News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus Mail Starting 5/20/98

From: amy@ComCAT.COM (Amy Wohl);
Sent at Thu, 21 May 1998 14:39:29 -0700;
Re:The Next HotMail?

We've always spent a lot of time in the office software space and we've been doing some research there as well.

You might be interested to know that we seem to have crossed a line. One used to be able to count on surveys reporting that the most installed (and most used) app was word processing, followed by spreadsheets. They each used to run about 38% of the total market for new software sales each year. In fact, the penetration for WP among PC users used to be more than 100% since each user, on average, had slightly more than one product.

Recently, we surveyed some CIO's and found that in their shops the biggest single application is email (not so surprising when you think about it). In fact, many individual users, when surveyed, report that they use email as their base application and write most of their documents (which are mainly internal memos) in their email software, saving the files where appropriate. Some people ae using their messaging software as their office platform, writing their documents in the email component and saving documents in email folders. To do items are left as open items in the email stream.

We might call this user adaptation to less than refined technology.

Lotus has already created a componentized version of their office software, e-Suite. IBM (and others) will sell it with their NC's. Corel is also building a suite of components. Star, the most popular office suite in Europe, has also created a Java suite. Microsoft has chosen not to do this or, more to the pont, has chosen not to say publically that they might be doing or considering this. But they do talk about componentizing the Office suite for maintenance and performance issues (big components, though) and I'd be willing to bet my boots that they have someone working on other options somewhere. Also, they bought Cooper, Peters. a Java component house (spreadsheet and word processor, as I recall) last year. It has disappeared somewhere inside of Microsoft.

Personally, I think the day of the monolithic suite, based on the need for word processing and spreadsheets, may be drawing to a close. The emphasis is different now and-- in any case -- these users use only a tiny part, typically 15-20%, of each application. Someone is going to make a killing, it's just not clear whether it will be Microsoft making another one of their U-turns or a brash young company reinventing the universe. I can't wait!

And now that I've written all this, I think I'll rewrite it a bit and put it in my next newsletter. Thanks for the idea!

From: bvolk@inetworld.net (Bill Volk);
Sent at Thu, 21 May 1998 13:43:13 -0700;
Re:"Browser Based Applications"

Here's something to think about....

It's easier to create an application that displays and gets information via. HTML than it would be via. a native machine API. The browser/HTML approach has much to say for itself. You don't have to worry about screen resolutions, formats, et. al..

So not only do I agree with the concept that applications will move to be client/server based apps (such as calendars) ... but even with client/client applications I'd rather see some sort of browser based display and input hook than even the simple forms you have in VB5.

Wouldn't that be a hoot. A development system that allowed for an application to reside on the client and/or the server ... with HTML forms as the display paradigm. Maybe Java should give up on SWING and just use the Browser's HTML for interfaces?

Maybe we can start by getting all that glass-TTY crapola (Airline Check-In, Hospital Admissions) out of the '70's in into the '90's.

From: Tommy.Williams@Vanderbilt.Edu (Tommy Williams);
Sent at Thu, 21 May 1998 08:07:45 -0500;
Re:"What about copyright?"

Why don't they set it up so I can pay them for the right to broadcast their music? Someday they'll do that, right?

Ideally, they would. But the recording industry is absolutely paranoid about piracy. The digital music services offered by satellite services and many local cable companies can't publish a schedule because the recording industry is afraid someone might copy it instead of buying the CD. Digital Audio Tapes are so expensive because there's a big tax on them. Once again, the recording industry's fear of piracy and their massive lobbying force has pushed through legislation.

They'll never offer to let individuals broadcast music and pay for it, unless they're absolutely positive that no one can broadcast at all without first paying. We know that kind of certainty won't be possible for a long time. So they keep it illegal for everyone to do it.

It is interesting to see that, at least in North America and Europe, the recording industry's fears are unfounded. Consumers have had access to recording tools for decades: wire recorders, open-reel tape decks, cassettes, DAT, MiniDisc, and even CD-R drives on computers. And you know what? The more ways we have to record music, and the better the quality, the more new records are sold. It's not just music, either. We've had the ability to dupe videotapes since the first Betamax was released, but there's a huge market for new videotape sales and rentals.

I've had DAT decks since their inception, but I've almost never used them to copy someone else's CDs. I've made compilations from my own collection, or, mostly, used them to record live performances of friends and family members. I've got a CD-RW drive on my computer, but I haven't stopped buying CDs from the record store. In fact, I've been buying *more* since I got it.

So, in the end, it would make sense for them to set up a system so you could pay to broadcast music, but they'll never do it.


From: cglassey@teleologic.com (Colin Glassey);
Sent at Wed, 20 May 1998 19:39:09 -0700;
Re:"Mr. Marton's take on Microsoft"

I disagree with Mr. Marton's take on the Microsoft and the world of software. For the record I worked at Borland/Novell on Quattro Pro for Windows so I know something of what I speak.

Mr. Marton seems to be arguing that consumers are basically dumb sheep and they are all happier living under the "benevolent" control of one company with one operating system UI and one set of basic applications. No doubt there is some truth to this observation, but it is absurd to argue that this is a good or desirable situation.

Most people agree with the concept that competition leads to improvements.

Only a die-hard Microsoft fan could believe that the world of software is a better place now that there is no competition in the field of Word Processors, Spreadsheets, Low-end Databases, and Presentation software. Thanks to Microsoft, the competition in browsers is nearly dead as well. I am convinced that there is a great deal of work left to make browsers better, but how can anyone compete when Microsoft is willing to give their browser away for free?

I am personally aware of a number of innovations in the field of spreadsheets that could have been implemented but have not. I'm also aware of some ideas which my cohorts at Word Perfect came up with but have yet to be implemented in any word processor (and now they won't because Correl has no budget). As far as I'm concerned, innovation in business applications died in 1995 when Win95 was released at the same time as Office 95 and completely killed off the competition. I use Office 97 now. I don't see much change between it and Office 95. I use Win98 (beta) at home, I don't see much change between it and Win95. I've used all versions of IE, I can barely tell the difference between IE 3 and IE 4. Innovation driven by Microsoft's innate desire to grow? Hah. That is a pipe dream. It defines human nature, all of human history, and is not supported by the facts.

My point is, Microsoft is NOT innovating in a number of key areas (business office apps, the desktop OS) in large part because they don't have to because there is no competition.

From: kornel@marton.com (Kornel Marton);
Sent at Wed, 20 May 1998 15:27:42 -0700;

I got your article forwarded to me by a friend. Having spent 15 years in the PC industry, and of that 10 years at MS designing MS Word and other products, I have to offer this rebuttal to your arguments regarding MS and Justice Dept actions.

It is assumed that Consumers want choice when it comes to PC software. WRONG! Productivity Software is not like ice cream or movies, where one consumer likes one thing and another something completely different. Consumers don't want to have to piece together their PC software with a package from Lotus and another from MS. They just want something that works "out of the box", and which has all the basic capabilities built in, and which preferrably has a single consistent user interface so that users don't have to learn new interfaces as they Alt-Tab between tasks.

The "consumer choice" that used to exists before MS took over most of the application market, was a nightmare for consumers. You bought your PC, and it would boot with a laconic copyright message and then show you a C:> prompt....and then you spent the next 2-3 days trying to figure out if you should buy a spreadsheets from Lotus or Word processors from MS. If you then made some decisions, you then spent the next couple of days, popping floppies in and out of the system, installing apps from various sources, always wondering if they would actually peacefully coexist and if they would work with Sidekick from Borland. This was not a "Choice" that consumers liked. PC ownership actually didn't really take off until this "choice" was largely eliminated with MS WIndows and Office. There is NO WAY that consumers will want to go back to this world.

The situation is of course very different when you are a computer professional like yourself. The primitive times of the early PC years created a huge cottage industry of companies, products, consultants, (and yes even pundits), who made their living by making up for the shortcomings of the PC platform by providing value add products and services to corporations and consumers. Now, if you are one of these people, you definitely have NOT benefited from the elimination of "choice" that has happened in the industry. When you can order a machine from DELL, get in the mail a few days later, plug it in and get productive 5 minutes later (after Windows finally boots), there is no more a need to read PC Magazine, no need to spend 3 hours at Egghead, no need to pop floppies for a week...thus a significantly reduced demand for computer professionals to help out with getting people productive with PCs.

Luckily, most of these professionals have been able to move on to much more profitable Internet related activities, but there are still some laggards who are just too comfortable in their ways (usually because they made too much money in the PC cottage industry) and don't want to move on in life. People like Metcalf, Alsop and others kind of like to sit around the virtual campfire, and talk about the "good old days" of the PC industry when an Operating System was an Operating system (i.e. virtually nothing beyond an app loader and file system), and when you got respect just because you knew how to hack the config.sys so that SideKick would not trash Lotus. When in fact the "good old days" were only good for the cottage industry players and actually a living hell for Consumers,

Fast Forward to the Internet World of today. Again, consumers in general are no more interested in having a choice of Internet browsers then they are interested in choosing electrical outlets for their house. Why, because the Browser is just conduit for Internet content, and it's that content that is interesting not the conduit itself. People choose NOT to install Netscape's browser once they have IE 4 because they really don't care the slightest bit about the browser itself. What people do want to chose is which Web sites they visit and which services they subscribe to etc, not what color the toolbuttons are at the top of the screen, which in most consumers eyes, really is what separates Navigator from IE.

Let's look at some facts. The Netscape founders developed a little add-on utility, which did not have any kind of unique technology, and which was of a kind of utility that was inevitable to eventually become an integral part of Windows, simply because consumers will WANT it to be that way. However, because Netscape's founders had spent their entire adult lives hacking around on Unix platforms, and thus had missed the consumer driven PC revultion of the past 15 years, they did not REALIZE this. They just said: "hey we (the unix world) finally have managed to come up with something of value for consumers, and this something actually could have APIs built into it....well we are going to become a replacement for Windows and take away MS's multibillion dollar cash cow". They not only managed to convince themselves, but they actually managed to convince a huge number of investors on Wall Street who poured money into NSCP, and they actually even managed to convince the slightly paranoid Windows guys in Redmond. This was of course INCREDIBLY STUPID!

It was stupid of Netscape to think that a little utility that has no unique technology, and which was a commodity from day one, was something that you could build a long term business around.

Even more stupid was the fact that they actually thought that this little Browser could be turned into an OS just by adding a few APIs, and thereby "obsoleting" the 100 MB of Windows code that has taken 10 years to evolve and which now supports millions of hardward devices.

However, the ultimate stupidiy came with them basically telling the company they are trying to compete with what their strategy is, and then telling this company (which just happens to be the most successfull and powerful software company) that its leadership is does not understand the software business by taunting them about how they "don't get the WWW".

What Netscape did amounts to MS telling IBM back in 1982 that IBM is not getting this PC stuff, and that MS will take over their corporate software business. MS did indeed do this after 10 years of hard and diligent work, and after doing the BOGU for 8 years while they were growing their strength.

Now only did they commit the ultimate stupid act by "waking the sleeping giant" before they had the strength to fight, but they didn't even prepare for a retaliation from most competitive and combative company in the world...(!!!!) and got caught off guard when MS carpetbombed them with everything they had.

Jeez, what EXACTLY did they expect? That MS would say "sure have our Windows business we don't like it anymore and we 'just don't get this Internet stuff'"...???

The truth is that Marc Andreeasen is Unix nerd who needs to grow up an realize that just because you can compile an app, doesn't mean that you will become the next Bill Gates, and that Jim Barksdale is the most stupid executive who has ever headed a high-tech company, easily outpacing Sculley and Manzi, and Noorda and the other previous holders of these titles.

What about the "level" playing field? The idea of the goverment being responsible for maintaining a level playing field in this or other industries is some kind of romantic notion that has no foundation in US anti-trust law, nor has it any occurance in any other society. The consequences of any such idea would be mind blowing in its far reaching implications. It would mean that if want to start a company making cars that compete with GM, now the government would have to step and "level" the playing field for me by telling all GM suppliers, dealers etc that they can't give GM any preferential treatment...etc. Basically, the artsy entrepeneurs of the software industry need to realize that there has never been a level playing field, there will never be a level playing field, and there CAN'T ever be a level playing field, simply because that would mean an egalitarian society of such absurdities that it would make Stalinist Communism pale by comparison.

The fact that Netscape is pushing for this and that Joel Klein has gone for the bait, just shows how un-smart these people really are.

What about DELL and Compaq? Yes, these guys exist at the mercy of MS and Intel but that is not MS's fault, but is rather caused by the fact that they do no intellectual value add whatsoever. They are basically sales outlet for boxes which have 99% of the intelectual property belonging to WinTel. It's actually surprising that MS and Intel has left so much on the table for what really amounts to dealership organizations. DELL and Compaq have market caps that are stunning considering what these guys actually do for a living. It is also amazing that these "dealerships" are allowed to do as much co-branding as they do. When you buy a machine from DELL, very little of value comes from DELL, almost everything comes from WinTel and a few pieces from Toshiba and NEC, and yet they are allowed to sell the boxes as DELL boxes.

Thus, the notion (which the Justice Dept pushes) that they should be allowed go further in their co-branding to customize the boot screen of Windows, is tantamount to telling Mercedes that they have to allow dealers to remove the Mercedes star and let dealers to install their own trademarks and sell the car as a "Huling Bro's Car"....which of course is totally absurd. A dealership may add stuff to the Mercedes, but they are not allowed to change the Benzes and pretend that it is "made" by them. Can you imagine a justice dept suit trying to force Mercedes into this kind of agreement?

Now given that this sales channel exists only because of MS and Intel, it makes complete sense that these companies are doing whatever they can to prevent imposters from piggybacking onto their intellectual property. It's kind of like Mercedes not allowing their dealers to sell other cars that compete with the Mercedes brand. Now just as Mercedes can at will yank the agreement with any dealership it chooses, so can MS. Granted it is in neither company's interest to do so unprovoked, but they can and will if the dealer is not playing ball.

Does MS need competition? If the purpose of competition is to drive innovation forward and prices down, then competition is NOT needed for MS.

MS has every incentive in the world to innovate because that is the ONLY way they can sustain their 30% annual growth rate. MS through its employee stock option plan is an animal that can only survive if it keeps growing at high rates. If their growth levels out, they are DEAD and they know it. Ask Bill or any Microserf what would happen if stock options would NOT dramatically increase in value over 3 years...? The answer is that the stars in the company would leave shortly thereafter followed by the troops, and then you could shut down Redmond.

Thus to keep the money machine moving they can't just hold onto market share and harvest their monopoly position, but rather they have to relentlessly seek every opportunity to grow, grow and GROW! To sustain past performance they need 30% or more annual growth. If the growth is less for a sustained period, they are in deep dodo. Now they can only grow if they innovate by either thinking of new products, think of new improvements to existing products, or manage to grow the entire market by driving prices to levels that open PCs for new applications. The price of MS products is set NOT by what makes MS the most profit the next year, but what will lead to most industry growth in any category.

Thus if innovation is the goal, MS does not need any outside party to push them. If there is another party, great, MS will gladly take on anybody in the software industry...

If low prices are a goal, again MS does not really need help from competition to drive prices lower. Prices were actually much higher in the days when MS had a lot of competition in the Apps business. MS will move prices of their products to whatever level that is required in order to maximize the growth of the market segment in? If MS server is expensive, it's because the channel demands it (VARs would not bother with $200 server OS and VARs are critical for installing a server), if the Browser is free it's because the consumer market prefers to make as few transactions as possible. etc. Thus prices in the software business will not be set by the competitive landscape but rather by channel demands and other factors.

Lastly, the software community is unique in the sense that this is the only place where freewheeling artists types, bespectacled academics, nerdy engineers, and greedy MBA types work side by side in building products. This has led to tremendous innovation and created a fascinating industry. However, this diversity has also led to a lot of tension, because the artists don't want the industry to take the same direction as the engineers, and the MBAs want to maximize profit meanwhile the academics think everybody should work for the good of mankind...etc. The fact that so far it has been the artsy types and academics who have dominated the airwaves with their fairytale vision of what the software industry should look like, has created a public debate which is full of a bunch of almost Orwellian abusurdities, where thinkers like Robert Bork actually seriously propose that there should be a "level playing field", and where Ralph Nader lines up with Netscape and actually suggests that MS should RAISE prices and make consumers pay for something that is now free....

...it must be the end of the millenium syndrome that make people go this nuts.

From: si@maps-r-us.com (Steve Ingram);
Sent at Wed, 20 May 1998 15:28:23 -0700;
Re:Gates, Netscape & the Governments

Web browsers are not leading edge in 1998. If history is any guide, they are not going to change from this point on, any more than spreadsheets have changed since the first one shipped in 1980. I'll eat my hat if web browsers work substantially differently in ten years.

Hear hear!

I'll help you eat your hat too.

People seem to be looking at browsers as if they are The Second Coming.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest!

From: richkatz@earthlink.net (Richard Katz);
Sent at Wed, 20 May 1998 15:22:18 -0700;
Re:Gates, Netscape & the Governments

I'd like to see Dan Goodin (dang@cnet.com) of CNet read the triangle article you just wrote.

The DOJ is examining only one side of an apparant holy war that was conducted by two sides - not just one. Taken in the light of your memo, I see a quite different Microsoft from what the DOJ alleges. Half the truth is rubbish. The public deserves the whole truth.

From: joerg@schaeffer.net (Joerg Schaeffer);
Sent at Wed, 20 May 1998 15:21:48 -0700;

I wake up on Sunday morning playing an eclectic mix of bluegrass music and Sinatra and I think that a couple of my friends would really like it too. So I send them an email containing a URL that connects them to my CD player. When I play a tune they hear it too. They can send in requests, via email of course.

You might want to check out AmpRadio if you have not heard about it yet. This allows you to stream MP3 audio which you are listening to in WinAMP to any number of people who can connect to your machine. Drop the idea of CDs, MP3 is the way to go for online audio (except AAC, but this is still vaporware).

As for the request part, there is another project called MP3 Jukebox - you install one "Jukebox" PC with a hifi conneced to it in your office, then everyone can add MP3 files in a shared network volume and make playing requests via a browser.

URLs are:

http://www.mp3.com/software/servers.html, for an overview
http://radio.mp3.com/ampRadio/ampRadio.html, for AmpRadio
http://drome.access.nu/mp3box, for the Jukebox
http://www.mp3.com/news/004.html, for a description of Jukebox

What I like most about these, is that they are standards based: MP3 and HTTP, no proprietary stuff like RealAudio protocol.

Do you live in one of those cities? What ideas do you have? What do you want to do with broadband?

I live in Vienna, Austria, but we have sort of broadband cable Internet (we get limited to 35KB/s incoming and 8KB/s outgoing, but thats still better for a flat fee of $45 than paying metered phone charges).

I personally really like the idea of one-to-one interaction - be it online gaming (Quake is a good example) or collaborative working, which I think will become very important with an increasing number of people teleworking at home. Austria still lags behind a lot but there is a chance for catching up.


From: mike@conte.org (Mike Conte);
Sent at Wed, 20 May 1998 15:20:59 -0700;
Re:US, States File Microsoft Anti-trust Suit

Hello, Dave. Two notes, one my email is no longer mikecon@microsoft.com, it is mike@conte.org. I am no longer at Microsoft. Two, as someone who worked on MS apps in the day, I have to take issue with the characterization that our bundling of apps wiped out other apps. I know you were around then (and before), but let me offer a slightly different perspective.

Back then, all anyone talked about with apps was "Power" and "Best of Breed." You won reviews because you had more columns or rows than the other guy or because you have multi-file search and replace. It made sense: apps were early and limited and there were plenty of features that were available on mainframe programs that they lacked. And users, who were early adopters and power users, tended to be pretty specialized. The spreadsheet wonks didn't do much letter writing, and the tech writers didn't do much spreadsheeting.

MS was really nowhere in that market, with Multiplan (which was portable, but who cared) seen as less powerful than 1-2-3, and Word which was just too different and slow to complete with Wordstar and later WordPerfect. So we bet on a different strategy. Knowing that as the market got more mainstream, and therefore less specialized, users would want more integration, perhaps even at the expense of pure power. So making products work the same would become more valuable. And ease of learning would become more valuable. And so on.

We tried this way back when with Multiplan and Word (and Chart and Project too), but it really was the Mac that popularized the notion that easy was really the key to empowerment. But while Lotus and WordPerfect made some attempts to write suites, neither was successful for various reasons, one of which was that the suites compared badly with their standalone products. So did MS invent suites? No. Did we push them? Well, we offered them and people bought them. Did suites stifle innovation? I don't think so. There is more and better software today than there was then, and most of what we see is the natural trend in the computer industry, both hardware and software, toward standards. There aren't 17 spreadsheets for the same reason there aren't 17 sizes and formats of music CDs.


From: malpern@scott.skidmore.edu (Micah Alpern);
Sent at Wed, 20 May 1998 15:20:22 -0700;
Re:Gates, Netscape & the Governments

Dave, I've been flipping through TV channels and occasionally find myself watching how the mainstream media is covering the Microsoft story. I've been really disappointed. For all the air time these networks are giving the story they barley go into any significant depth, and when they do it's concentrating on extremely minor and mundane aspects, such as the look of the startup screen, the icons on the desktop, etc. with very little real analysis.

CNN's show Burden of Proof is particularly bad. They have 'expert' guests in antitrust law both for and against Microsoft, and legislators, but very few people who appear to know anything about the computer industry. The did have one CEO of an independent small software company (ObjectSoft I thing?) who tried to give the IT perspective on things, but he did a terrible job. His statements were completely canned, poorly written, and obviously off a teleprompters.

I was just thinking it would be nice to have some literate articulate fokes from the computer industry on the air trying to explain the nature of the case to laymen. Some one like you ;-) DaveNet Live on Larry King live. Not that I have any connections at all, I just thought it would be nice. Have a good day, and thanks for the clear prose and probing analysis.

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