Healing the Netscape Wound
Tuesday, May 26, 1998 by Dave Winer.
Hey babe, I'm still listening to Pocky Way this morning, but there's more serious stuff to talk about, but I'll try to stick to the pocky rhythm and keep it light-hearted, even though the subject is heavy.
I read in Sunday's New York Times about economists thinking of different ways to restructure the software industry by restructuring Microsoft. Reading their comments I got the feeling, several times, that they don't get how software works. It made me feel nauseous.
On Monday, Denise Caruso cites a SRI paper specifying how Microsoft should be broken up. And today Mitch Kapor piles on, talking about hypocrisy in the software industry.
While we're busy rewriting history, I think many people forget the mood in 1995 and 1996, it was euphoric, the old ways were on the way out, the web and its energy were going to rewrite the rules of the old software business. Out with the old, in with the new, Microsoft is encircled! Right on.
I called this Web Energy. Bright eyes. A lovely zig to the old industry's zag. The standards of the Internet really did undermine the standards of the old industry. Let's have fun!
I was against the Microsoft attack on Netscape and Sun because it caught the new Internet developers in the crossfire. I wanted Microsoft to be a leader, not an attacker. Give a new industry a chance to form.
I felt sure that Netscape and Sun would collapse all on their own because they were building on the old industry model, much like Microsoft.
I wanted something other than a bigger and stronger Microsoft to be left standing when the war was over.
Kapor and others complain that the venture capitalists didn't fund word processors and spreadsheets.
They blame Microsoft for this, but why not blame the VCs?
So much money was flowing, why didn't someone fund a new word processor or spreadsheet?
Where were the contrarian bets?
Now deep software that runs on both clients and servers that can stand alongside Microsoft software has more value than they thought it would.
The standards of the boom, HTTP, HTML, SMTP still have a lot of room for growth. And C is still a great, very popular, development language.
Que sera sera! The future's not ours to see.
Anyway the near-failure of Netscape is a huge wound, not just for their shareholders and employees, for the whole software industry and that includes Microsoft.
How do I know it's such a big wound? Because we're talking about Microsoft and not about wonderful new things we can and want to do.
The Netscape wound is totally hogging the idea space. And it's going to get worse before it gets better, unless Bill Gates takes power and changes the subject in a decisive way. He's the only one who can do it.
Here's the deal...
The magic behind Netscape and Java was worth embracing.
When Microsoft attacked, they also attacked the developer communities.
This was their mistake, I believe.
Instead of listening to McNealy, Andreessen and Ellison, they could have listened to the developers behind them. What did they want? Was it a threat to Microsoft?
Someone who commands headlines has to go first and find real win-wins for developers. Move the cursor over there and keep it there. It could have been Sun or Netscape, but it didn't turn out that way.
Trust this, web energy is different from the energy at Microsoft. Same with Java. It's young energy. They can blow our minds like we blew the minds of the minicomputer generation. But we have to let them make headlines with their ideas. Get out of their way. You can't tell the press what to cover. So let's stop giving them opportunities to make the past the issue of today.
The web revolution was heavy. It still is. If we take the hex off it can still move us great places. Let's make sure that happens.
PS: Remember the Communications Decency Act! It's the same government. They're mastering the politics of the software industry. Uh oh.
PPS: Microsoft's $150 million investment in Apple last summer is a clue. That kind of stuff, done even more effectively, is the key to getting on with it.