Don't Be A Deer
Friday, June 22, 2001 by Dave Winer.
Good afternoon, a short piece before a summer weekend, some things to think about while gardening, beach-going and barbecuing.
Last weekend talks broke off between AOL and Microsoft on renewing their bundling deal for Windows XP. AOL has the content advantage and Microsoft has the technology and developer advantage. Microsoft knows how to entice developers into locked trunks, or at least they used to; and AOL has the huge Time-Warner content machine to churn out stuff for people to read, watch and listen to; but AOL is not a developer-oriented culture.
Last week a group of Silicon Valley venture capitalists met with Microsoft to learn about opportunities developing around and on top of Microsoft's new platform based on Hailstorm, SOAP and XML. They took a poll of the attendees, forty percent said they'd be comfortable investing alongside Microsoft. That's either high or low depending on how you look at it. I think it's high.
Meanwhile the Smart Tags mess provides a clue to the way the new Microsoft will work. More and more over time they will restrict and contrain and mold the Web to offset AOL's content advantage. The big question is will AOL be able to meet Microsoft in creating relationships with developers? As much as I'd like to believe that AOL could, it's a fantastic operational and marketing company, they have little experience working with developers, on any basis, with lots of lock-in or lots of freedom.
So I've come to see the next few years as a period when the Web will fork into possibly three different incompatible environments: One dominated by Microsoft, one by AOL, and one not dominated at all. I will not of course develop for any dominated platform. I insist that the Web is the platform without a platform vendor. I encourage all others, Microsoft and AOL included, to get behind this idea because long-term that's how it will shake out.
Genies don't go back in bottles, Microsoft's glory days are behind them. Windows dominated in the early 90s because Apple and IBM left a vacuum and GUIs were at the leading edge and not yet a commodity. Now the Web is maturing, and no matter how much Ballmer screams "XML XML!" it either isn't going to happen or it isn't going to gel around Microsoft. Microsoft only knows dominance, they've proven it yet again, and XML is not about dominance, just as the Web could not flourish with the kind of control that Microsoft wants to impose now.
I am absolutely sure Microsoft will retract Smart Tags. Give it two weeks before the major non-AOL publications figure out what's going on. And don't forget the US government. I doubt if the White House or the Library of Congress want their websites annotated by a technology company. Remember they have tanks and nukes and trillions of dollars. Microsoft certainly has balls, but they must not understand how big the Web has gotten.
This is not a good time to be a deer caught in the headlights. Remember, for all the supposed invincibility of Microsoft, they have never been able to blaze their own trail, they always needed something to catch up to, and of course now that is AOL. When past adversaries have lost to Microsoft it's because they let Microsoft call the shots. They waited for the dust to settle, and by the time that happened, their products were dead, their customers had moved on, and no one cared what they wanted. The list is long and well-recited.
However, in all the history, there's no example of an adversary of Microsoft's who truly zigged to their zag, took advantage of the opportunities they left behind, the unserved constituencies. Netscape never had anything to say to Web developers. Sun tried to lock-in the Java developers. It's never happened that an independent developer community really banded together, for the good of all, to offer a true alternative to what Microsoft was offering. Today Microsoft has more in common with Ashton-Tate, unable to thwart the herd of developers jumping ship. Microsoft brought the exodus on themselves, by crossing the will of the Java developers, and now by trying to lock innocent Web publishers, large and small, behind a wall of editorial annotation. They are always undermining developers as they hype up their love of developers. When will the rest of us get hip to this?
In today's scene, to zig to Microsoft's zag would mean applying enough resources, collectively, to produce several good alternatives to Microsoft's browser, ones which don't carry the lock-in burden and don't have to protect Microsoft Office. Such browsers would give more control to writers, designers and programmers, as Microsoft is taking 1984ish steps to take control for themselves, and would be a delightful writing tool far more appropriate to today's work environment than the aging and bloated Word, Powerpoint and Excel.
In other words, the opportunities for the technology industry have never been greater, but there's a lot of hard work to do, and you have to have a winning philosophy and excellent technology. To win now, you can't be a deer caught in the headlights, you have to stand tall, bet on technology, move with conviction and work with others.
That no Silicon Valley company, or group of companies, is in the running for the Leader of the Web is a clue. It's time for us to re-think, geographically and inclusively -- to work with other technology centers around the world, and offer a great alternative to Microsoft's lock-in. It's totally possible, there are no real secrets in what they're doing, we just have to have the will to win.
PS: I've changed the tagline at the bottom of each DaveNet email. It used to say "It's even worse than it appears." Now it says "There's no time like now." Gotta change with the times. ;->