Sun is OK
Monday, October 4, 1999 by Dave Winer.
Good morning and Happy October.
I like this time of year because I get to hum my own tune. October has only one major holiday, Halloween, which comes at the very end of the month. And since September's only major holiday comes at the beginning of the month (in the US, where I live) we get a good sixty days of free-formness. I can have holiday spirit and feel real, instead of sneering at the simulated holiday spirit that infects our collective lifestyles in November and December.
Hey, it's the last part of the last year of the millenium! Wow. Does it feel special? No, we're still living on Internet Time here. Everything is compressed. There's no time to ponder the meaning of it all, other than the realization that the millenium flipover *will* impact our servers. For some nutty reason when we started sending cookies to our users we made them expire on 12/31/99 at 11:59PM. I made that choice last year at this time. Why? Why did I do that? What was I thinking? Hello Dave.
Casey Stengel knew it, and it's still true. The Mets are still amazin, even after all these years. They live a charmed existence. They're the most unpredictable team in the most stodgy and traditional American sport, baseball.
Yesterday, in the final game of the regular season, on a wild pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning the Mets qualified for the wild card spot in the National League. And then, before the night was over, the Cincinnati Reds won too, tying the Mets, and forcing a one-game playoff tonight! Wow.
Hey, I've been a Mets fan since I was seven years old. I thought I was over it. But baseball is in my blood. As Tug McGraw used to say -- You gotta believe!
My soul brother, Marc Canter, has a lovely house with a great view on San Francisco's Potrero Hill. From his patio you can see the Bay Bridge, Oakland and Berkeley, the financial district, and the new baseball stadium that's being constructed in China Basin. Last week the Giants played their last game in Candlestick. Hey I never liked Candlestick. Now the truth can be told. Too cold, too remote, too sterile, too windy. The new stadium is supposed to have soul. A downtown baseball stadium in San Francisco could change baseball and San Francisco. Let's have fun!
While we're on the subject of Marc Canter, the inventor of Director, the man who brought multimedia to San Francisco from another windy city, Chicago. While my life has ups and down, as all of ours do, his swings are so incredibly extreme! Make a fortune, lose a fortune -- thru it all, my pal Marc stays cheerful. Well Marc's fortunes are on the rise again. Flush with cash from a couple of big deals, he's part of a team launching a new product that will be on the cover of Wired in a few days! Wow. I can't wait to tell you about it because it's such a killer idea, but out of respect for my friend, I'll wait until Wired tells the story.
But I can give you a little hint. I gave them a quote for their website, from an old DaveNet piece I wrote for Wired about Jean-Louis Gassee. That's all I can say right now, or else they'll shoot me!
Desktop.Com says the web is a desktop, just like the desktops on the Mac and Windows. Icons down the left edge of the browser window, menus at the top of the window, double-click to open a directory, double-click to edit a file. They have a very small set of editors, as the Mac and Windows did when they first launched.
They are also going to have an API to allow other apps to connect to their servers. This is a great idea. I want those APIs to be compatible with the ones we're developing so we can connect to their server from the popular desktop apps on Windows and Mac. The win here is compatibility.
We've been in touch with the Desktop.Com people, but it can't hurt to broadcast the invitation for compatibility, since there must be competitive systems in development in lots of corners of the industry.
We have a specification for this stuff, it's on XML-RPC.COM:
Let's play together boys and girls!
I have the same message for the people who run ThirdVoice.Com.
It's the most frustrating idea to come onto the web in a long time. On one hand, they've done an excellent job, as Desktop.Com has, in pushing the limits of web browser software. Third Voice adds a layer to every website you browse, allowing readers to become writers. I *want* the web to become an easy two-way medium, and I could see the Third Voice software playing a big role in collaborative content management software, an area I care a lot about.
But all the good they can do is overshadowed by the negative net-effect of what they actually do. Anyone can post a comment on any website, and in doing so, to the untrained eye, they appear to be hacking the website. The company encourages this view, saying "Third Voice is a free service that lets you post public, group or personal notes on any Web page."
Hmmm. The thing I like about the web, that makes it different from mail lists and newsgroups, is that it takes a little bit of committment to start and maintain an interesting website. But all that is overshadowed, by obscene and immature post-its that cover up the text when people who use Third Voice scribble on the site. Now this isn't an immediate problem for the rest of us, because Third Voice is not very popular among people with emotional ages in double-digits, but what if Microsoft takes this as an invitation to add this feature to Internet Explorer? They would hail it as a revolution, now the web is two-way! Oh boy. We'd have to invent a new web to get away from the obscenity and immaturity of an open two-way system.
So please, Third Voice, let's figure out a way to let webmasters work with your software so our messages can get thru without comment, and let people comment in places where people who want to see comments can easily find them. A negotiation should be possible, a little leadership please, let's preserve what's good about the web without disempowering your company or people who use your product. Thanks for listening.
On Friday, in a report in the Wall Street Journal, Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos said that Sun would release source for their mainstay operating system Solaris, but would not allow others to build and distribute competitive operating systems using their source code.
After being harshly critical of Sun's Uber-OS strategy with Java in the mid-90s, and being indifferent to Jini, now I'm thankful to Sun for doing something different with Solaris, by providing source code without throwing their hands in the air and giving up responsibility for thinking things through. So much of the euphoria about open source has been just as unrealistic as the euphoria about Java a few years back.
Now we can open a useful dialogue with Sun. The way they parsed the open source challenge is exactly the way we parsed the Java challenge. We have an eleven-year investment in code written in C. It wasn't that long ago that people believed that software implemented in C was obsolete, that everything had to run in Java, or die. Sun helped breed that belief. We resisted, at substantial expense, it was nonsense, and like all industry nonsense, it takes a couple of years to run its course and then things flip back the other way, towards reality. What an irritation! Starting in 1995 no one wanted to look at C code, as if the language you use has anything to do with the marketability or usefulness of a software product.
It's simple, by providing the source to Solaris, Sun is responding to feature requests from their customers. Linux isn't really threatened, it's the ideal operating system for OEMs, developers, embedded systems. Eventually if it gets a solid desktop and can scale to support the big iron that Solaris does, Linux can change the economics of the Mac/Windows market and provide an alternative to Solaris customers.
Predictably the Sun announcement caused an outcry in the open source community. A quote from a Reuters report on the Solaris announcement. "'Sun has tried this scam before with Java and Jini and we are not going to buy it,' said Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative and one of the leaders of open source community. 'They are trying to use us as free labor, without making us a partner. Sun retains all the rights. These terms are therefore unacceptable.'"
But it's OK for Raymond and the open source purists to reject this offer. It wasn't designed to please them. It was designed to please Sun's customers. Look at it this way, Solaris is the perfect operating system for Sun customers. It's a live and let live answer. Sun says they don't have to be Linux, and it leaves room for Linux to find a multitude of niches that Solaris can never occupy because of its economics and how it's developed.
I thank Sun for responding to the euphoria with thought and care. As a software developer with a substantial investment in web-based software written in C that runs on Windows and Mac, I like to see short sensible steps. For the last couple of years we have been pelted with threats from the crowd that Raymond leads saying we would be dead if we didn't cough up our source on their terms. Well, we already have a good thing going here. Why should we panic? No way. I decided to let things settle down before we move. And Sun's decision is a sure sign of things settling down.
I like change, but I have a long-term plan that I'm executing and wild fluctuations in fashionability crowd out the realistic steps we can take year-by-year. This year we're working on ease of use and integrating the web with desktop apps and flowing news stories thru XML and distributed computing protocols.
To make this work we have to have healthy respect for the way things are done. Linux advocates are in a hurry to rip up the pavement, the way the Java zealots were a few years ago, but there are already good roads and bridges in existing operating systems and applications.
Our plan is to use those connections to lift the net to the next level, to add an architecture that includes all that has been accomplished by Sun, Microsoft, Apple, et al. We are excited about Linux because it opens so many doors and forces us all to rethink a lot of assumptions, and in that rethink there are opportunities to undo wrong turns taken many many years ago.
But it's still true that most people do not use Linux.
PS: Thursday is the five-year anniversary of DaveNet. How should we celebrate?