Monday, April 6, 1998 by Dave Winer.
Oh baby. It's raining it's sunny.
Rain sun rain sunrainsunrainrainsun.
It's spring in California!
Oh Netscape! They give away the source and miss the point.
Netscape's purpose is to serve the web developer community. They did that for a few months at the end of 1994, the beginning of 1995, and then, ever since, they've been lost. Contrary to popular belief it was a self-inflicted slide, not caused by the fierce competition with Microsoft.
Imagine you're a web developer.
You like blockquote, table, hr, etc. They're so easy, even if they're limited (mostly *because* they're limited). You're cruising along. Loving what you're doing.
Then one day the company that started it all says Java Java Java. It's neat! OK. You go out and get a Java book. Huh? What's this? But everyone's so excited. There must be something wrong with me.
Three years later, the Java hype is over. VCs won't touch it, which is ironic because people developing in Java are finally starting to ship commercial quality results. Oh those nutty VCs.
A contrarian VC would clean up, merge a bunch of Java teams into one company and market their products. Whatever floats to the top is the killer app.
Java is a lot like the Newton or Palm Pilot. It takes a few years for new environments to gestate. Patience pays. It's a long-term bet. But Java was never a good bet for Netscape.
Like Candide lost in the software industry, Netscape looks for a new home. Java didn't work for them. So instead of talking to their only natural constituency, they say C++ C++ C++! Our bacon will be saved by the creativity of thousands of C++ programmers. But these people don't make websites. Oooops.
I've been sending private emails to Marc Andreessen for the last week. "Marc, get a clue!" I say. He says I have to talk to the new benevolent dictator in charge of the Navigator software, as if I have a feature request or want to start programming in C++ again.
Based on my experience, confirmed by the informal survey I ran over the weekend, very few people place supreme value on free source code.
"Features you can't get anywhere else" was by far the number one choice.
"Free source code available" was way down the list. Why? My guess: most people have no use for free source code, even if they have the skills. People are busy busy busy. They want to double-click and get going.
Maybe this piece will inspire some web developers with C++ skills to take a leadership position in the new free-source world of Navigator, and maybe they'll prove me wrong. Nothing would please me more.
My friend Doc Searls says that marketing is a conversation. He's so right. It's a two way thing. So many people think marketing is a message, I talk, you listen, but that's how you lose your way.
If marketing is a conversation then a company is a fireplace. We sit down and talk. If you talk over my head (Java) or say stupid things (Java), no matter how nice you look, or what other people say about you, eventually I'll look for a more interesting conversation elsewhere.
I think most web developers, like most Mac users, are inherently not part of the Microsoft conversation. It was never about feature parity, just as in the Mac market it was never about market share or licensing.
Microsoft is big and self-contained. That's just who they are. Media businesses are diverse and cacaphonous. Sure, some web developers sing the Microsoft song. But there are plenty of smart web people who see the value in independence from Microsoft, almost at a genetic, self-defining level.
If Netscape was a really beautiful fireplace for web developers, one built on respect, and if they had hired and trusted people who loved the new medium, there would have been nothing Microsoft could have done to displace them.
The independence of the web developer community is what Netscape was founded on. It's a dramatic tragedy that the owners of the company never connected with this simple idea.
I feel like we're at a watershed, about to disconnect from Netscape. They're going in a different direction, we wish them luck in their journey, but don't expect to take the trip with them.
Instead, I invite them to come with us on our journey.
PS: VC stands for Venture Capitalist.