The amazing story of SOAP and Microsoft
Tuesday, April 10, 2001 by Dave Winer.
As you might imagine I spent a lot of time communicating with Microsoft people after yesterday's NY Times piece, written by John Markoff.
The Times piece, while it was good for flow, added confusion that we have to work around because it told the story of a hurdle we had already crossed. So we have to go back and re-do a few steps in building trust. After reading the Times piece, the people I spoke with at Microsoft have a legitimate cause to be confused about where we're at.
Here's where we're at. UserLand has a commitment to work openly on SOAP 1.1 interop. Nothing has changed. Judging from traffic on the soapbuilders list, where interop is being worked on, I'd say everyone else sees it the same way, including Microsoft.
The Times piece told the story of a lost cause.
Emphatically, that was not what was happening last week in SOAP 1.1 interop.
In a mid-week phone conversation I told Markoff that I thought it would turn out for the best, that we would get fair interop in SOAP 1.1, that there would be room for independent developers to ship products into the space without being "locked in the trunk."
In an email to Markoff on Thursday afternoon, I said "I think [Andrew Layman] and others at MS were not expecting what we came up with, but once the initial shock was over, things started working. No doubt there are differences in goals, but I think there's an agreement that this time around the loop, open interfaces is the only way and lots of diversity. Netscape made the issue Microsoft's survival. None of that is here. I really like Microsoft, and have always had a good relationship with them, even when it gets rough. And woe is me if my goal is to somehow defeat MS, that ain't going to happen, I'm into win-wins all around."
The key quote: "I think there's an agreement that this time around the loop, open interfaces is the only way and lots of diversity." Last Thursday I was optimistic. I still am. That point of view contradicts the Times' thesis, even though it was expressed to them three days prior to the story running.
I got the tiniest peek into the process of a BigPub. Markoff, and the team behind him, are very powerful. They entered my space and are immediately a player, and can cast us in any light they want. That's their right and their power as a communicator. Stuff like that happens all the time on the Web. You can't stop it, nor should anyone want to.
But does that mean I should stop writing, or analyze every sentence and paragraph I write, making sure they could not be strung together to make me say something I don't believe? No of course not, there's no way to do that. I write in a fast-moving medium, things change quickly and quotes that were relevant a couple of weeks ago are only interesting, now, as history.
However, I have the power to cast my own work to reflect my intent. That's what I'm doing here. My fallback re Microsoft, if SOAP interop should fail, is to use XML-RPC. My fallback with the NY Times, when interop fails there, is to write a DaveNet piece. It's the same idea. Literature and technology come together. This is the "convergence" we were talking about 10 years ago in the same hushed tones as we talked about P2P last summer and fall.
The more interesting story, one that the Times missed, is the power of the new medium to shape technology.
Both XML-RPC and now SOAP are creatures of the Internet. If we can get Microsoft to play in the open, in public, on the record and for attribution, their BigCo advantage becomes less important, we work together engineer-to-engineer, and the LittleCo's have some important advantages of our own. We have less to lose, fewer products to protect, fewer bosses to please, a much lighter communication firewall.
We can move forward more easily and bring the BigCo's along. I can take heat they can't afford to take, and they can provide air cover and market-building that are outside my power. They can bring in other BigCo's to work with us. If we can accept each other, there's no reason for anyone to lose. I really mean that and think I can prove it. Call me Don Quixote if you want, but this is not a small point to me. ;->
Customers who want to know how it came together can read the archives. Same with reporters. I'd argue that the only customers worth having are ones who bother to get informed and act on the information. Maybe this is a reason I will always be a LittleCo. So be it. I think ultimately the quality of reporting will be judged the same way. We're using a revolutionary medium to do our work. That feathers get ruffled is no surprise. Those are "old bits," stories well-told, every nuance and sublety has been exhausted.
The real surprise is when we push aside hurt feelings and work together anyway. That's the amazing story of SOAP and Microsoft. There have been a dozen junctures when any other BigCo would have blown us off. Yesterday some friends thought we had finally reached that point after the Markoff piece ran. But it didn't happen. There's something puzzlingly different about the Microsoft of 2001, the bluster is still there, for sure, and the corner-cuts still happen. So what. Every BigCo does that. What's different is that Microsoft keeps coming back, when it would be so easy to shut it down. Why do they do that? I don't know the answer but there's more to the story than an irascible gadfly tilting at windmills.
In all the emails and talks with Microsoft people yesterday, I said that I feel that the best way to get the press to write the story we want is to go the next step and make sure SOAP is a free market. Then, when that's happened, we'll have a legitimate gripe with publications that spin it another way. We're not fully there yet, so we don't have much cause to complain. Let's dig in, and make it happen, for real.