Why Should AOL Open Up?
Wednesday, August 4, 1999 by Dave Winer.
I heard from people I hadn't heard from in many years, and also from people I never knew, people who use my ancient outliners. Thanks to everyone. I can't answer each of the emails individually, but I read every word in each of them. The stories are wonderful, it's great to know that our old software has been put to such good use!
We have a couple more downloads this morning, MORE 3.0 for the Macintosh (1990) and ThinkTank 2.41NP for the IBM PC (1987).
As usual, there are mini-essays on each page, relating my own personal experience developing and using these products.
One of the next things on my to-do list is to offer people an easy way to register for outliner-oriented email bulletins and to post stories for other outliner people to read.
There's an interesting intelligence and good spirit among people who use outliners. We're going to open up web-based community services for people who use outliners, in the near future.
We follow several threads at once. There isn't a schedule, because no schedule is possible. For example, we had no way of knowing when or if Symantec would permit the re-release of the outliners.
And we didn't know that Microsoft was going to make a dramatic entry into the Instant Messaging market dominated by AOL. Both of these are in the scope of DaveNet, and they're happening at the same time.
On Monday I received a response from a Microsoft representative on the Instant Messaging piece that went out on Sunday. You can read the response here:
In my counter-response I re-focused the discussion: "If the goal is open systems, why is Microsoft's Instant Messaging system closed? I'd like to be able to write apps that run on top of it. Why can't I? Or can I?"
The Microsoft response: "At present, there are no plans for a formal SDK. Microsoft will work with licensees of the MSN communications platform to customize their versions of MSN Messenger Service. The partner clients will still interact with MSN communications servers and be fully interoperable with all other MSN Messenger Service clients. In the future, should there prove to be sufficient developer interest in creating solutions on top of Messenger, Microsoft will certainly evaluate doing an SDK."
The number-two in a market has to offer something that the dominant vendor doesn't. Often this is a lower price -- the new competitor tries to force the leader to respond by doing something unnatural, usually something that breaks the leader's economic model. This is healthy, it forces the leader to keep the price low, and in the age of the Internet, to keep lock-in minimized.
It also helps keep the market fresh. If something changed in the economics or in the user base or in technology, if there's something the leader missed, the new competitor can introduce an idea, grabbing the cursor from the leader. Microsoft knows how to do this. Look at how Office cleared the business productivity landscape. They burst a price and functionality bubble, and won the market.
This time around Microsoft wants to force AOL to open up their Instant Messaging service -- they want to take their share of Instant Messaging without bursting any bubbles! Amazing chutzpah. By complaining in a confusing way they hope to force AOL to burst their *own* bubble. It's as if, playing chess, you run a press release saying your opponent should give up their queen, and somehow you expect this to happen?
Hey, my frustration isn't exclusively with Microsoft, it's also with the reporters and analysts (Eric S. Raymond pay attention) that let them get away with this kind of two-faced double-talk. The press, to this day, has a very low-quality Microsoft-noise filter. If the filters were better I'm sure Microsoft would respond by putting less noise out there.
Some day we may get smart or have the courage to ask the tough questions. Since the web is doing a perfect job of recording this discussion, just like the ancient software that has so much to say, these twists and turns in the continuing software wars will someday be compared against reality and logic.
The historians will conclude, I think, that in the late second millennium, people were very confused by technology!