Dinners on Two Coasts
Thursday, August 9, 2001 by Dave Winer.
A few weeks ago in San Diego I shuttled between two conferences that were like night and day but had a common thread and were only a $10 cab ride apart.
And then this week I went to two dinners, one in New York and one in San Jose. They were separated by a continent, but only one day in time. But in another sense the first was about the future, and the second was about the past, and so were separated by twenty years, in our minds.
Last night in San Jose we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the IBM PC which was released in August 1981. There were some great moments. Bill Gates, Andy Grove, Rod Canion, Mitch Kapor, David Bunnell, Ray Ozzie, Dave Bradley, and Dan Bricklin were on stage, explaining the significance of the PC and expressing their hope for the future.
My eyes, probably like many others, were on Gates. Attention focused as they talked about the rebellion in 1987 -- these were the rebels on stage, the Empire was IBM -- who, in 1987, said goodbye to Gates and Grove, went their own way, and thanks to the courage of Compaq, who had the guts to embrace the 386 and to tell IBM to stick it where the sun don't shine, we got an industry that works, at least through the mid-90s when Microsoft got wind of the Web, and quelled its own rebellion.
There were some notable omissions on last night's stage. Retailers were hugely important in the commercialization of the PC. I would have liked to have heard from Philippe Kahn and Peter Norton, and perhaps (for a twist) Steve Jobs. And of course it would have been nice to have an IBM exec present, but I understand they were invited but chose not to come. In all, it was satisfying, I got to see a lot of people I hadn't seen in many years, and others I don't see often enough, and it was nice to see that so many of us are still around and thinking about the next thing.
Last night Bill Gates talked about how they negotiated the right to license MS-DOS to other hardware vendors, and then I had a flash. We're in the same place in 2001, we can license the technology that pulls together SOAP networks much the same way Microsoft was able to build a network of PC cloners. Like IBM in 1987 -- they're huge and centralized, we're small and aggressive, so we can spread the love without so much money coming back. Now I know Microsoft can match us economically by dropping prices, but can they drop the ego and let developers drive the market? Either way I think we win. Think inclusive, zig to their zag. And remember that inclusion, as a philosophy, includes Microsoft.
Last night I sat with Dan Gillmor and John Markoff. As Bill talked about his plans, Gillmor wanted to know what we'll do about patents. The answer is we're going to have to deal with it. We can't let their patents stand in the way of independent software developers. In the old days we reminisced about last night, Microsoft used to beat the competition with better software that gave users more of what they want. Now they plan to use patents to to tax their competition, presumably without much concern for their financial viability. (Recall this is the "cut off the air supply" company.) We will have to take this story to the users, some of whom will value choice.
Last night we heard Gates tell stories about the days he used to write code himself, and we love him for this, truly, he put his ideas out there, at risk, when there was a possibility of competition, and they would lose sometimes to a better product. When Lotus came out with 1-2-3, it didn't just cream VisiCalc, it also wiped Multiplan. Of course they followed with Excel, an aptly named product, that won because it worked on the Mac, and took advantage of its unique features, as Lotus did with the PC, and was clearly more useful than its predecessor.
Now Gates wants to win by shutting down competition before it has a chance to start. From the inside of his wall it must look pretty secure, much as it must have looked inside the IBM in the early-mid 1980s.
Round and round we go. ;->
New York is The Big Apple, it's where I started writing many many years ago. We had a great dinner in NY on August 6, and some people asked "When are you coming back?" and I said "You don't have to wait for me to come back."
So today I started a mail list for New Yorkers who read DaveNet and Scripting News.
What was different about our group on Monday is that it was mostly developers, not the marketing people with their business models, but people grounded in ones and zeros, and who have an idea of what users want because they are also users. This is the magic formula, geeks who use; that's where good products come from.
So let's see if we can get some new tech stuff happening in NY, not the make-believe tech stuff of the last few years, but the real kind. We've got lots of resources, lots of geeks, and a few marketing people (yes, we still need you). I'll get the word around that the list started, and let the NYers take it from there. I'm behind you all the way. Let's Go New York!