What is HailStorm?
Monday, March 26, 2001 by Dave Winer.
A fast week
Last week went by by so quickly, so much changed, now I have to hit recalc on many of my assumptions.
Before digging back through HailStorm, let's note the passing of Napster as a free-for-all of music on the Internet. Like so many giddy Internet-like things, Napster crashed into harsh reality, and now you can only get a small fraction of the music that used to be available.
A really sad event. The music industry could have done something creative, but well it didn't happen. Sometimes I wonder if it's a coincidence that the Internet bubble burst at the same time that Napster crashed into the RIAA.
There's so much music that can be played to the tune of HailStorm, because there's so much fearful stuff out there, songs about lost love, or Phil Collins' pleas for just one more chance, Billy Joel's New York State Of Mind, or Tracy Chapman's "give me just one reason to stay here."
I chose Jackson Browne's Lawyers In Love, a bitter ode to indifference.
Lawyers, if they ever experience love, have to negotiate it, push all the boundaries and buttons, and if there's a win it's unilateral.
I changed my mind
After writing the rest of this piece I decided to switch songs.
Now it's sung to the tune of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues.
"You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows."
What is Hailstorm?
HailStorm is a centralized storage system that behaves much like a hard disk. It can store calendars, address books, documents, programs, graphics, spreadsheets.
But, instead of storing information in HTML as the Web does, it stores information in XML, which can be rendered as HTML, or in any other form.
This is a key difference from earlier Internet-based storage systems, it's not exactly a first, but it's bold and comes from a big company with lots of resources and staying power, unlike some of the Internet pioneers who gave users storage space and monetized it (theoretically it turns out) with advertising.
"Ring the bell, hard to tell, if anything is gonna sell."
The key word in the description of HailStorm above is "centralized."
It's weird that Microsoft is going this way, it lacks courage, it lacks philosophy, it's not consistent with what Microsoft already knows about the Internet, imho.
Last year in Davos Bill Gates said that "thin clients" as promoted by Oracle and Sun were the wrong way to go and I heartily agreed, and still do. Bill is making a strategic mistake. It's historic, and he's a student of history. I must explain.
Remember the mainframes?
This industry loops. I've documented it so many times. When I entered the loop, in the 70s, computers were centralized resources, separated from the people by "glass palaces," air-conditioned rooms with raised floors and whirring tape drives, and well-meaning people who kept people from their data.
Along comes the Apple II and VisiCalc, decentralization, people get control of the data. The mainframe guys, watching in disbelief, say "It will never work." They thought users couldn't be trusted with the data. People going home with floppies containing sensitive corporate data. They predicted a meltdown that may or may not have come, but we adapted and survived anyway. The lesson was clear, the economy would shift to accomodate new power.
Interestingly, Microsoft grew into this shift to decentralization in the 80s. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer know the process very well. It's the back door sell.
"Johnny's in the basement mixin up the medicine, I'm on the pavement thinkin about the government."
Remember the back door
Apple II's were so cheap that departments could buy one for every person and no one would know. In the meantime, IBM, DEC and other mainframe companies were selling to the top, the front door, and working down from there. You can never get fired for buying IBM so the top guys bought and were fired. (Murphy!)
IBM got hip and sold through the back door just like Apple, and dominated the PC industry for a few years with a 640K barrier and RAM cram, but they couldn't leave well enough alone, they tripped over their arrogance, along came the PS/2 and its proprietary Micro-Channel Architecture, opening the door for Microsoft to take the top of the hill with Windows 3.0. Whew. What a story. About to be repeated.
"Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters."
OK, then the personal computing revolution solidified, a new generation of information system managers came in, and just as they're figuring out how to protect the users from themselves, along comes the Web to screw it all up. Microsoft rushes to crush the rebellion, leaving behind a bookmark, "When we're done with this we'll go back to 1993," they seem to be remembering now.
My old friend Dick Brass' mark is all over this. I don't think Dick remembers the copy protection skirmish on the way to Windows 3.0, but we can't go home, Kansas is gone, the bookmarks age, the cache is empty, embrace and what was that strategy? It doesn't work anymore. We got hip to that.
"The pump don't work because the vandals took the handles."
Zig or zag?
So here's Microsoft's conundrum. They're IBM now. They sell through the top. But the back door is wide open. Shhh. Don't tell anyone. ;->
Many users are now Internet-savvy enough to run servers on their desktops. We don't need a centralized XML server, that's a solution to the problem of 1993, not 2002. We've learned how to aggregate and distribute information without central control. It's ready for a mass market.
While users have been learning the Internet, server software has gotten much simpler and more powerful, so the barrier is lower, and the incentive greater. These tracks are headed for destiny.
The next microcomputer is just software using the standards of the Internet, XML, HTTP, SMTP and perhaps instant messaging, and today's IT managers are last generation's MIS managers, plugging dikes, with Microsoft's help, as their ancestors had IBM's, but the flood will come anyway.
"Better jump down a manhole, light yourself a candle."
You can't have control and growth at the same time.
Internet 3.0, the next layer of empowerment for users, is just about ready.
Microsoft has their Micro-Channel Architecture, it's called HailStorm.
Everyone else, zig to their zag.
PS: To Bill, if he reads this, really suck it in and change direction. What if a gorilla had the guts to really embrace change? You gotta do it one way or the other. No matter how many fingers you have, you can't hold back the tide.
PPS: Over the weekend I mastered the joys of RPC over SMTP. It's wonderful stuff.
PPPS: I read the tea leaves wrong. I thought Microsoft was embracing free movement of information when they got involved in SOAP. "We're open," they say. "Yes, in a way," I say. "But not in the way that matters."