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Think Seybold, Dave

Sunday, May 25, 1997 by Dave Winer.

Sheryl's still singing...

Jump in let's go. Lay back enjoy the show. Everybody gets high, everybody gets low. These are the days when anything goes!

Every day is a winding road. I get a little bit closer. Every day is a faded sign. I get a little bit closer. Every day is a winding road. I get a little bit closer. Every day is a faded sign. I get a little bit closer to feeling fine.

This song has such a nice rhythm.

Web browsers are a winding road Permalink to Web browsers are a winding road

The push hysteria is clouding out several important changes coming in Microsoft's web browser in version 4.0. Check this out -- the web is getting special effects. Marc Canter, the founder of Macromedia, and the guy I look to for advice on this stuff, says that Microsoft is bringing PowerPoint-like presentation effects to version 4.0 of their browser. Fades and disolves. Enter left, enter right. All the special effects that PowerPoint knows how to do.

This makes sense. Microsoft surely has a mature code base and a mature understanding of this technology. PowerPoint has been on the market for ten years. They must know what customers want and have the code pretty well worked out.

I bet that PowerPoint becomes a pretty interesting web development tool after 4.0 ships. And I bet that PowerPoint will also integrate with the web browser pretty well because of the next change.

Web browser as scripting environment Permalink to Web browser as scripting environment

In IE 4.0, it will be possible for scripts embedded in web pages to call Microsoft applications such as Word, PowerPoint, Access, and presumably all the Back Office server software. This means that the web browser can become the user interface for your web development environment.

I think this is right-on. The more authoring commands you can put in the menu bar of the web browser, the smoother the experience. In this world, every editor becomes a web authoring tool. The same treatment could be done for picture editors, script editors/debuggers, whatever data types show up in web displays.

Microsoft gets it. The web browser is what OpenDoc was trying to be. The key was in getting the apps to wire in without having to rewrite the apps. They did it the lowest-cost way, and delivered it where it counts, in the web browser.

Web browser as an outliner Permalink to Web browser as an outliner

Outliners are hierarchy editors. Expand an item to reveal detail, collapse it to hide detail. If you point at an item and drag it to a new location, everything under it moves too. Control of detail and easy reorganization are the two defining features of outliners.

Whenever a hierarchy shows up, an outliner is a good idea. From one view, the web is a hierarchy of bookmarks, places you can go back to. Expand an item to reveal the pages it points to. Do it again and again. You can move things where ever you want, it's your view of the web, to tweak and reorganize as you see fit.

That's how bookmarks move into the future.

Web browser as a platform Permalink to Web browser as a platform

If I were designing Microsoft's system software strategy around my own software I'd be doing it exactly the way they're doing it. I totally buy into the positioning of applications as web authoring tools, and the web browser as the runtime environment for the apps. My world is reassembling in Microsoft's web browser... As Sheryl sings, I'm a stranger in my own life. It's so true!

As I said in Being Free, 5/9/95, my direction was very much influenced by a Gates speech in 1983, so fair is fair. They are getting it together at Microsoft. Hats off to them. Even so, one could accuse Microsoft of having a megalomaniac vision, of usurping the future of all other developers, but for one thing -- they're willing to let you wrap your own shell around their browser. They've already delivered this feature on the Mac, and they promise to go further.

So if I want to put together a UserLand web browser that works with our outliner, our object database, script editing environment, they're willing to be my runtime, on my terms, without control over the features I put into my runtime.

Furthermore, we can collaborate with NetObjects or BBEdit, or Quark or Symantec. Borland or Oracle databases. Novell stuff. We don't have to flow all our ideas thru Microsoft's scripting engine.

That one little bit of openness makes everything possible, especially if this willing-to-take-a-back-seat attitude is balanced by a similar offer by Netscape. We can really go forward. At a technology level, browsers can be the user interface for all kinds of scripted connections, not just environments created by Netscape and Microsoft.

So, if it works technically will it work from a positioning standpoint? Will the press buy it? Will Microsoft get in the way?

Think Seybold Permalink to Think Seybold

I don't choose to compete with Windows or Word or PowerPoint or MSIE. I took my own advice -- I headed for the hills, a long time ago! Run run run. There goes Dave.

I want to make a cross-platform web publishing system that's attractive to the Seybold crowd, large site publishers with lots of authors, with editorial workflow needs. To separate content from design, to be in a position to support all new transports by flipping a switch. A programming platform for large scale web sites with hooks into the apps and databases.

I remember what it was like to fit in next to Apple, even when our offerings were very different, aimed at different people with different purposes. Unfortunately, the computer press is a very crude device, they see the size of the company first, then they look at the software. They see conflict first and see collaboration with a suspicious eye. They believe in the big boys, not in breakthroughs, or new markets or garage shops. They gravitate to the faceoffs, turning leadership into dueling sumos or kamakazis. The world's pretty flat and unsegmented as the computer press views it. I've done countless experiments to see if anything has changed, and they all come up with the same result, no change.

Knowing this, I'm reluctant to invest in a comparison that I know will be unfair. Will Microsoft help the reporters and reviewers understand the differences, or as Apple did, encourage them to overlook or sidebar software that doesn't come from Microsoft? If left alone, the press will probably dismiss our stuff. If Microsoft won't proactively support us, as I parse it, there's no reason to continue to invest.

Life is a winding road Permalink to Life is a winding road

I find this exhilarating, not depressing! It requires a lot of work and mothering to ship a product as complex as Frontier. The port to Windows, a cross-platform release, is the most complex shipment we've ever attempted. After that, many years of work remain, as the web world develops, as the road twists and turns. That'll be fun, but only if its a money-making proposition.

If Microsoft respects us, as they should, they will proudly tell the press that we're doing something important with lasting value for their platform. At some time the microphone will pass to me. Will the audience applaud? Will investors clamor to get some of the action? That's my dream!

My bottom-line, I'd like to find a way to fit in, with power and respect.

What do you think?

Dave Winer

PS: If I can do it, that means other people can too.

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."