Winning At Seybold
Wednesday, September 24, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Next week, the Seybold Conference in San Francisco.
The publishing world meets the world of computer technology.
Organizations that create magazines, books, advertising and now websites.
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and John Warnock are the announced keynoters. Microsoft will roll out MSIE 4.0 at the show.
Seybold is a big, historically significant venue. Macs are dominant among the Seybold crowd. It's very important that Jobs is speaking. It's been a long time since a person of Jobs's stature and confidence has spoken on behalf of Apple at Seybold.
Attention from Apple, especially if it comes with listening, is much needed. If Jobs were to miss it, he loses, but his customers lose too. That's where the Seybold people are coming from. They don't want Mac users to lose. That's where the interests are aligned and that's why the CEO of Apple should be there, to speak, to listen, to win.
On Tuesday night at 7:30PM at Moscone we're doing a DaveNet Live session. There was a problem with the timing, we resolved it. The session coincides with the Microsoft rollout event for MSIE. I wrote about this in Competing with Bill, 9/9/97.
As I imagined they would, the Microsoft people have risen to the challenge, and even though Bill Gates won't be present (he sent me email saying he wished he could be) we will have an exciting and opinionated Microsoft rep at the event, Cornelius Willis.
I appreciate this, no doubt he wanted to be at the Microsoft launch event. Pam Kahle of Waggoner-Edstrom, Microsoft's PR firm, kept me insulated from what was a difficult situation among Microsoft execs, and I'm totally pleased with the outcome.
I will help Willis state his point of view, and of course will encourage others to speak, respectfully, in opposition. I think Willis is a perfect choice for a DaveNet event because he speaks so clearly. The Microsoft point of view that he states is unabashed and direct.
That's what I'm into. Exposing ideas, helping people think for themselves, not being fearful of opposing or dissonant viewpoints.
We know Microsoft will be represented on Tuesday. I hope people from Adobe, Apple, Be, Netscape, Quark, Sun, the development community, and people from the publishing world will be there.
Everyone is welcome at DaveNet! When we open the door, we open it wide. We don't control what people say, but we insist they they speak for themselves only, concisely, and don't attempt to invalidate any point of view. There's no support for censorship here. Free speech may not be the rule everywhere, but when it's a DaveNet stage, it's totally the rule.
We'll do some puzzles!
See what we can learn, look for ways to work with each other.
And I'll talk a bit about where I see my world going.
For Mac publishing users right now, the key feature is safety, a path forward, solid ground over the horizon. It's been a rough road. I expect to hear a lot of that next week at Seybold. As a user, I want to be able to invest in Mac systems, knowing that it's going to get easier and easier to switch to Windows if the switch becomes necessary.
I've tried to align my software with the interests of people who run publishing operations based on Macs. In mid-1996 I made the decision that a Mac strategy without a Windows fallback was hopeless. So we got busy porting. Now the payoff is pretty close to reality.
I feel confident about the bet we made last year. I didn't know Steve Jobs was coming back to run Apple. I didn't know that NextStep would become an Apple OS. I didn't know that Apple would kill licensing and put a regulator on performance enhancements to the Mac platform.
But I did see that Apple was not tuning in to what was working in the Mac Internet apps market; and as I've learned, when Apple tunes out, chaos is the result. And in that, my bet was right on the money.
Steve Jobs and I are in agreement on one important thing -- Apple has been a strategic disaster area for the last ten years. We may or may not agree about how to go forward. There's been very little communication. I hope to improve on that.
We're a few weeks from delivering the first public alphas of Frontier 5 for Windows. We'll release the Mac software first, probably later this week or early next week. I plan to briefly demo Frontier 5/Win at the DaveNet event on Tuesday.
Frontier 5 is cross-platform, so any software that runs in our environment has an automatic transition path to Windows. Websites that build on the Mac will build on Windows with minor modifications (file path syntax is different on Windows, but even there we have a cross-platform alternate syntax, file URL strings).
Both versions support TCP apps. You can write daemons and clients that run in the Frontier environment and are cross-platform, running on both the Mac OS and Windows. When performance permits, we'll promote Frontier as a cross-platform platform for building Internet apps. Eventually we'll get the performance equation right. We need this functionality to make our editorial workflow software work cross-platform.
Shifting gears, yesterday was WebSTAR Day on Scripting News.
I chose this day to focus on WebSTAR because the first official word on Apple's network computer strategy had been spoken, at the Oracle conference in Los Angeles.
Now the tea leaves are in the open. I thought I understood where Apple was going, and the reports confirmed that my understanding was (mostly) correct.
The key message: Mac OS for the client, and Rhapsody for the server.
OK, so what do I think of this?
I think that an Apple/Oracle alliance has a lot of potential.
Oracle is a vast and effective sales force, lots of customers and profits, and probably a lot of influence over what kind of server systems their customers install. I don't understand their market, but I see profits and growth; and that's a sure sign of power.
But they leave behind them, in the wake, a large group of powerful users and developers, people who built around the Macintosh OS as a server operating system. I know, we weren't supposed to do this, according to the Unix geeks it's not possible. But that didn't stop some talented people from doing it anyway.
Nature abhors a vacuum. People had old Macs lying around. They wanted to run web servers on them when the web server market was booming and Apple was asleep at the wheel on the Internet. Ask former Apple CEOs Gil Amelio or Mike Spindler to talk about the server market to see what I mean.
Various efforts to quantify the size of this market all say one thing, it's large. There are lots of Mac OS servers out there. Makes sense. Shops that do production work on Macs tend to have a bunch of Macs lying around. The system managers are comfortable with the Mac file system and utility apps.
If you asked for a show of hands at Seybold, I bet lots of publishing organizations are running Mac web servers. You use what you have. A strength in content translates into a strength in servers. Unix geeks may feel they'd be better off with Apache, but these people chose WebSTAR or a WebSTAR-compatible server.
These are powerful people. Publishers with full-time net connections. I covet them as users! Who wouldn't?
The message from Apple is that people who run Mac web servers should transition to Rhapsody. I wouldn't do this if I were Apple because it creates a vacuum, a transition point. When you tell a user it's time to switch, they might not go where you want them to. It works better if you keep them supplied with new features and bug fixes. As they say in mainframe circles, keep it simple. Right on.
At UserLand we have three Mac web servers and one Windows NT server.
All of the Macs run System 7. We almost never rip up the wires and start over with a new server. Once it's running and debugged, I want to move forward not backward.
I'm interested in well-tested enhancements to these servers. I don't even want to install System 8 on these machines. I'm a busy guy. I like servers that work. I hate it when things stop working and users are hitting the site and we're not responding.
I'm interested in commerce systems.
I'd like my ISP to run Rhapsody and WebObjects software, if it's the best way to go.
Maybe Apple can set up a server to sell my software? I'd be happy to share revenue they can generate this way.
But I really don't think I'm going to learn OracleWare, or invest in developing for it. I think we have our hands full with our ContentWare.
OK, I've asked Apple to free the Mac OS. Clearly that isn't happening. Let's incorporate Apple ownership into the plan and go on from there.
There are encouraging sounds coming from Apple on the Mac OS. I heard an Apple person say that they're refitting the Copland kernel into the Mac OS. It's pretty clear that the bugs can be fixed, and that preemptive multitasking and protected memory can be added to the creaky old OS that gets so much bad press, without breaking apps (too much).
If Apple fitted the current OS to the needs of the existing base of server apps, that would probably please the largest number of customers. We'd be happy to work with them on this, engineer-to-engineer.
When we can't get our act together on this side of the supply line, customers get confused. Customers who are confused don't buy new stuff. The money dries up. Bad news for businesses that depend on their money.
It's OK if Apple wants to pursue new business with OracleWare, but please let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Learn to say the words that make users feel safe. Speeches about new networking strategies should include references to the software that the users currently use. Learn a lesson from Microsoft here, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Embrace and extend. Discontinuities suck. Improve performance and fix bugs and work with developers and users instead of dictating to them.
Unless they start talking about the existing base soon, it's over. I've been down this path many times. No need to repeat the lessons. Apple PR creates big wakes. It doesn't matter how wounded Apple is. Jobs is a big draw. If he's talking about Oracle and network computers, no one sees WebSTAR or Quid Pro Quo or NetPresenz, etc.
Net-effect, Apple doesn't talk to the people who run WebSTAR and compatible server software. They appear to think that it's just a http daemon. That it is, for sure, but it's also a multi-threaded architecture for network applications running on the Mac OS.
It would be convenient for the architects of Rhapsody if WebSTAR was just a daemon, that would make the transition easy for the sysops who have built systems around compatible servers. But that isn't the way it is. Much expensive infrastructure has been built. Transitions work, discontinuities don't.
So I look at this as an opportunity. That's where I come from. Nature abhors a vacuum. Software developers, like me, love them.
Apple can compete for the hearts of Mac sysops. They can win if they want to, because they own the high ground. We can market together. If they come in and learn how we work, who we are, what tools we use, what words we use, they can have the users.
I could sing the song Apple wants me to sing. Or I could sing the song I know so well, and hope they listen. Either way, I believe I'm on solid ground, connecting with people who use the stuff, on their terms, because I use what they use.
That's where I want to be.
Can we find a way to both win?
I'm into that.