The Man Behind the Curtain
Monday, October 20, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Who is the man behind the curtain and what does he want?
All the money in the world, if anyone has it, Bill Gates does. But he can't erase the problem many of us try to solve -- to get the world to understand and appreciate us for who we are, on our terms.
I get it. I'm the same way.
Talking with Microsoft people over the last week, I think I see the story. I don't think they can coordinate their confusion and our confusion. If you believe they can, go for it. I think these people are frustrated! That's what I hear. I would be frustrated if I were in their shoes.
It took me a long time to get this -- Microsoft wasn't trying to kill Java, they were trying to make it fit into their world. Microsoft sees it as a way to program COM objects. They want Java to fit into their platform the same way we harnessed Frontier to control AppleScript objects. Same story, different platform, different times.
Sun doesn't want to allow Microsoft to pervert Java for their purposes, and they limit me too. (I'm not pure!) I want Java to run seamlessly in my world, to have my development tools edit Java source code, to allow Java code to easily access information stored in our object database. Gates had a strong reaction to this story. His immediate impulse was to break thru this wall. Right on! (That's the best way for a platform vendor's mind to work, IMHO.)
Microsoft didn't buy into the Sun positioning of Java; think about it, if you were Bill Gates, would you? He said that they intend to obey the letter of the Sun contract. Everyone's watching, we have the contract now; we can independently decide if they're living up to the agreement. Many people who know Java are on the web now, we don't need Sun to determine if Microsoft is in compliance.
After the release of the contract, the lawsuit seems pretty obsolete now. Sun could drop the suit, the market is educated, we can take care of it from here.
The largest issue between Sun and Microsoft appears to be over the Remote Method Invocation APIs in Java, or RMI.
Microsoft wants developers to build on COM. Sun wants developers to do CORBA. It's not a big deal. Serious commercial developers will support both. In-house developers can pick the one they like. We supported different scripting models on the Mac. Put a layer in to insulate users from the differences. It's worth the effort.
To say Java can only be used to implement CORBA is a self-serving limitation for Sun to try to impose. It's a dead-end because the market will support what it wants to support. It's a ouija board, not a controlled economy. The RMI issue is about plumbing protocols, a boring argument. Instead of asking the court to decide, let the market decide.
Gates doesn't believe Write Once Run Anywhere will yield useful software. But he can't know for sure if it will or won't.
Other developers do believe in WORA, and maybe they're right. Microsoft shouldn't stand in the way. By the way, I don't believe they are standing in the way.
I asked Gates to think bigger. How did it happen that Sun, Oracle, IBM, Netscape et al, got a say in the future of the Windows operating system? Do they have that power if Gates doesn't give it to them?
The problem is mostly public relations. In the PR leading up to the IE 4.0 launch, Microsoft's message wasn't very warm and fuzzy. I got confused, so did a lot of other people. So, like a programmer testing a new piece of software, I hope Microsoft looks at what worked, and what didn't.
I asked him to look at the wave of goodwill created by the $150 million investment in Apple. He could blow everyone's minds by doing more deals like that. That kind of air cover allows Microsoft to speak more softly. Microsoft is *much* bigger with developers than Sun, IBM, Netscape or Oracle. Their stature can elevate them above the noise. But I think they must like the noise, since they seek it out. Makes for good theater, good radio, but it doesn't make them feel appreciated, and I really think they want to be appreciated.
Java sucked up developer energy from the Mac platform, OS/2 and various flavors of Unix. What do these developers want? Independence. Give them what they want. Empower a community. Do it again, broaden it, don't require purity. Zig where Sun zags. Be more inclusive. Be a meeting place, where software of all flavors can work together. Does it have to be written in Java? Of course not.
What do developers want? At the core of every good software company are a bunch of risk-taking wizards who love to create new games and Rube Goldbergisms, who want to say Watch This! and kick back and enjoy the rewards. That's the dream.
By investing in Apple, Microsoft became bigger. Every time they make an investment outside of Windows they further isolate Sun and their partners. Sun is trying to concentrate power. Microsoft can disperse power, zig where Sun zags, knowing that they'll be able to gather it thru their developer program and distribution power. Microsoft has the best view of the developer world. A few tweaks, some new 2.0-developer relations features would ice it.
When they turn the corner it will be about looking outside, beyond the industry faceoffs and PC WEEK headlines. Microsoft's next challenge is to accept and support the cacophony. That's what Sun is forcing them to do, and for that I'm very thankful to Sun!
A friend said, a year ago, when he heard we were porting Frontier to Windows said "God help them!" He was making a joke, of course, but in every joke there's an element of truth. I said to Gates that I wondered if we could build a better relationship with Microsoft than we've been able to get with Apple. There's the challenge, to take what we've learned, both of us, and overcome the public relations fiascos.
I told Gates that I had been painted as a villain too. I hated it because I know I'm a good person. I offered my way of working with that, I said just go ahead and do what you would have done if you had everyone's approval. The smart people will figure it out.
Applied to Gates's situation, don't wait for Scott McNealy to get on stage and say he admires you. It may happen, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
I think there's no great victory you can have in this life. I used to dream about universal accolades. Now I just hope to have fun and make new friends and laugh a lot.
Before switching to other topics, a note of appreciation for Bill Gates.
It's not uncommon for me to harshly review the actions of powerful people, or ask questions that they don't want to answer. I'm thinking of a broader audience, what do they need to know, it's part of my philosophy of working with other people, having fun.
I often take a personal hit for asking these questions, but not with Bill Gates. Go back and read some of the pieces I've written, like Bill Gates vs The Internet, where I asked if Microsoft was obsolete, or Stalin Go Home! when I realized it wasn't.
Pretend you're Gates, reading that kind of stuff. Other luminaries ask why they should work with me when I'm so critical of them. I imagine that Gates looks at the world differently. "Is there a way for me to win here?" he asks. If so, he's parses it correctly.
Microsoft is here to stay. So a win-win pretty much means they win too. Life is too short and Microsoft is too big for me to invest in them losing. It would not be a good bet, even for a huge company like Sun, the odds aren't good!
Some people think Gates lies, but I don't. I think he pays the big price for telling his truth, and he doesn't try to interfere with me telling my truth, unlike some other people. The people who accuse him, generally also accuse me, so there's a clue.
Last night, for example, I posted informal performance results of our not-yet-released Windows software as compared to our Mac software. Under some circumstances the Windows software is much faster. A frequent correspondent writes saying that I'm biased and that something insidious is going on. Jeez! No way. Sure I want the Windows software to be faster. The Mac is too slow. Macs may not get faster. Frontier/Win is my new thing. I want it to be great and I want people to love it. Is that insidious? No way.
I think Gates is in a similar place. He points out that he could have faced off with Sun at the start, and refused to sign a Java agreement. It's true. He thought he was doing something good for others in the industry by signing on. No doubt there was a self-serving side to that deal for him. But he's a businessperson, and to expect him to not serve his own interests is to disrespect Gates the busnessman.
It ain't black and white. It's not The Borg or the Evil Empire. Look closer, there's a more interesting story. And Microsoft is making it possible for me to look closer.
So, thanks Bill Gates. This may not make me popular with some people, so be it. You're unique in this business. With all possible humility, I hope we can work together. That's my highest praise. Let's have fun!
One of the discussions I led in New Orleans was a working session to figure out what to do about junk email. We came up with a bunch of creative solutions. Chris Barr from CNET was taking notes and may write it up, if he does I'll point to his piece from the Scripting News home page.
In the meantime, here's a technique you can use if a spammer puts an 800-number in email advertising. Give them a call! Learn what they do. Chat for a while. Listen to the pitch. 800-number calls are free for you! What's your hurry?
The weakness of spam mail is that they need some way to receive a qualified response. They usually don't use email because it's so easy to reverse the flow. A million messages going out might yield a million messages coming back. Ooops.
But if they put an 800-number in the ad, there's your opportunity to help them better target their email spam. And whatever you do, never call a 900-number from an email promotion. That would cost *you* money!
The Agenda 98 conference starts today in Phoenix, Arizona. I could have participated at Agenda, as I have in the past, by speaking from the audience, asking questions of the people on stage, but after last year's experience, I decided I didn't want to do that, for a variety of reasons, which I want to briefly explain here.
First, read Sept 30 in SF to see how I feel about microphones and Q&A sessions at conferences. When I line up to speak at a microphone I get nervous, get into my head, the spontaneity is gone, and so is much of the fun, for me.
Second, being in the audience makes it hard to do my job. Inevitably the speaker talks down to me (why not, they're on stage, they can't even see me). Larry Ellison was rude and disrespectful last year the one time I spoke. I can shrug it off, but I'm only human, and I prefer not to be put in embarassing situations.
Third, I look for ways to earn my presence at conferences by facilitating and performing. Agenda is expensive. I also have a much richer hallway experience if some of my ideas have been aired from the stage. So, while this rule isn't cast in concrete, I prefer to go to conferences that I speak at.
To my friends who I will miss, I'm sorry I won't be at Agenda this year! What happened? Send me email. If you want to tell my readers, I'd be happy to carry the message. Send email to email@example.com.
PS: This piece took a long time. Chuck Shotton contributed by digging really deep into the contract, the lawsuit, and the Java code. Thanks Chuck!
PPS: Rube Goldberg was a comic artist who died in 1970. He was active thru most of the 20th century. He designed convoluted contraptions that solve ordinary problems, but he made them seem simple, almost as if they might work. He could have written great documentation for today's software products.
PPPS: Last year at Agenda we sang Que Sera Sera. We still sing that song today!