Bill's Christmas List
Monday, December 14, 1998 by Dave Winer.
I only have time this morning for a very short piece. It's been going that way more and more lately. Writing for the web has taken a back seat to writing software for the web. But today we received a very noteworthy honor which is very visionary, very indicative of where we're going with our software and why we're so excited about it, and I can't let it pass without commenting.
This week's AlertBox column by Jakob Nielsen asks an interesting question. If you were Bill Gates, where would you be shopping for new ideas for The Internet Desktop? Interestingly, this is exactly what we've been thinking about at UserLand. And it's very gratifying that Nielsen tuned into that, and honored us with placement on his list of technologies that he would buy if he were Bill Gates.
That's a high honor indeed!
In the rush to the web, we lost sight that the web is still a nascent application platform, it's much less sophisticated than the GUIs that evolved in the seventies and eighties. Bruce Tognazzini, an early Apple UI guru, has written about this. I've heard that Steve Capps, one of the original Mac developers and now at Microsoft is also working in this area. And in Frontier 6, coming in a few months, we will close the loop for web authoring, fully integrating it with the Windows/Mac desktop environment and all the powerful and deep writing and graphic tools that are there, but not easily connected to the web, yet.
I have been writing about this, but most of the writing is very technical, and therefore I'm only publishing it on the website. I feel that without context, it wouldn't make much sense to DaveNet readers. But when we finish this project, the result will be very understandable. When you're looking at a page that you authored, there will be a big unmissable button that says Edit this Page. When you click the button, the document is wrapped in XML and sent to your desktop, where it opens in an editing window, ready for you to edit it. It could be a GIF or JPEG or a Director movie or Flash sequence, or more likely an essay, story, business plan, report or other text document. If you have an editor for the document, we'll try to find it, and open it for you.
When you're finished editing, bring the web browser to the front and click on the Save on Server button. There it is, that's how the web and the desktop are integrated for multi-user authoring. For now, I don't believe it can possibly get easier or give you more leverage. And it gives you the power of the deep apps that run on the desktop, PhotoShop, Illustrator, FreeHand, Word, BBEdit, Dreamweaver, Director, etc. There are no counterparts to these apps written in Java or DHTML, nor is it likely, IMHO, that there ever will.
To make this work has meant elevating the whole Frontier environment. XML and XML-RPC were absolutely necessary. COM and Apple Event support. ODBC and support for Windows scripting APIs. And new work in editorial tools that's actually a loop back to the work we did in the 80s on outlining, word processing and presentations.
It's all summarized in this slide show:
I find it interesting that that even though I don't like how Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison play in the software business, that I have at least partially embraced their vision. My workstation isn't as thin as theirs, not by a lot, and I have a deep investment in C apps, and so do the other content tools companies, Adobe, Macromedia, Quark, et al, and I want to continue that investment, not abandon it as they would ask me to.
I resisted the temptation to throw it all away for Java, and I'm glad I did. The industry goes thru these gyrations from time to time, and in the end, the money is where the users are. In this case, it requires a small bit of connective technology, XML-RPC, to turn the popular content tools into networked applications. That's where we've been working, and we're starting to reap the benefits.
It was time to say this, however quickly, because Nielsen has totally tuned into what we're doing. Whether we sell to Microsoft or some other large company is a separate issue. I am committed to seeing this software to market in as effective a way as I possibly can. I'm not in a hurry to get VC money or do an IPO or to sell out, these could be very distracting and could lessen, not increase the chance of our success.
I think when the dust settles, the vision we're implementing will be the common practice, that the web will be seen as groupware, and it will be easy to create for, and the popular desktop creativity apps will be networked just as the reading apps (the web browsers) are.
So now I have to get back to programming.. See you on the web!