Gates, Netscape & the Governments
Tuesday, May 19, 1998 by Dave Winer.
Looking for my angle as I wrote this morning, I saw three.
A triangle, with Gates, Netscape and government at each of the corners, with the Internet, a cloud, containing the triangle.
First some history.
Netscape started rising in 1994, then plug-ins took off, and all of a sudden the money people of Silicon Valley got the idea that the browser could be an operating system, another try at PenPoint and OpenDoc, and with Java they could go all the way to the metal, they didn't need Windows or the Mac OS. Netscape could *be* an OS.
Netscape's leaders spoke publicly of dismantling Microsoft's operating system monopoly. They attacked Gates at the core of his business. He responded as we would expect him to. And Netscape didn't follow thru, the operating system they promised was never delivered.
There were lots of ways they could have delivered, but they didn't. You can't blame Microsoft for Netscape's failure. Netscape had money, people, acquisition opportunities, great press. They just didn't execute.
Now Netscape needs management and direction. Quick fixes like bundling with Windows won't help. Netscape just needs to dig in and get serious.
Focus on this. There are independent developers. Like me.
What does that mean? I am a Mac developer, but I am not an Apple developer. I'm a Windows developer, but not a Microsoft developer. Similarly, I'm a web developer, but not a Netscape developer. If I wrote Java code, I'd be a Java developer, but not a Sun developer.
The independence of developers is what the Internet is about. It repositioned the operating system platform vendors as makers of web clients and servers and tool-running systems. And it gave developers an opportunity to be independent of operating system vendors.
Dave Nagel's Apple saw the web as a bad idea, and tried to develop OpenDoc as a higher level networking platform. They overestimated their influence with developers, overplayed their hand, and OpenDoc was withdrawn, a failure.
The Internet also repositioned Microsoft, but they resisted. Their approach was to suck the Internet thru Windows. Viewed another way, they were more realistic and less ambitious than Apple. They tried to build the best Internet OS, and they did that. It's hard to argue otherwise, really.
Web browsers are not leading edge in 1998. If history is any guide, they are not going to change from this point on, any more than spreadsheets have changed since the first one shipped in 1980. I'll eat my hat if web browsers work substantially differently in ten years.
This is the first big cost we're paying as an industry for government involvement. They're focusing the cursor back four years instead of putting the focus on what we can do in the future.
Yesterday I wrote about Maine and Time-Warner's RoadRunner online system.
An amazing coincidence: the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Microsoft is negotiating a $400 million investment in RoadRunner, in competition with Oracle and Intel. It really gets my thinking flowing. Look at all the money that wants to get in. But where will the software come from? From big companies? Why not from independent developers?
Think about broadband networks. What an incredible new market! What a vacuum. Distributed computing for the home and office. Who can mine this new field? It's going to take a market like the one that started the three incarnations of the personal computer industry -- the first rush in the early 80s, the graphic transition in the late 80s and early 90s, and the web boom of the mid 90s.
As I said in earlier pieces, Microsoft's best option is a vision that truly excites users and developers, with Microsoft playing a limited role. I urge Microsoft to undermine the government's case, appeal to developers at a level of huge empowerment, so much power that trust isn't an issue. The money and ideas will flow. Never mind the past battles in web browsers.
The world is listening to Bill Gates as it never has before. He has never had an opportunity to lead like this, no one has in our lifetimes. IBM and AT&T didn't have visible personal leaders like Gates.
Watching Gates on TV yesterday, I saw a flustered, exhausted, confused man. This is right! It's real, not staged. It was like watching Sinatra sing on TV on Friday. But Gates is still alive. Now, what will rise from behind all that? We'll find out how ambitious he really is.