To Be or Not to Be
Tuesday, November 5, 1996 by Dave Winer.
Goood afternoon and welcome to the third year of DaveNet.
I am your host, Dave Winer. I write software and make trouble. At a party on Sunday night, a festival of big bucks and big fear (why did I go?) people talk about consolodation, decry the lack of investment vehicles, there's so much more money than ideas, so they say, and people call me a hero because I asked Larry Ellison why.
I don't get it. Everyone in that room is apalled by Oracle and Sun and their network computers. Life is so short. We'll all be dead soon. What's the big deal?
To everyone who thinks I'm a hero for challenging Ellison and McNealy -- get a life! Go thru your fear. Next time, *you* ask the question.
Hey I'm not the only one with an irreverent approach to business. I learn from the best. Six years ago, when Apple was giving in to Microsoft and letting them take the core of the PC platform business, Upside Magazine ran a cover story entitled Has Silicon Valley Gone Pussy? by Michael Malone.
I remember how sweaty my palms were as I opened the magazine to read the article. Finally! I thought, someone is going to write an honest piece about how fear-driven the PC industry had become. I wasn't disappointed.
A quote: "Well, weenie, if you and your sensitive little startup don't want to play hardball, then why don't you go down the road and play patty-cake with Brentwood or Sierra?"
Another quote, about the demise of Atari in the early 80s: "In the two years before the collapse, you couldn't swing a cat in the executive offices of Atari without soiling an Armani suit here or crumpling an MBA diploma there. Literally in months under Warner ownership, Atari went from the stoned egalitarianism of the Bushnell era to the most stratified, schizoid and self-destructive corporate environment imaginable. The young mandarins at the top despised the goofy game designers, and the designers got even by walking out."
On Apple: "One must pretend to be perpetually in a state of child-like wonder at the miracle of nature and digital computation. One must seem to believe that Apple Computer represents the hope of mankind living forever in harmony. And most of all, one must pretend to believe that working at Apple really is not like working at all, but more like being part of an enlightened, progressive family in which everyone enjoys perpetual and fulfilling play."
To those that think that Wired is the first magazine to bottle and sell high-tech irreverence, check out "Upside", a consistently thoughtful and strong proponent of excellence, and an exposer of mediocrity. It's great stuff, and it's never been more relevent.
That Upside piece, written in 1990, serves as a perfect introduction to the widely speculated deal between Apple and Be Inc. happening in 1996.
People seem pretty positive about the the deal without knowing the details including http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/, which gave me credit a few weeks ago for abandoning the Mac (it isn't true). Today they're spinning positive on Apple/Be.
Apple fell right into the Microsoft trap. They zig after Microsoft zigs, sag when Microsoft zags. Is it too late for Apple? They bought into the mega-company model. They couldn't win with that strategy. It's just about run its course.
Be is different. Gassée and his team have gone to school in the art of platform management. He knows there has to be teeth in his statement that he won't compete with developers. The only way to assure that is to put a limit on the size of his company. If their cash model doesn't allow them to compete with developers, then we can be fairly sure they won't interfere, and will probably support developer's products. Impotence is the best insurance.
Gassée's track record in this area is good but not perfect. As a top exec at Apple he subscribed to the sell-what-you-have religion, as opposed to usual Apple sell-our-stuff rarified air approach. But Gassée was a member of Sculley's team that let Microsoft have the high ground with no contest. It doesn't matter; I think he learned the lessons that needed learning. I trust him because he understands how platforms grow, and won't make the same mistakes that Apple's management would probably make.
Another option being explored by Apple is the idea of a JavaOS/Mac. Make a new operating system that combines the best of the Macintosh with the best of Sun's new network computer architecture. It's an interesting idea, perhaps, especially if it were being conceived to leverage the strengths of the Mac platform (it isn't), but it doesn't give Apple a future.
Reading the industry weeklies, it seems that corporate developers are using Java as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction with Microsoft, but it will be a short-lived rebellion. Why not use Microsoft's Java? the CEO will ask. The CIO will either go with Microsoft or get a new job.
Microsoft has the answer to Java. It's called Java! Embrace & Extend. The only way to exist alongside Microsoft is to do things that Microsoft can't do. Microsoft can fully embrace Java. It plays to their strengths, it doesn't harness Web Energy, it's a losing strategy.
So what can Apple do?
Sorry to the Apple execs who seek glory, but the strongest path forward for Apple is to get much smaller and become boring. Focus on System 7 as if your paycheck depended on it. Drop ambitious plans to integrate Copland with BeOS. Visibly withdraw from System 7-related technologies that you aren't funding, or where you have no hope of competing with developers.
Approach the venture capitalists and find out what it would take to get them to invest alongside you. There's huge cash flowing into new software development, and almost none of it is going to the Mac platform. This is an unacceptable situation.
Apple has negotiating power with the investment community, but isn't using it, primarily because of conflicts of interest. To be attractive to outside investment, the Mac needs Apple to let go of a lot of people. The honest thing for these people to do is to write a business plan that calls for laying themselves off. I doubt if they'll do it.
Apple's idea of doing a brain transplant for BeOS, if true, proves that nothing has changed at Apple. My prediction -- if the deal goes thru as it is being currently talked about, BeOS will become Copland, will be managed by the same people that wasted all those hundreds of millions of shareholder dollars, and no new operating system will ever ship. The execs at Apple will hold on to their jobs for one more go-round, and the Mac platform will fade even further into the background.
I am opposed to Apple's acquisition of Be. License the Be OS as-is, invest in Be Inc. if they'll let you, but keep Apple's engineers and execs away from it.
The only issue I take a stand on in this year's election is California Proposition 211. I still say Stop that Prop! Interestingly, I got some passionate email in favor of 211. I stopped and thought. Maybe I should run some of that commentary? But the writers wouldn't go on the record.
Read the Upside piece, it's still an accurate picture of valley life. Some companies book revenue this quarter and hope that they can make it up next quarter. We've seen this kind of management collapse many times in the past. Remember Ashton-Tate? I think even Oracle got caught with its hand in this cookie jar. Sun had a financial meltdown in the late eighties.
It seems that some of Larach's suits had merit. The SEC is in favor of Prop 211? That's interesting!
Prop 211, if it passed, would force companies to be more careful, to live in the present, to not borrow from the future. The penalties for being dishonest would be much more severe than they currently are.
It's possible that I would support a 211-like proposition if it weren't drafted so heavily in favor of plaintiff attorneys, and if it didn't expose directors and officers to personal liability. I'd like to see these issues handled by the corporations, in the form of new bylaws and procedures. A company could voluntarily adhere to certain rules, and gain a higher rating from analysts. I think it's sound business practice to put some limit on deception by management. It would also head off future attempts to regulate the industry, assuming Prop 211 fails in today's election.
I'm glad I took a stand because it got me more educated on the issues. But my position remains No on 211. It may have some merit, but it's not a good law.
Every once in a while I get a pointer to a great personal website, one where the author writes from the heart, goes thru the fear, and tells the web what's really going on with them.
So much of the web is Las Vegas-style crap, motivated by a very low opinion of what turns people on. Money can't buy art, and the web *is* an expressive medium. People want the truth. Holding hands in cyberspace is still what it's about, even though that's often masked by animated GIFs and pulsating Java applets. The best sites are the ones that reach into your heart and pull. Hard! They teach you something, about the world, but more important, about yourself. That's art. That's what turns me on.
Last week I was browsing http://www.projectcool.com/, and jumped to their Sighting of the day.
It took me to http://infoweb.interaccess.com/maggy/. I started clicking. Read the diary. Looked at some pictures. A woman. She's a cutie! From Rumania. She's young but she has a daughter. Lives in Chicago. She's in love but she's scared. Yeah, just like everyone. My heart goes out to you Maggie! I sign the guestbook. Look at the site log.
In her diary she says she wants a hug. Coool. I sent her email. I believe that people who open their heart in public deserve our support, a connection to their readers. Simple praise based on what was actually said on the site. It's the currency that makes the wheel turn.
Web writing certainly isn't about consolodation or fear of asking questions or doing an IPO. It ain't about money, it's about love. Check out Maggy's site. Spend a couple of hours there. In the end, you won't think I'm very out! Maggy really pours her life into the web. She belts out the lyrics as well as I've ever seen it done. She might be the Aretha of the web. It's cooool stuff.
I have already voted today. It was fun! If you can, be sure you do too. Thanks!