup modem if their end fails...
Hi, this is Dave again! Cooool.
I'm going to MacWorld Expo, next week, in Boston. It won't be cool. It's always steamy in Boston in August. But I'll go dancing anyway. Look for me and Sally Atkins at the House of Blues in Cambridge. I'll be the guy wearing the Cybersmith t-shirt. I might even step on your toes!
I'll be in the World Trade Center, at Booth #5328, sharing space with Akimbo, Bare Bones, Clearway, Maxum, Metrowerks, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Starnine and other net-based developers. With a little luck, I'll be demoing our threaded web-based bulletin-board system. I first wrote about this software in The Interactive Website, 6/8/95. It was too early then, I believe it's just the right time now. We'll see!
Come visit. The booth will be on the net. When there's news at the Expo you'll be able to check it out. If you want to help test the new site and the software behind it, please visit:
Read the caveat on the welcome page carefully. This will be a short-lived site, so anything you contribute won't be there for long. Pound on it! The goal is to get a burn-in and to seed the idea before passing it off to MacWEEK next week.
See you at the Expo!
PS: BOF stands for Birds Of a Feather.
PPS: My net connection is back up and appears to be healthy. Yay!