One of Two
Friday, November 21, 1997 by Dave Winer.
What happens when two columnists go to dinner?
Two columns, of course!
On Wednesday evening I had dinner with Chris Nolan, the gossip columnist at the San Jose Mercury-News; at Siam Garden, in Menlo Park, CA.
We talked about lots of things, including an odd phenomenon -- there are lots of programmers who think the US Department of Justice (DOJ) action against Microsoft isn't the right thing to do.
I talked with Chris, thinking I wouldn't do a column on this subject at this time, but this morning, working on my Windows machine, I had some new thoughts that I wanted to add to the discussion.
First, let's talk philosophy. There's no actual line between system and application software. No rule to allow one to determine if a bit of code is system code or application code.
Also, with history as a guide, it's inevitable that an OS will assume features of its most popular applications. What once was a third party opportunity becomes a feature of the system. If you look at history, you'll see clearly that that's how it always goes.
It happens with applications too. Look at PageMaker and Quark XPress, PhotoShop and Director. They all have become platforms. They have developers of plug-ins, add-ons, filters and extras. They all have philosophies for dealing with thorny issue of moving the platform forward and preserving the investment of developers.
The idea of a single level of platform is naive. Read What is a Platform? 8/22/95, for details.
It's actually a hierarchy of platforms. Microsoft must support all the other platforms that are built on their platform. Why? They must try to get them to move forward with them. If they fail to get them to move, they're screwed! Microsoft gets this. I wish the DOJ got it too.
Now I'm learning the point of view of a developer for a Microsoft platform.
In twenty years of programming, this is the first time for me. (In the 80s when I developed for PCs, Microsoft shared the platform vendor position with IBM.)
I have a reasonably fresh point of view on this.
Here's a restatement of the question Chris and I were dealing with...
Why do (some) developers think the DOJ is off the wall in trying to keep Microsoft from shipping HTML rendering in the next release of Windows?
Because we want the feature.
HTML display windows belong in all apps. HTML is very important. Having it implemented underneath the apps, so they can call it thru a system API, will allow us to move our products where customers want them to move.
We create work environments for web developers. In some sense, so does everyone else these days. Right now the connection between our environment and the HTML display is klunky. By building it into the OS, Microsoft gives us the power to go around the klunky connection, and make our own vision render itself in HTML.
Movement is what our business is about. Somehow the DOJ wants Microsoft to stop moving, but if they do that, we have to stop moving too.
We understand that a lot of web developers prefer using Netscape's browser.
So we will support their APIs too.
In a sense this makes Netscape an OS vendor too.
And that's OK with me!
(In fact I like it.)
Instead of trying to stop Microsoft from moving forward, couldn't Netscape, IBM, Sun, Oracle etc. make a more attractive proposition to developers than Microsoft makes?
Couldn't we have diversity? If Microsoft is so strong, it seems that the other actual or would-be OS vendors could make different, perhaps more generous, offers to smaller developers.
So far the propositions have been clumsy, and not respectful. McNealy asks us to sign up for a jihad against Microsoft. No! Try again?