How to be a revolution
Monday, April 22, 2002 by Dave Winer.
On 4/22/98, I wrote a piece that I re-read this morning, and thought to myself, I want to say this again, in the context of 2002, which is very different from the software world of 1998.
The original story was written as Netscape was going open source, while it was still the installed base leader, turning their browser into what's now known as Mozilla. We were under intense pressure to release the Frontier source code. At the time, and at several times in the intervening four years, we considered following Netscape's lead. Instead we charted a different course, through XML-RPC, SOAP, RSS and OPML, creating open interfaces and sharing lots of code with our users, but managing the Frontier kernel, as best as we could, with paid employees and contractors.
This is an edited version of the original. I took out obvious anachronisms, and detours from the real point. It whittled down to just a few paragraphs. It's an offer of peace between generations of programmers. It's possible that today, the people I'm talking to -- young developers with big ambition, will be able to hear it in a different way. It's worth a try. I wouldn't say everything the same way today, but this is what I said four years ago.
At age 42, I hear much of the philosophy of open source coming from people who are younger. It truly is a generational thing. I've said before, if I were in my early 20s I would probably be part of the open source thing, but I'm not in my early 20s, I'm in my early 40s.
Middle-aged people seem to believe that younger people have a lot to learn. I look at them and I see myself at their age. I'm sure some part of this is real, but most of it is projection. They aren't me, they are them. They're throwing out some of our lessons and beliefs. That's inevitable, and therefore good.
My advantage is deep experience. Their advantage is lack of experience. I really mean that. When I was young we threw out the ways of mainframes and discovered the power of minis and then micros. The older folk sniffed. "We did that years ago!" they said. But the seeds of their demise were already in the ground and we were the sprouts. The people of my generation, the two Steves at Apple, Bill Gates at Microsoft, and others, really did kick the legs out from under IBM, Sperry, DEC, etc. We know how it turned out.
But Compaq and Lotus had Ben Rosen and Apple had Mike Markkula. They were the "adult supervision," the teachers, they gave us the inside scoop on the opposition. They told us how the world worked, and we worked around that. They were our surrogate fathers, caring about our success, enjoying it vicariously. I had my own angel, a man named Bill Jordan. When I was in my 20s and 30s, he was in his 50s and 60s. He taught me a lot. I owe much of my success to Bill.
The best revolutions embrace all that was learned in past revolutions. Keep your eyes open, understand how the system you're trying to undermine really works. Bill Gates never said publicly that he was going to take IBM out of its strategic place in the software business. For all I know, he didn't even intend to do it. Gates had doubts about his ability to lead the industry as late as 1990.
It isn't about open source, it's about open minds. Drawing lines alienates people to you. Attacking Microsoft verbally causes Windows users to tune out. You can't undermine by trying to dictate the terms, you have to do it by invading at night, slipping in the back door unnoticed. Then when the old folks wake up, it's too damned late.
So, speaking as an old geezer to a bunch of young whippersnappers, let's really cause some trouble, keep your eyes and ears open and stop attacking so openly.
A new slogan. It goes right along with the old slogans, Dig We Must, Let's Have Fun, Namaste Y'all.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize.
Know what you want, and get it.