Wednesday, May 13, 1998 by Dave Winer.
Today's piece is a follow-up on two previous pieces, but first a gorgeous piece of news just came in that I want to share.
In its June cover story, Windows Magazine rated the top Windows shareware software products, and Frontier 5.0.1 got Best of Class in HTML Authoring. This is great, so far we've been pretty much overlooked by the PC magazines. That's OK, we're in it for the long-haul, I think. But it's great to break thru. Ye-hi!
This is the first such honor for our Windows software. I am very proud of what our team, Doug Baron, Bob Bierman, Brent Simmons, against great odds, has accomplished. Thank you Windows Magazine for the acknowledgement!
But as yesterday's piece said, we haven't forgotten our roots in the Macintosh OS. Read on...
According to Steve Jobs, the interim CEO of Apple, yes, Rhapsody is cancelled. He was quoted yesterday in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal saying so. However, other Apple people are spinning it differently.
From email@example.com: "We should have just announced that we were taking the product that was codenamed Rhapsody and officially calling it Mac OS X, shipping in 1999 with the Carbon APIs to ease porting efforts, and the Blue Box for existing binaries."
OK, never mind how it's being spun, what really happened? From my point of view, a rather large cloud was lifted over the future of the Macintosh OS. Apple decided, wisely, to go with a continuous approach rather than ask developers to commit major resources to supporting a completely new way of doing things.
Apple *will* offer what was once called Rhapsody, at least that's the current plan; but will not attempt to migrate the base of Mac application software to that OS. So the Rhapsody idea has been cancelled, even if the bits that make up Rhapsody go on.
It's a good idea because it wasn't going to happen. There aren't a lot of development dollars chasing Apple platforms. That's realistic. So rather than create a problem for developers by training users to judge developers based on support of an OS with a very small user base, they're listening to developers and promoting a small change with a potentially huge benefit for users.
There's still something objectionable about the way they're promoting the new strategy. The new plan is called Carbon, and they say "All life is carbon-based," leading to the inevitable conclusion that if you don't support Carbon, you're dead.
Already I've gotten email from MORE users wondering if this is the last straw for the old classic program that I created in the 80s that some people still use. No, of course it isn't the end, because even if MORE isn't clean enough to run under the Carbon interfaces (it might be), Apple has said that old apps will still run on future versions of the Mac OS.
In other words, in their zeal to get developers on the bandwagon, they have unnecessarily raised fears among some users, and thereby created a problem for developers. I forgive them, they're doing better, the Jobs-run Apple is much more in tune with developers than previous incarnations of Apple. Net-net it's getting better, and that's good.
Last week I wrote Time Changes Everything about and for Microsoft.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I probed, looking and asking for a mission statement that goes beyond the normal self-perpetuating mission that all corporations must have. I heard nothing back to convince me that there's any realistic vision for Microsoft beyond keeping the stock price up.
I'm disappointed, but not devastated. I think enough time has passed, and now it's time to look where we're all going in relation to Microsoft. Even if they don't have a vision for us, there's nothing stopping us from developing our own vision. Even though the software world appears to revolve around Microsoft, it doesn't have to be that way forever.
As I think about this stuff, I want to know to what extent Microsoft controls the personal computer distribution system. Are Compaq, Dell, IBM, et al franchisees or are they truly independent? Under what conditions can Microsoft take their licenses away? At will? A violation of the terms of the distribution agreement? And what do the agreements look like? Are they confidential? If so, why? Does Microsoft have any real competition in operating systems? Do they really need to keep these agreements confidential?
I'm in favor of the government filing an anti-trust suit against Microsoft if for no other reason than it will force disclosure of the business deals they have with the hardware OEMs. Very little light has been shed on these deals. I want to see the whole thing so I can decide for myself how locked in I am with my software investment.
My opinion is that Microsoft could put any of these OEMs out of business any day they want to. I think this has forced the demise of many would-be competitors of Microsoft, going back to Quarterdeck, GeoWorks and DR-DOS.
The most common complaint from the would-be Microsoft competitors is the pricing policy that forces the OEMs to pay for Windows even if they don't install it on a customer's computer. So if GeoWorks convinced a customer to use their software, the customer would pay for Windows anyway.
Now, I'm in the same place. I wanted to use Windows NT Workstation as my home platform for future versions of Frontier, but learned that there's a 10-connection limit on this version of the operating system, which really limits it to being a workstation, not a server.
That sounds reasonable until you realize that over time Microsoft is sure to add features similar to my software to their much higher priced NT Server product. So the customer will get something like my software from Microsoft at no extra cost. How much money is available for my company, even if my product is better, more innovative, higher performance or less expensive?
See the hole in Microsoft's innovation argument? They're lowering costs? Hmmm. NT Server costs much more. I'm interested in hearing a rebuttal.
What do I want? A plain-vanilla, low-priced modern OS from Microsoft that allows a somewhat level playing field. It can't be all that level, by the way, since Microsoft has 30,000 employees and billions of dollars and I have no money and only 4 employees. Why do they need this stupid advantage? What are they so scared of?
One of the things I used to admire about Microsoft is a philosophy called BOGU, which stood for Bend Over and Grease Up. It was a reminder that they would take it up the butt for the bigger prize.
I think dealing with IBM taught them the value of BOGU, and they learned it well. Keep your wits about you, keep doing the BOGU thing, and eventually the big bear will screw up, and you'll end up on top.
We all live BOGU lives. If you have family or friends you're always doing it. No relationship is perfectly balanced. If you're in business and have customers you're boguing all the time. You know, the customer is always right. That's big big bogu.
Bogu says there are other points of view, and sometimes you have to yield to them, let them have their way.
I've been watching Microsoft lose this way, there has been a change in attitude. Yes, they're scrappy, but there's also a very careless attitude. I think they care less and less what other people think about them.
When they went on the offensive against Netscape, they ignored the web developers who were caught in the middle, the majority of whom used and continue to use Netscape's browser as the benchmark for web compatibility. Did those people see themselves as Microsoft developers? Emphatically no. The web was a wonderful way to escape Microsoft control and a lot of people wanted that.
When Microsoft rewrote Java for Windows to be COM-specific they disenfranchised the Java developers who wanted Write Once Run Anywhere. They claim that their Java is fully compatible with Sun's, but they played a nasty psychological game with the developers who wanted WORA. They could have commited to supporting WORA, it would have cost them very little, and would have won them the friendship of developers who don't want to be Windows developers but want to have their software run well on Windows.
When they were ordered to take MSIE out of Windows 95 they played dumb and offered the judge a set of ridiculous choices. They could have asked me or anyone outside of Microsoft with technical knowledge to help them plot a win-win. Instead they tried to publicly humiliate the judge. That was a very sad day for me, I was actually at Microsoft the day the story came out. I told them "This won't work." I was so embarassed to be part of the software industry that day. Such childish behavior from a 20-something company run by 40-something men. So unbecoming. Totally embarassing.
The shit hit the fan for me last week with the staged rally and rigged poll. First the rally. I believe they can shut down Compaq or Dell any day they want to. To parade the CEOs of the companies around as if they had independent opinions while there's a gun pointed at their bottom line is the ultimate insult to everyone else's intelligence. Do they think we're stupid?
The poll was even more insulting. The questions were one-sided and the results totally predictable. They asked if people believed in lawsuits (no), higher taxes (no) and government interference in business (no), without asking questions about Microsoft's business practices (unfair) and the value of diversity in the software world (high).
Before I got into software, in my freshman year of college, I took a political science course on polling. I don't claim to be an expert, not by any means. But the one lesson I took away is that you can get any result you want from a poll by asking a question from a point of view.
There are certain beliefs that color the whole population. If you trigger those beliefs, you can ask any question and get an irrelevant response. Politicial scientists are fascinated with this. I guess the point is that if you want to get an accurate reading of public opinion, you have to offer people real choices and force them to think, not just react to buzzwords.
Interestingly, a public web poll conducted by MSNBC, a Microsoft subsidiary, revealed that at least some people want Microsoft to separate the browser from the OS, think that Microsoft has violated anti-trust laws, think the government should delay the introduction of Windows 98, and that Microsoft should be broken up into separate companies.
I am a Microsoft customer. I use a Windows laptop and desktop system, alongside my Macs. I use Windows NT, Microsoft Office and a few Microsoft utilities. I paid real money for these products. That qualifies me as a customer.
As a customer, as I watch Microsoft flail, I want more choices, not fewer. They are wreckless with my opinion. They insult my intelligence. They make me either stupid or compromise my integrity. I can't overlook that or accept it.
As a Windows developer I like working with Microsoft people, we're involved in a serious project with them, and I think the people we work with know that I place very high value on the relationship.
But if I didn't say anything, my integrity would be as compromised as the integrity of the CEOs who stood up with Gates, and the people who participated in the Microsoft-sponsored polls, and the value of my business, no matter how much money I make, would be zero; because without integrity my life is meaningless.
I might lose business opportunities because I say what I say. So be it. But I continue to have great hopes for Microsoft and for Bill Gates. With his resources, his intelligence, his drive, he could be a great leader. But he is not now leading us anywhere anyone with a mind would want to go.
That's why I want to know what Microsoft stands for. Let's begin there. Does the vision have integrity? Is there a greater purpose? An end that justifies the means? Has Gates thought it through? My opinion is that he has not.
If he had something he really wanted to do that the rest of us could support, he wouldn't resort to insulting and dishonest appeals for our support. Instead he would share the vision, it would turn us on, and we'd beg the government to get out of the way and let Microsoft deliver the vision.
Microsoft makes the best argument for breaking our reliance on them. At last week's staged rally speaker after speaker said that the economy could be headed for a downturn if Windows 98 were delayed. I doubt it, but let's assume it's true, or at least that Gates would like it to be true.
It's unacceptable that any one company have the power to hold our economy hostage. They drew a comparison to General Motors. But GM has competition. If they skip a model year, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, go on and on, all these companies would fill the gap.
If Bill Gates took a year off, who would be able to fill the gap? Does Microsoft fully control the hardware OEMs? Yes, I think they do. Could I compete with Microsoft? Not the way they have it set up now. They are competition-proof, and this is not a good place for the rest of us.
Those of us outside Microsoft have two choices, we can take the high road, or we can look to governments to break up and regulate Microsoft.
The first road will be a hard one. Do most of Microsoft's largest customers have integrity? I wonder about that. Do they care about their long-term viability if they depend on a single vendor for their system and application software? I like that approach better. It's not smart to look to one vendor to provide all the software you use. Will the economy make an adjustment, provide a zig to Microsoft's zag? I doubt it, because as Microsoft gets stronger and stronger, the incentives against competitors grow more and more daunting.
I am not a government interventionist. Like Gates, I think the government understands very little about software, I think even the senators, judges and attorneys would admit that. But if Gates wants my support, he has to start communicating responsibly, and stop asking us to support an easy path towards continued growth and profit for his company. I think they should have to work harder. It should never get easy for them.
If they don't want the government to interfere, they should open the door for other software developers to interfere. It seems he just doesn't want interference. That's weak. I wouldn't support it even if I weren't in a position to compete, but I am a competitor, and I want my software and users have a chance.
I'd like to see Gates and his company take it up the butt, to pay a price for my support, that price being a high-road solution to the problems that the government is justifiably concerned about, and that every intelligent software customer, developer and hardware OEM must also be concerned about.