Money Money Money
Friday, October 10, 1997 by Dave Winer.
I had a wierd dream last night. Bill Gates and Scott McNealy were members of a reggae band. Dancing and weaving just like Toots and the Maytalls. Diddly diddly diddly Rasta Man! They were happy! What makes McNealy and Gates happy? That's what this piece is about.
I've written so much about Java. More than a dozen pieces. Most of them deal with confusion -- what is Java? In the end, I decided that Java is a brand and nothing more. It could be anything Sun wants it to be. It's not even a product yet. The excitement, which I never really understood, is wearing thin.
The Microsoft generals are speaking this week. The Sun lawsuit gave them something to talk about. The CNET interview with Bill Gates was the rollout. What a revealing piece. The gloves come off!
All along I imagined that there was a philospohy at Microsoft that separated apps from system software. Now we hear that it's just economics. Given the proper financial motivation, Microsoft will bundle anything. Ouch!
How much money does Bill Gates want and why does he want so much?
In my own life, I used to like to play SimCity, but I've totally mastered it. I can make cities as big and rich as I want. Where's the fun?
Gates can have as much money as he wants. All his talk about competition is PR and not much more. Let's get real. Microsoft can have any market it wants, because it can hire the best people, and it has so much money it can wait indefinitely. They can outlast any competitor. They have enough money to make that happen.
But I wonder, why does Gates want more money when he already has so much? I asked this question in Bill Gates's Money, 7/3/97. I still don't get it. It's a totally foreign thing to me. I'm being honest. His money is such an issue in the software business, it comes up all the time, but we know so little about it. We know he has a lot. Why?
Sun just won't let Java go. One school says that there should be an ANSI standard for Java. There should be a GNU version of Java. Instead, we've learned that a minimal Java license costs $250K to start, $300K per year, $5 per copy. Could someone legally implement a clean-room version of Java? That's not clear. Some say no, but some say otherwise.
Microsoft's greed and Sun's fear (and greed too) balance each other perfectly. We can argue about it indefinitely, the headlines are fun, for a while, but they're all air because we don't know what the deal is.
How much did Microsoft pay to Sun? One number I've heard is $15 million. But then I heard from inside Sun that Microsoft agreed to pay that amount, but never actually paid.
Is Java just a programming language? This may surprise some people, but my answer is no, it's become much more than a programming language.
It's turned into a perfect capsule for software industry BS and manipulation at its worst. Scott McNealy and Bill Gates appear to be working out their personal issues in public, using developers as pawns; at least developers who were foolish enough to get in the middle of this fray.
Gates is rich, but McNealy also has more money than any human could spend in a lifetime. They're playing a disgusting game with the livelihoods and creativity of developers, and are crowding out other possible headline grabbing software. They've turned the Internet into a nasty soup of politics. I'm sick of the greed and personal ambition. Do they know why they're making such a mess? Let's hear it.
My opinion is that neither Sun or Microsoft is qualified to lead the software industry. A leader has to have a philosophy, be responsible, have a place for partners, be open to competition, not try to control markets, to believe in other people's power, not try to neutralize it. Microsoft, there are other people out here. Sun might want to check that out too. See Que Sera Sera, 10/24/96, for details.
But Sun's position in my world is new. We can attribute some of their gaffes to inexperience. Microsoft is a different story. If they got a bit more mature it would be clear that the opportunity to move beyond business as usual is right here right now.
The stalemate is keeping Microsoft from being respected in the larger world. I'm sorry I just can't get behind the Poor Microsoft theory. Who's Bill Gates? He's the man with all the money. He can't lose. Convince me otherwise. I read the CNET interview.
Finally, who cares what Scott McNealy thinks? Microsoft clearly cares about that a lot. I don't.
We haven't seen the contract between Microsoft and Sun re Java. What's the deal? How much of a cash cow is Java for Sun? How hard did they stick it to Microsoft? How much is this Bill Gates lashing out at Sun for playing hardball with him? We won't have a clue until the agreement comes out officially, or if it's leaked.
Every technology reporter on the planet should be digging for this document. Let's get it, let's read it, and see what's really going on.
Taking this to court is the low road.
We could come up with a compromise that radically alters the structure of the software industry, takes the focus off Microsoft, and lets Sun return to its roots making servers and database hardware.
If both Gates and McNealy had a true desire to get out of the stalemate, it would be easy to do. With their resources, options, they could clear the way for a great new generation of software. Instead, they've made themselves the issue, and until we learn more, they just aren't that interesting.