Tuesday, October 27, 1998 by Dave Winer.
Good morning: DaveNet.
People! Let's have a discussion here.
Last time we talked, the Clinton outrage was still fresh.
The Microsoft trial was dormant, somewhat forgotten, it didn't seem important.
But things changed when the trial started, now it's the top story, and the government is digging up old stuff that's just plain wrong.
Who's responsible for the demise of Netscape? The government would like to make Microsoft the scapegoat. But is this even remotely scientific? Where was the control? Did Netscape do everything they could to be successful? Did they play the software game with a strategy that had even a remote chance of success? No way!
I wrote about this in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998. I begged Microsoft to bend over to let Netscape survive their ineptness. But Microsoft was under no obligation to make it easy for them, and Netscape did everything in their power to provoke Microsoft. They challenged them at their core, their goal was to replace Windows. They said it publicly, often, in every possible way.
As a person who studies Microsoft, I have to know what's at their core. Who are they? Well, they're The Windows Company. If you challenge Windows, and if Gates believes you have a chance, he'll come at you with everything he has. It was well-documented behavior in 1995, the crucial year in the government's case. I shared this insight publicly in many DaveNet pieces. It was realllly well known.
Did Netscape have a choice? Did they have to loop back and challenge the old way of doing things? Sheez, they had the ideal situation. They should have resisted comparison with Windows, instead they invited it. We watched with fascination. Do they know something we don't? Even though Microsoft was so strong, we believed that Netscape had a chance. But they had to be smart and effective and instead they were arrogant and ineffective.
It's a very strange situation, a murder trial, but the victim isn't dead. Further, if the victim should die, the cause of death wasn't murder, Netscape will have died of natural causes.
It's true that software company death happens all the time in Silicon Valley, and often Microsoft is somewhere near the corpse at the time of its demise, but it's totally unscientific to conclude that Microsoft is responsible. If you field an inadequate team to play against a professional team with deep experience and deep pockets, and the other guys win, are they to blame? How so? What could Microsoft have done differently? Did they ask that Navigator be positioned as a threat to Windows? Where's the evidence of that?
The real problem at Netscape in the mid-90s was that they weren't ready to play the game at the level they were playing it. Barksdale, the CEO, wasn't immersed in the culture of his users, his employees, or the technology they were developing. Andreessen, the CTO, didn't have experience. Neither of them were part of the engineering culture of Silicon Valley, they couldn't forsee the development problems that would eventually haunt them.
So now it's a few years later, and they're battle scarred. Good for them! Now maybe they can be a real software and services company with a realistic business plan.
Netscape may have missed the chance to lead the web generation, perhaps this is a waste, but they still have a chance to be part of it.
As always, their goal is to become more mature, more businesslike, smarter, more knowledgable about the industry they're part of. The government lawsuit is bad for Netscape because it's a distraction. Netscape just can't win this way.
It's possible that Microsoft can be hobbled, but Netscape, if they persist in positioning themselves as a victim, will never overcome it. It's hard work to sell software. I think that's what Netscape is learning.
Microsoft can't be everything. They're just Microsoft. I think it's easy to co-exist with them, you just have to be clever, you just have to think and have that thinking reflected in your products and you have to ship them, and the reviewers and users have to like them. You have to study Microsoft in minute detail. You have to be smart, and persistent, and have a long term strategy, and have the courage to change your mind and go in a different direction. And you have to be right almost every time out of the gate. These are good things to do! Netscape is just beginning to show some of this.
I don't support the government protecting Netscape when they've offered so little of what I believe is required to be successful in this business. I don't think it's good for the people, I don't think it's good for Netscape, I don't think it's good for the economy or good for justice or good for technology.
Success is a reflection of intelligence and drive and effectiveness. Thinking and doing, that's what counts. Looking back at the history of Netscape vs Microsoft, I wouldn't change a thing. The outcome was completely predictable, but only partially because of Microsoft's predictability. It was also the predictable result of Netscape's strategy. Did they have a choice, or did they have to directly challenge Microsoft? They actually had many choices. For me, that closes this case. Let Netscape find its niche, independent of Microsoft, let the market shake it out.
PS: Check it out. IBM is investing in Apache now. That's what it takes to win. Be creative, look for the doors that are already open or don't even exist; stop trying to break down fortifications. Life is too short. Technology moves too fast. It doesn't take much time before the fortresses are worthless.
PPS: Another thing to check out. Netscape could have bought Apple and had their own OS with millions of users. In other words, they could have executed their kill-Windows strategy much more effectively. They sniffed. But look at what Steve Jobs has been able to do at Apple, years later. There was value and they chose to ignore it.