Co-existing with platform vendors
Wednesday, April 04, 2007 by Dave Winer.
From the vendor's perspective: How can I prevent collisions with developers? This is what the platform vendor worries about, assuming they care about their platform continuing to be a platform. I tried to deal with this by telegraphing my roadmap to developers. Aldus, whose Pagemaker product had an active developer community, had a rule that they wouldn't squash a developer for at least one product cycle, that is, they wouldn't integrate a developer's idea as a feature until version 4.0 if it came out during the lifetime of 2.0. Not sure the developers would have appreciated this if they had known about it.
From the developer's perspective: How can I choose a niche that's either not likely to interest the vendor, or one that's likely to get me acquired by the vendor or another big company with lots of money who wants to make trouble for the vendor (in the latter case, Microsoft on the Mac in the mid-late 80s is a good example). Sometimes developers choose a niche that's either directly in the path of the vendor, or even worse, on the roadmap of the vendor. In those cases, they don't really deserve our sympathy. It's almost like a game of PR, there's no way you're not going to have a fight on your hands. The various vendors of widget environments on the Mac come to mind.
The issues are so thorny and so impossible to solve that I came around to the opinion that the only solution was to get rid of the idea of platform vendors altogther, and see the Internet as the platform without a platform vendor. That actually seems to be working!
I tried to help RSS be such a platform, and so far it's resisted various attempts by technology companies to turn it into something they control, where one vendor can crush anyone that enters their eminent domain.
Today some technology bloggers are debating the issues around the future of Mozilla, which is the oddest of beasts -- it has a non-commercial platform vendor, a foundation, and it's rich, generating tens of millions in revenue. They are truly a dangerous vendor to develop for, how are you going to figure out what motivates them (not profit for sure, their problem is how to get rid of the money they accumulate!) and you surely can't get acquired by them, and foundations don't attract competitors, so it's hard to imagine a rich suitor coming along wanting to create trouble for them. Looks like somehow we've backed into a pretty tough corner. No matter how nice they are, how benevolent, they're going to make more and more developers miserable, and their existence might not be good for the health of the browser ecosystem, long-term.
8/22/95: What is a Platform?