A change would do you good
Thursday, May 22, 1997 by Dave Winer.
It's Sheryl Crow! She's back. A new CD. It's out and playing on KFOG.
She's a fragile vulnerable rock star, an angry dreamer dressed in glitter, carrying a guitar, ready to go on stage. A mix of confusing songs, but that's the story she's telling.
Midlife concerns, dreams of dancing on the Riviera, falling out of love in Rome. I wondered if I'd go for a new Sheryl CD, well I'm listening, her style is still appealing, her anger is still attractive. I like it.
She's been thinking about catching a train, leaving the phone by the radar range.
The message would say "Hello. It's me. I'm not at home. If you want to reach me, leave me alone!"
A change, a change would do you good, she sings.
And that's the title of this piece!
On Fortune's cover David Kirkpatrick tells the story of the next big push from Microsoft. A sense of context you don't get from the trade weeklies, who make Java and the Network Computer seem like major hurdles for Microsoft to climb over.
Kirkpatrick comes right at Gates. The Network Computer! says Kirkpatrick.
In a new vigorous style, Gates dances his answer. That way! he points. That's where the competition is going. He starts running. There goes Sun, there goes Netscape. Heading for the hills.
Good move. The defensive position is the strongest. Netscape builds around their strong position in web browsers and Sun promotes Java.
But Sun hobbles Java with a vague business proposition (closed licensing) and Netscape is going in very predictable directions, easy for Microsoft to anticipate.
It's kind of nolo contendre watching the spinmasters at Microsoft dismiss Netscape and Sun. Too bad because Netscape could be the poster child for the web generation. Even the young people at Microsoft would dig this. What a missed opportunity. The software is so damned boring! Ohhh. If only...
Both Sun and Netscape are repeating the strategic mistake that IBM made. They thought they were selling innovation, leading to OS/2, the PS/2 and the micro channel architecture, all of them strategic disasters.
When Microsoft claimed the top of IBM's hill in the early nineties, they immediately owned the strongest defensive position. The huge infrastructure of blue-suited IBM salespeople and system engineers proved to be a sustainable advantage, but their software philosophy wasn't broad enough, didn't attract enough developers, to have longterm value.
The loop has now closed on this chapter in IBM's history. They lost the top of the big hill to Microsoft. Sun, in partnership with Netscape, IBM and others want to take it back. But Gates is there, and he ain't going away. Yet, there is a way around Microsoft, to grab a different hill, one that Microsoft can't really own.
Microsoft does the developer game absolutely as well as they can, but they should be easy to compete with. Realistic developers understand that Microsoft is a growth machine, so if you're lucky enough to build a bonfire within Microsoft's reach, even a small one, they're going to try to build one of their own, just like yours. They have to do it, it's in their genetics, it's in their business plan.
So, if you can, zig to Microsoft's zag. If it's impossible for a developer to really trust Microsoft, make it possible for developers to really trust you. It has to be a structural promise, mere words aren't enough.
There could be an incredible distribution system for Netscape-Sun-compatible software, building win-wins and an incredible flow of new ideas -- but that's not what they're doing.
When you're lucky enough to be at the center of a rising platform, as Sun and Netscape are, its best to kick back, fix the bugs, improve performance, promote the developers, sell like hell, and enjoy the rewards.
It's tempting to believe that more than luck was responsible, but what a burden that is. It's a philosophic challenge to define yourself after a lighting bolt of good luck strikes, but a company without a philosophy, or a weak one, has no future.
We judge the strategies by the skirmishes and miss the major trend. Sun wants to control all the software, so does Netscape. Actions speak loudly, forget the words. It's about net-effect, not intentions.
They're acting like little Microsofts and there's no room for them as long as they approach the world this way.
Of course it could still be fixed, every time around the loop that's possible.