Saturday, June 24, 2000 by Dave Winer.
Given my current Web-centered writing routine, my Web readers know a lot more than the email readers. Let me catch you up.
On Thursday I went to Microsoft's Dot-Net announcement. I was covering the conference, real-time, updating Scripting News as the conference continued. The mood swings. Gates is Gates, he doesn't really smile, and this time the feeling (from the past) that he knows something that I don't isn't there for me. Subsequent speakers talk like Jeff Bezos, in outbursts of excitement, but with a sense that the enthusiasm is acting, not from the heart.
Then Ballmer comes on stage. What a great speaker! He shows humor and vulnerability, casting aside a cat-call from the audience in a loving paternal way. (From yours truly.) Somehow the slogan "Happy Warrior" applies, although Ballmer is nothing like Hubert Humphrey. As he spoke, I wrote into the Web, using the technology that was being talked about on stage.
When Ballmer thanked me for working with them on the stuff they announced, my heart swelled, it felt great. Steven Levy, who writes for Newsweek, said later "You're famous." I thought that's cool, now we can get some work done.
My journalist-developer duality, which was uncomfortable for a few years now feels just right. If I can be a journalist, so can everyone else. The ability to share a point of view openly without help from a PR firm is the right and responsibility of every CEO, imho. The better your company does this, the more effective you will be.
I like to get out front, so if people are uncomfortable with a CEO who writes and influences others, let's go through that, because it's going to become more commonplace.
(And if you're a CEO who wants to do this, please get in touch with me, we can help.)
Now onto commentary about the Microsoft announcement.
Red Herring: "Microsoft got a surprising plug from former competitor Marc Andreessen, who spent the afternoon calling media outlets to announce that his new software-services company, Loudcloud, was 'adopting the whole Microsoft stack, from top to bottom.'"
To which I say, I wish we had gotten together on this when Netscape was strong. If only Netscape had embraced this vision, in 1998, we'd be further along now. Today it would be better if Marc would lend his good name today to a process that includes Microsoft, but doesn't revolve around them.
In response to Marc's claim, there is no Microsoft stack. I'm pretty sure most of the "media outlets" understand this. Now understand how superficial the hype is. Good net standards involve opportunism, for sure, but they also require patience and balance, consideration of other points of view, and participation. Andreessen is a newbie here.
I was surprised, in a way, that Microsoft's announcements on Thursday didn't include Sun and IBM, both of whom have backed SOAP, which is the technology underlying Dot-Net.
As a partner in the SOAP process, I want to extend a hand to these two companies, who have been instrumental in accelerating the adoption of SOAP.
IBM co-authored the spec and did the first implementation. Sun went through their more recent animosity with Microsoft, presumably seeing the good SOAP can do for Java, and endorsed it anyway.
(When the Sun announcement came, I asked "Did hell freeze over too?" ;->)
Without Sun's and IBM's participation, Andreessen's position might have some power. If it were my stage, Microsoft would have been there, in a big way, but so would Sun and IBM.
The processing continues.
And now we swing around to the choice of name for this vision of Microsoft's.
It's so hard to type, and so hard to say, you can't put .NET in a story without completely screwing it up.
Typography matters, even on the Web. If I mention .NET five times in a story, my reader's eye sees imbalance. In order for the name to be recognizable as a brand as you read a sentence, you have to capitalize it. All-cap words loom large and create imbalance. Much of the coverage has been awkward. How do I refer to this? Is it a product or a vision? Is it really a brand-name? Isn't .NET a pretty generic thing?
I'm sooo confused!
(I liked Whee Win much better.)
Pushing aside the statements of intent, what did Microsoft actually announce on Thursday?
I know what it is, but it's hard to explain if you don't have the prerequisite background. Let me try to explain by filling in the blanks. This column is written for non-technologists, so I have to start at the beginning.
Inside every computer there's a constant chatter of program modules asking other modules questions and getting back answers. Every mouse click launches thousands of these software conversations. Like any conversation, the conversants must agree on a language. If I don't know Italian, I can't understand much of what an Italian says. That's cool, sometimes ignorance is bliss. But I digress.
We call these modules "procedures". When one procedure asks a question of another procedure it's said to "call" it.
Now of course when we connect computers over a network all we're doing is making it possible for a procedure on one machine to call a procedure on another machine. These are called Remote Procedure Calls, or RPCs for short.
Until May it mattered very much which language each piece of software was written in, or what operating system it ran on. Java, Windows, Macintosh, they all talked different languages, so like an American in Italy, they could connect at some level (the Web) but to have a sophisticated conversation, there had to be a higher level agreement.
Until May the conversation between technologists was more like a playground conversation. "You have to use Java!" said Sun. Microsoft said "We like DCOM!" and everyone else kicked back and waited for something interesting to happen.
On the SOAP mail list, someone said "This is all politics!" and that's right. But that's not the same thing as saying it's pointless. SOAP, the common language we agreed to, is just enough BOGU for everyone, it's truly a miracle, because the sandbox argument was cast aside. The playground kids grew up. "We'll work together," they said. "Let's agree that this is the way procedure calls work over the Internet."
Now, in this context, what is Dot-Net?
Microsoft says "Now that we have a common language, this is what we want to talk about. Would anyone like to talk with us?"
(Hey, that's what I hear. You can choose to hear something else.)
What do they want to talk about? Membership preferences, through Passport, for example. This raises a question. Do I want to give my personal information to Microsoft? Hmmm. I don't want to do that, at least not at this time. But can I agree with Microsoft how to do this? Absolutely, no problem with that. Can I operate a Passport-compatible server? Of course. Good idea.
(Let's have minimal and understandable docs. Lots of working sample code.)
There are a bunch of other conversations they want to have, you can read about them on the Microsoft Web site. Before going in too deep and getting lost in the details, that's all there is. We have a common language. Now we're going to start talking.
Microsoft wants to talk about things that any Web technologist in 2000 would want to talk about. And of course we like talking with Microsoft because they have good technologists and lots of people use their software.
It's worth noting, because it might otherwise be missed, that SOAP has had a magic life.
Talking with one of my Microsoft co-authors, Mohsen Al-Ghosein, last week, he said he didn't like the way SOAP turned out. This should come as no surprise to Microsoft people, because Mohsen doesn't mind sharing his opinions. With Mohsen, Don Box and Bob Atkinson, I discovered something that had been eluding me my whole career. People *could* work cross-company. I had never seen it happen. Our minds worked together, the egos took a back seat. That's why this spec works, even though it has lost some of its simplicity along the way.
But the magic continues, even if Mohsen and I find the spec difficult to follow. I gave the complexity to another brilliant man, Andre Radke, who works for me. He didn't like me for doing this to him, but Andre is a persistent man, and he got SOAP working in Frontier. Now I don't have to see the details. I just design systems and deploy them. And they work with systems written in Java and Python, and soon with those from Microsoft, and shortly from everyone else.
SOAP has Big Mo now.
That's its (new) magic.
Now we get to the wild speculation.
First, Microsoft didn't get to where they are by being stupid.
But taken at face-value, there's something really stupid about broadcasting your five year product plan to your competitors.
They even named them, AOL, Sun, IBM, Oracle and Linux.
Without a doubt, the key strategists at these places must be poring over every detail they can get about Dot-Net. What are they concluding?
"We could beat them to market, by years."
Now, remember, they're smart at Microsoft. Are they laying a trap? I think not. It's a chess game, but with a twist.
"To get the government off our back," I imagine the Microsoft thinking goes, "we have to have real competition."
I think Dot-Net shows the others how to do that.
Earlier this month I wrote a story about how a baby eagle learns how to fly.
It may sound like a bedtime story for kids, but it's not. It's a story for adults, powerful people who, if they reflect on the past, can realize that they know how to fly.
When we were in our 20s, with something to prove, we didn't need a parachute, we risked it all every day. In our 30s we established our place in the world. Now that we're in our mid-40s, something else is going on. Having accomplished so much in our 30s, it can be hard to put it all on the line, bet everything on the fairness of the universe. What we did so easily in our 20s, inverts itself in the 40s, now we want to hold on to what we got, and some of that is evident in Microsoft's strategy.
It's not totally a curveball for their competitors and the government. It reflects an understandable desire to turn the clock back and return to the moment of glory, when everything coalesced, when everyone looked to us for where we were going.
Yesterday I said to Atkinson, who I consider a personal friend, maybe when this is done we can retire and let the young folk take over, satisfied that we completed our jobs. I say the same to the management at Microsoft. We're out of the plane door. One hand is flying free but the other is holding on to the parachute.
If we want to have the kind of fun that's available to people who are pushing 50, it's time to make way for the next group of technologists, to pave the way for them, and step aside and let the universe work its magic. There are young people at Microsoft today who think the world is fair and fun and who have the desire to create a place for themselves. That's what we need to tap into.
PS: Trust me, you don't want to know what BOGU stands for.
PPS: I'm sorry Tod Nielsen left Microsoft. At just about this time I'd want to talk with him about next steps with developers and partners.
PPPS: I use Dot-Net-like software to send DaveNets via email.