"There is a little company in Redmond that has a lock on the desktop and our strategy with Java is to unlock Microsoft 's territory. Microsoft has one thing nobody else has. They can give everything away free for the next 20 years. There is nothing wrong with the Internet that a little Word, a little Excel, and a little PowerPoint won't fix. But they can't do that forever!!"

Roadkill on the information highway: JavaDay by Jeff Sutherland

(quoting Java Evangelists Eric Schmidt and Dennis Tsu)

Pearl Harbor Day

Time Magazine reported it when Bill Gates declared war on December 7, 1995. The Axis forces spearheaded by the Netscape/Sun alliance had launched a lightning attack on the PC desktops of the world gaining over 70% of the market for Internet browsers and penetrating the Windows shell everywhere with Java applets. Dynamically distributed Java modules were proliferating like rabbits in the Australian outback by the time Microsoft announced an Allied forces counterattack. The Microsoft Web servers took 8,000,000 hits on the first day.

Last week, I reported on my journey to the heart of the Axis forces in Silicon Valley and the first Java Development Conference at Internet Expo. There I had felt the "heat of the pony," as Chief Seattle once said, and the pony was Java.

Allied forces gather at Redmond

It's a new week and I am now in Redmond at the annual Microsoft System Design Review for allied senior executives. The heavyweights are all here on the Microsoft campus. These guys are battle-scarred veterans of the software wars and are ready to hear the latest Microsoft assault plan, their strategy for 1996, and their proposed penetration and cleanup of the battlefield over the next three years.

"Sorry, you'll have to check your guns at the door," says the receptionist. Actually, she says she has my nondisclosure on file. They swore me to secrecy before I could get in and I feel like a journalist during the Iraqi War. I'm going to be gagged by the military and they will orchestrate everything. My brother-in-law, Neal Conan of National Public Radio, broke free from US military control during the assault on Saadam Hussein and was captured by Iraqi troops. I flash back to his hair-raising stories of lying face down in the mud with machine gun bullets flying over his head and the days of being locked in captivity while the family sweated buckets. I want to bolt but decide to cooperate. After all, I've got my wife Arline, my grandson Alex, and the rest of the family to think about.

Before we get started at 9 am, I sample the free breakfast they have for us. I'm sitting at a table with two Microsoft troops and an eager third-party enlistee. "It's great," says the enlistee, "you are going to tell us not only what your plans are for the next three years, but how it's going to be for the next three years. Coool!"

I cringe and hope they can't see my face.

Dyson: So is Microsoft really the Evil Empire?

Barksdale: I have competed against some slimeballs in my life. Now I am competing against some honorable people. But that they've created a lock in the operating-system business is a matter of fact.

Netscape's Secret Weapon, Wired 4.03

Battle plan briefing begins

It's 9 am and the briefing starts with military precision. The lineup of honorable people is impressive. Paul Maritz, Vice President for the Platform Group, leads the charge with Microsoft's Internet strategy. For the rest of the day they grind it out, platform by platform, product by product. It becomes clear that Microsoft has built an infrastructure for client-server computing on the corporate Intranet that will take years to create in Java.

The group is serious, no-nonsense. When the rock video comes on, they want it turned off. Microsoft tries a 3D rendering of a spinning skull with the rock video as surface texture. Now that's cool, they nod, and these guys sound like the Hell's Angels of the Information Highway. They intend to keep order on the Infobahn and are not above knocking a few heads and inflicting a little pain. But are they having fun? And are they for freedom or oppression? We needed them at Woodstock, but do we need them now?

The regional lords of Microsoft's dominion want to know only when the bugs will be fixed, when the products will be delivered, and what the impact will be to the bottom line. Philippe Kahn, seated in the front row, is only one of the many people asking the tough questions. I visualize him in a black leather jacket, hear the clanking of chains and the deep-throated roar of a Harley Davidson. I smell the grease and oil slick and wouldn't want to have to deal with him and his cohorts.

Microsoft is rolling with the punches. They're smart and they talk fast. "That was a nice left uppercut to the jaw about our latest product release," says Chris Jones, Group Program Manager for the Internet Platform and Tools Division. (laughs from Microsoft, deep guffaws from the Angels) And I see that these guys are having their own brand of fun. Let's kick some ass at Microsoft and see if they're still alive!

Depression ensues

After a long, grueling day I return to my hotel room mildly depressed. My lips are sealed and I am under gag order. How will I ever get the word out? I jack into The Internet Access Company back in Boston, my trusty local provider and tap my email account at home base. Down comes the daily flood of email messages. My Object Technology Web Page has gotten its daily dose of about 100 hits. And a note from the homepage.journal says my article, Roadkill on the information highway: JavaDay, has scored 721 hits.

An unusual message scrolls up in my Netscape browser (I feel guilty for using Netscape in Microsoft territory)! It's from Cornelius Willis, Group Product Manager, Microsoft Internet Developer Marketing. He says he likes my JavaDay article in homepage.journal and would like to talk. I say, "Hey, I'm right here in Redmond," and before 8 am the next morning, I have an email message setting up an afternoon meeting. These guys are responsive!

I get a note from Eric Schmidt, Chief Technology Officer at Sun, in the same batch apologizing for taking two weeks to respond to my email and assuring me he will pressure the head of JavaSoft to meet with me some day real soon now. It's a good thing I had some friends that got me into Sun last week. They can't answer their phones, they can't answer their mail, they can't meet, they're redlined with the explosion of interest in Java. Let's hope their engine doesn't flame out before Java takes off.

Day Two of the battle plan

Back to the second day of Microsoft's briefings. I like the presentation from David Vaskevitch best. He talks about Business Objects, three-tier architectures, and distributed components. I think he must be reading my stuff on the Net, particularly the papers from the OOPSLA'95 Workshop on Business Object Design and Implementation. I catch him at lunch and ask him to present something at my OOPSLA'96 Business Object Workshop and he's interested.

Now that Cornelius has agreed to meet with me to give me the real scoop that I can post on the Net, I'm feeling more upbeat. I start to think that Microsoft is really listening. The Internet has given them a vision of their impending mortality. They are all saying they like competition and want to work with third parties. Of course, my buddies at the ODMG say they are only doing this because the Justice Department is breathing down their neck.

Yet there is a new ring of truth to what they are saying. They say they' re in the final stages of negotiations with Sun on Java. If they get the agreement they want, they will have major announcements to make. I hear them yearning, they are yearning to be free. They want to run with the wolves. Sure, they want to be the alpha dog, but they need the pack to survive. There is so much fresh meat on the Net to track and hunt that there will be plenty of tasty flesh for all of us to eat. Their howling echoes out over the Microsoft campus and ricochets off the clear and shining white mountains of the Seattle range.

At 3 pm I leave for Building 25 and my meeting with Cornelius. I want some fresh and tasty morsels that I can put up on the net. Cornelius takes me to the Microsoft cafeteria where I can order a Starbucks cappuccino with so many options I get vertigo. Should it be light, should it be dry, should it be tall or short. I'm overwhelmed with freedom of choice.

Cornelius is tall, he's sharp, and he's excited. He says he is pressed for time and has been working for 11 hours already today. This has been his typical schedule and will be for at least several more months. The Internet has changed everything he says. Software distribution will never be the same. He wants to get the word out to the developers of the world that Microsoft is different. They are responding, they want to be credible, they want to participate, they want to be free!

I say I smell a Java Development environment brewing at Microsoft. He swallows hard and says if they get what they want in negotiations with Sun, they will become a leading vendor of Java developer tools based on their C++ product, like Borland and Symantec. I can print that, he says. He wants the world to know that Microsoft thinks Java is cool and he wants to empower developers, he wants them to be free. Free to build Java or Visual Basic applets, free to use Internet Explorer or Netscape. Free, free, free, he wants to free the 4.5 million Windows developers that Microsoft views as its market.

This is the Microsoft infantry, these 4.5 million Windows developers. They are extremely entrepreneurial, most of them moonlight. They will attack and colonize a market at light speed and deliver an average of 3.5 applications a year, with an average of 30 users per application. These are little guys, the moms and pops of software development, not rocket scientists. They are not the elite 23,000 Internet developers building HotWired web Sites. They are mostly VB and COBOL programmers.

Cornelius shows me a demo of the next generation of Visual Basic. With one line of code and two mouse clicks he creates an OLE control. He drags and drops it into Internet Explorer and its up on the web! Wow, 4.5 million developers will create dozens of OLE controls per day on the web and these controls will be one-third the size of current controls. And you can distribute the OLE applets and the VB runtime for free.

Will this overwhelm Java? Well, we all know that Microsoft has a large group of C++ programmers, and we all know what "real" programmers want. They don't want VB, they want to be unlocked from Windows and free. They want Java, Java, more Java! And Microsoft will give it to them, if only Sun will let them.

Next month there will be Microsoft OLE controls on the Net for free, including Internet Explorer 3.0, and this release will be usable as an OLE control that can be embedded in any Windows application. There will be FTP widgets and newsreader widgets, all HTML embeddable stuff. And every application can be enabled for the web just by dragging and dropping, and Microsoft will license the latest version of Internet Explorer for free, to ship with every copy of my company's Object Studio Smalltalk development environment which has been completely reengineered for OLE, and to embed in every Smalltalk application our developers want to embed it in (Cornelius is leaving me breathless here). And our developers can ship it for free and they will work with us and make it easy and answer their phones and respond to email before breakfast in the morning. This is starting to make me dizzy and I feel like I'm being sucked into an evil vortex only it feels more like a Jacuzzi.

Now that he's giving me something for free, he's really got my attention. I'm ready to run with the wolves, fly with the eagles, at least try it out for a while and see if we can sell some of this stuff for real money.

But I digress. Cornelius has shown me the real army of Microsoft, their 4.5M loyal mom and pop Windows developers, and my mind is opened. Scales of cynicism and distrust begin to fall from my eyes and I worry, am I falling into the arms of the enemy? Before I flew my 100 missions over North Vietnam in my hot RF-4C Phantom, I fell into the hands of a simulated enemy at Air Force Survival Training in Reno, Nevada. They stuffed me in a box, yelled and screamed and interrogated me for hours, starved me for a week, and threw cold water on me naked in sub-zero weather. I sure don't want to go through that again.

The new Microsoft?

Or are these guys really the Allies? The air is cleaner up here than in Silicon Valley and people drive at the speed limit and don't force you off the road. Life is simpler here, they can focus on getting the job done and Microsoft is one of the only US companies that dominates the Japanese marketplace.

We have a national treasure here and I sense that Gates is turning this company around. It's hard rudder right on a $6B aircraft carrier at sea. The circle is wide, the wake is deep, the guns are loaded, all torpedoes are ready, and every fighter jock is on alert. Launchers are cocked, the klaxon sounds, and the first F-14s rocket off the deck into the wild blue yonder. Where are my gloves, my oxygen mask, my helmet and parachute, the stick between my knees, the thunder pounding my buttocks, and the fire in my belly?

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung

(from High Flight by John Magee, Jr.)

Back to reality

"Here's the battle plan," says Cornelius. Today we have HTML. Next month we have Internet Explorer 3.0. We are bending over backwards to get a deal done with Sun so that Java and VB applets can be embedded in Explorer HTML. After that we will see Internet widgets embedded in Windows applications and the internet will be a seamless part of every application.

Everything we have, including Network OLE, will work over TCP/IP on the public internet and the corporate intranet. We have sandboxed the VB applet environment and made it secure like Java. You cannot call out from a VB applet to secure resources. We are providing digital signatures for everything so you can download applets from a trusted source. Our ISAPI interface on our Internet Information Server will allow developers to bolt CGI, ODBC, OLE, and DLL components onto the Web server without reimplementation and preserving investment in millions of lines of code that is already out there.

Whew, I'm breathless. It sounds like Microsoft is really starting to get it.

Dyson: So Microsoft clearly gets it now.

Barksdale: I don't know that they do or not. They're obviously very focused.

Wired 3.02

The Microsoft message
to developers

We want developers to know that we are going to give them a choice with safety. We will enable everything for both Java and Visual Basic, JavaScript and VBScript. Everything will run in Netscape, we will be browser independent.

We are going to give developers maximum opportunity to take advantage of everything out there on the Net even if it doesn't belong to Microsoft. And we are going to provide maximum leverage for developers to use the tools they know and love on multiple platforms. Today we have mainly horizontal OLE controls that specialized developers create and market, mainly in C++. Tomorrow, every developer will be able to create OLE controls with a couple of mouse clicks and VB OCXs will go vertical into every client-server application. (They will proliferate all over the Internet with no natural predators.)

Tell people that "the interconnected world changes the dynamic of software distribution allowing developers to target anything," at any time, anywhere. You're looking at a new Microsoft, an open company, this is a new wave, we'll work with anyone. And you don't have to feel guilty about using Netscape any more!

You know, if Sun cuts the right deal with Microsoft, we could all win.

Barksdale: "God is on the side of the big battalions." said Napoleon. Very few times in warfare have smaller forces overtaken bigger forces. You have to outflank, outmaneuver; you have to get good positions. We fight for those every day. And not just against Microsoft, but against the market itself.

Wired 3.02

The smell of burnt powder:
Gates in action

Cornelius has got to get ready for his next meeting. I say I detect a new note at Microsoft and I smell Bill Gates' hand in it. Has he ratcheted everyone's head around? Cornelius nods in the affirmative.

Gates gets the net! He has forced them to "repurpose" projects and "reposition" all their products. He has chopped, kicked, and cut until his troops look like fresh shaven Marines graduating from boot camp. They are mobilized, they are empowered, they are armored with heavy weapons, they have leadership in depth, and worldwide, industries and economies will mobilize behind them.

But will it be fun? And is it really free? What about the lock on the operating system? And will Java still be something wicked that this way comes?

Dyson: And competition. Let's go back to Microsoft.

Barksdale: Even though they have much better resources, it's a fair fight: the likelihood is that our biggest competitor is one we don't know about today. Apple was railing against IBM, but their real competitors were Intel and Microsoft. They never saw them coming.

Wired 3.02

Jeff Sutherland

This monthly newsletter is a publication of homepage.inc, an association next meeting October, 1996 in Orlando, Florida. Entire contents © 1996 by OneMind, Rowayton, CT. All rights reserved.