The Tail and the Dog
Monday, January 19, 1998 by Dave Winer.
Bill Gates reads this stuff and sometimes responds to it.
Something in my ongoing story of a software developer wandering amidst the giant hype machines must resonate with Mr. Gates. There must be a reason why he opens at least some of these pieces and reads them and at times is moved to respond.
I decided to not take a cynical view of it. I know that what I learn here will also be learned by Gates, and by everyone else who reads DaveNet.
Have you read Microserfs? This story is the sequel!
We'll find out how powerful DaveNet is in the next few months. Can I influence Microsoft to take the high road by communicating openly about the experience?
Can the tail wag the dog? Just a little?
We'll find out!
I'm back at my Mac this morning.
Hey it's the machine that Steve Jobs owns. Did the users take it back? No, far from it. Many months after Steve's triumphal return to Apple, followed shortly by the cancellation of the clones, I look back to the Mac community and see a black hole.
Sure, Steve gets that Microsoft, Netscape, Macromedia and Oracle (huh?) are big Mac developers. But what about Quark and Adobe? What about BBEdit and WebSTAR and Eudora and Cyberstudio and Netobjects Fusion? What about all the companies developing beautiful Mac-only software that no one has heard of? Is Apple doing anything to make them more visible?
Is there any point trying to roll new software out thru the Mac platform?
My belief: not unless you've kissed Steve's ring.
I'm my own man. With a popular website and thousands of users, I'm dressed for success. I hope!
Hey I actually *like* the stuff. That, and a brain, and some experience running a company are all that's required, in my humble opinion.
Yes, I want to make a lot of money from my software, but I want to do it the old fashioned way, thru a business that's engaged to marry its customers. Based on listening and responding and a product whose feature set matches the aspirations of the people who use it.
The old Silicon Valley story says you hire a suit to do your IPO roadshow, delegating the product and focusing on selling stock. That's what I don't buy. According to the San Jose Mercury-News, Netscape's CEO, Jim Barksdale, the oft-cited example for winning on Wall Street, doesn't use email. He is the CEO of a company that proposes to revolutionize the way businesses communicate. This is just plain wrong. Same old loop, a corner cut, a brief spark, a light that goes on, then off. We lose when we let Wall Street form the strategies for our technology companies.
Last year, writing about Java, I asked "When will Silicon Valley get the message that great software is created by people not companies? When will the financiers of Silicon Valley set up corporate systems that serve the products, instead of vice versa? And when will creative engineers stop selling their babies to the miserable petty agendas of small thinking corporate credit-takers?"
I want to zig where everyone else zags. I want to build a smart organization, grounded in product. I think that's the way to do a solid cashout for my shareholders, not one that disappoints. It may take longer, but I believe what The Supremes used to sing, you can't hurry love. You can't cut corners, you pay for your sins, the customer is always right. There are so many slogans, so much wisdom.
I'm going to take my own advice and hold out for the smart deal. I will not become stupid just to get rich. Life is too short.
I've been traveling to Microsoft since 1981. On my first trip they had just raised their first round of venture capital from Technology Venture Investors. The IBM PC would come out later that year. They were primarily a languages company. They were not public. I was coming from a larger company, the company that made Visicalc, one of the first companies to tube because they had a CEO who didn't use the products.
Over the years I've done one deal with Microsoft, but I've tried many times. That was before DaveNet. I used to be an Apple II developer, then a PC developer. I've written about Microsoft here, many times, but for most of the life of DaveNet I was a Mac-only developer. That changed in November 1997 when I became a Windows user. Now my company produces software for both platforms, but my job on my six-person team is to understand how our stuff fits into the culture of Windows software.
I've gone from being a Windows newbie to being an intermediate Windows user. I could now give advice to newbies, especially ones who want to continue to use their Macs. And I can do some things that no other Windows user can, because my content management software was ported before I converted.
My mission is simple, to integrate our functionality with Windows, to move that platform forward as powerfully as I can, in the same way I moved the Mac platform forward in the late 80s and early-mid 90s.
I want to see NT become everything Unix is and much more. I've chosen sides. My bet, made in mid-1996, was that Microsoft is more motivated to win than Sun is. That bet is just now coming to fruition. Like I said, you can't hurry love! So...
With all possible humility, I know I can help Microsoft win.
Now I write from a different perspective. I've had to unlearn some old tricks -- like assuming our software was running on a platform that people didn't think would survive. I keep having to remind myself of this. Now I can suggest a Windows NT solution running our software, and know that I will not have to deal with people's paranoia about Apple's survivability.
Losing the loser attitude has been a major task for me.
Over and over I say to myself, it's over, it's over.
The nightmare is over.
Welcome to my new nightmare!
To people who say I have the blinders on, that I'm naive, that Microsoft will only rip off my ideas and leave me bankrupt, let me prove to you that I know better than that.
In 1981, 1985, 1986 and 1991 I tried to win with Microsoft. Only one time did it actually happen, did we get a check from Microsoft for all the effort. And each time our meetings yielded a competitive development effort inside Microsoft. It doesn't take much in the way of brains to extrapolate that in 1998 they will try to usurp our ideas once again.
In 1991, we saw them doing it, and we decided to go home. We both lost, I think, because their internal scripting, outlining and database people did not end up duplicating our effort. They did it the hard way, and came up empty. If we had fought them on it, they would have gotten it right.
I was disgusted with their self-centered we-can-do-it-all attitude. To Mike Maples, Jeff Raikes and Pete Higgins, I hope you learned something -- I did. Big company software often misses the mark. If you want to hit a bulls-eye, go with the people who live in the market. You need me to show you how my market works. And if I can't win, I pick up my chips and leave and don't look back.
But, to the skeptics, I'm not going to dwell on it. I can try again. I can move on. I recognize that the situation is different now. Do I have enough ingredients to make a win-win? Maybe. Is there a way to win? Only if I can influence Microsoft to not interfere.
Apple taught me that the platform vendor has to agree not to get in the way in order for a new market to develop on their platform. I may not like it, I may want to be fully independent of the platform vendor, but that isn't how the world works.
A seduction is needed. You have to be able to trade a little fear against optimism. I have to have a respectful fear of what the platform vendor can do to me, my product and my user base. And as arrogant as it may seem, I have to be able to evoke their fear too. Big companies only respond to threats. They hear their competitors much better than their friends. Hey they don't really have friends! Name me one company that's being honest when they say Apple is their friend? Repeat the same exercise for Microsoft. That's not how we do it in this business. (It's a shame, by the way.)
The stronger and more valuable my user base is -- assuming they can hear them at the platform vendor (a challenge, because they create so much noise inside the companies) -- the more I can successfully chart a course around a powerful and influential platform vendor.
That's why it's taken Apple and Novell so long to succumb to the power of Microsoft, even though their technology has been matched or exceeded by Microsoft. The users built systems around Novell and Apple networks. It takes a lot to make these people move.
I have to do the same thing. Entice Windows users to build systems out of my software. Trust us to be strong and to be able to express our strength, so that if Microsoft attacks they can look at us and still see success.
Microsoft has Front Page. They could add an object database, a macro language, templates, link management, an object oriented hierarchy for web content, outliner and debugging tools, a multi-threaded server runtime, workflow framework and connections to other apps; and do the same on the Mac, and then we'd have a formidable competitor.
Microsoft has Windows NT, which is also a web server. They could add all these high-level features to the server, moving it from merely being a file server to being a content management system that could run newsrooms like the one at News.com, or InfoWorld, or PC WEEK, PC World, etc.
Microsoft could deliver nirvana. When? If they really focus, and get some great experienced developers working in our area, it could happen in three to five years. And do I really believe they could deliver something as beautiful and simple as Frontier? It'll never happen. They're too wed to their own internal logic to be able to craft something as gorgeously integrated. It just won't happen. After all these years, I think I know that.
But they don't seem to know that. That's where my fear comes from. But our software is strong and complete. That's where my courage comes from. I hope Microsoft will take the high road, and help us develop the market without pushing us towards irrelevance. To invest in links from their server to our content system, to connect their editing and client tools to our software, to appreciate our software for the advantage it gives them over Unix and the Mac, instead of holding back Windows users while they get their software ready.
My dream is that a hundred people inside Microsoft start using our software and learn alongside us how to connect it up to the things Microsoft is already doing. That's how I want it to happen. The lightbulbs could go off on both sides of the fence, not just on ours.
Next week at the Microsoft Tech-Ed conference in Palm Springs, I will introduce Frontier 5.0.
They've been very kind to us, we have an hour and a half to tell our story. They're carrying our message on their website. We wrote the story, not them. They've made lots of offers to continue to carry our message after the rollout. Thank you Microsoft!
Why did I choose a Microsoft venue to roll my product out? It's simple -- I want a chance to demo my software to a hundred geekish Microsoft people at a single time. And I want to give them a chance to see how a hundred independent web developers respond to what we've developed. If all goes well, after that event we'll have a good idea how we should move forward in the coming months and years.
If it doesn't go well, we'll know that we should look elsewhere to build our new base of users.
For me, a lot will be at stake there!
Oh well, we keep diggin, I just want to make a beautiful garden.
Maybe Windows is the place?