The art that comes from competition
Thursday, February 22, 2001 by Dave Winer.
I've been talking on and off at length with Paul Andrews, formerly at the Seattle Times, and now a freelance reporter with a weblog, between jobs, and participating in what I think is a radically new form of journalism. I've been peppering Paul with questions about the history of journalism, and we've been talking about how it's evolving before our eyes.
At the same time the rules of the software business are being rewritten. Every day a dotcom shuts down, more users wonder how they're going to replace the centralized browser-based services they've come to rely on. This is where the focus of every software entrepreneur should be now, but we're a dying breed, and sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who gets this. (It's probably just an illusion.)
In a letter to Eric S. Raymond, the pundit of the open source world, yesterday I listed 16 categories of software that the open source world had not yet replaced. The leading product in each category is commercial.
The art of many of these software categories has died, and nothing has risen to fill the void. The art that comes from competition, once gone can't be synthesized, it must be recreated.
With great respect for the accomplishments of open source software, it can't take the place of a competitive commercial market. This has confused investors and users, and some developers, but I am commited to seeing through a return to diversity in software, and that must include commercial methods of development.
The categories are largely dominated by a few relatively large companies, Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia as examples, largely without competition, and with only a few exceptions are any of them relevant to my work.
I must be an oddball, a writer who doesn't love Word, a presentation-giver who doesn't like PowerPoint, a lightweight graphics guy who doesn't grok PhotoShop, a thinker who can't express his ideas in Visio, or a vector graphics programmer who hasn't had time to figure out Flash. That doesn't mean I wouldn't buy a product in each of these categories if it were designed for a person like me.
Now Paul asks a key question that I'm ready to answer.
What would be the benefit of renewed competition in the software industry?
The answer is simple -- diversity and segmentation.
The one-size-fits-all approach to software leaves a lot of wants unfilled.