Issue 5-10, March 8, 2000

Developers' Workshop: The Minimum Wages of Sin

By Doug Fulton

The part of the computer industry they don't tell you about when you decide to abandon your pursuit of a doctorate in Beowulf to stick your tongue on the icy third rail of the information superhighway is that you'll meet a lot of people who think they're every bit as bright as you think you are—although many of them have, in your estimation, an unhealthy thorough-going interest in their occupations—and that these people will remember you as they diasporate and perhaps even recommend you to their newer, brighter, younger, and heavily pierced communards. This is not *bad* of itself—it's okay to be popular, or at least remembered, or at least not despised, and, failing that, left alone -- but you are occassionally put in a position where allegiance is tempted, and one's fear of the thrilling unknown tries to overthrow the comfortable entropy of the familiar.

It was in such a mood that I received a message from a name that meant nothing to me, but which name mentioned other names that claimed (not inaccurately) to know mine. My interlocutress (let's call her Ms. X) wondered whether I might be interested in taking a position of dubious prestige with a company that had milked its audience with such determined pulls that although a backlash was guaranteed, by then it would be too late (i.e. an absurdly overvalued IPO followed by a reign—and reigning still—as the Messiah of the new Church of Commercial Success without Profit). The letter, edited to remove evidence of those involved but with the grammar left unimproved, went something like this:


Dear <Your Author>:

So I'm chatting with the ever-entertaining <mutual acquaintance> today and I mention that I'm looking for a <specialist> here at <E-InTheRed>.com who should be completely obsessed with <speciality> --- to which he responded, talk to <Your Author>!

I recruit for all product groups and marketing here at the epicenter of ecommerce and would love to fill this <speciality> position with a hip cool talented person, like yourself (allow me to be direct).

Ms. X


(Thinks: By all means, please do be—and allow me to have felt flattered by your direct beingness had it involved actually having met me, or otherwise having known anything other than my name. As it is, I refuse to be treated like a hip cool talented object!—the author)

It was tempting—perhaps if I forced <present employers> into a bidding war I could finally give up my paper route—but ultimately I let inertia and sloth roll me over, effortlessly, as they always do. Having made this decision, or, more accurately, having alerted myself that I had come to a conclusion by having not made any decision at all, I figured I owed Ms. X an indication of my refusal and a warm smile of appreciation for her interest. But being friendly—particularly to strangers—is very tiring, so I decided to respond honestly:


Dear Ms. X:

I'm flattered by your proposal. I have no business sense whatsoever, am unpersonable, lazy, and tend to lapse into a pretentious self-loathing solepsism. And that's when I'm sober. I can understand why <mutual acquaintance>, who is shorter than I am, suggested me. I will consider the offer.

Sincerely, <Your Author>


I've got mail!


Dear <Your Author>: Thanks for your fabulous reply. Not only did I find your reply rife with witticisms, but I even took the time to read some of your former BE newsletters which made me howl.

[ Thinks: Add to list of words never to use: "rife". ]

I have a better idea than the <original idea> thing---- why don't you become a guest <other sort of specialist>? You could <practice your trade> and create a devout following!

Addtional income for additional blathering---whaddya think?

Lemme know if you might be interested-----

Ciao, Ms. X


What have I done? Or, more to the point, what haven't I been doing all my life so far? I thought that by letting my true boor shine through I would be met by silence, or a cordial but firm rescission of the initial offer. Perhaps I've been taking the wrong tack all along. I coulda been somebody instead of the bum with a paper route that I am.


Ms. X:

I might be. Is it okay if I write from prison? Just a thought.

Gdansk, <Your Author>


No reply yet. Maybe she took a job elsewhere.

A New Meaning for the "P" Word

By Jean-Louis Gassée

That's "P" as in "Platform," of course. It replaces the now dated "Paradigm," as in Paradigm Shift. Today, I'd like to talk about how the concept of a software platform changes in the new world of Internet Appliances. Indeed, the whole system of thoughts orbiting around the central idea of a platform changes.

In February 1981, I took my first trip to Apple's intergalactic headquarters in Cupertino, California. Previously, I had worked at companies such as Hewlett Packard and Data General. I'd even worked at Exxon Office Systems, drawn by Exxon's grand and correct but culturally maladapted vision: Information, the Oil of the 21st Century. I thought I knew software.

Then, I went to one of Apple's warehouses on Java. No kidding. The other building was on Bordeaux, in Sunnyvale. There I saw forklifts unloading palettes of software, word processors, games, and spreadsheets. Palettes of software—that was a paradigm shift.

With minicomputers, people wrote a program for their system, for its particular use. With personal computers, one bought software, lots of it, or pirated it. When you bought a personal computer, there was a huge virtual stack of floppies next to it, all software that you could run. Software gratification became a new form of gluttony. More software attracted more buyers and larger crowds of users, actual or potential, and that in turn attracted more software writers.

In what is now called the network effect, the value of a network rises exponentially, even faster than the number of users. The same math applies to the software platform, that is, the combination of hardware and operating system on which an application program runs.

As we know, Microsoft has displayed a masterful working knowledge of the software platform concept. With Internet appliances, though, the words "software platform" have a different meaning. The PC carries with it the feeling of an infinity of possibilities, a universe of application software. In the emerging world of connectivity, infinite possibilities move from the belly of the PC into the limitless universe of the Internet.

As I discussed in last week's column, there is no such thing as an Internet Appliance, at least not in the sense of the (relatively) well-defined PC platform. What a Net stereo and an information appliance have in common is probably less than what two PCs might share. For instance, the Net A/V receiver might not render Flash content and the info appliance might not play the latest virtual reality scenes.

With Internet Appliances, the rules change, the interplay between the software platform and the "bits" it must run is different from what we have observed in more than two decades of personal computing. In particular, the software platform no longer dictates what will and will not run on it. Now it's the other way around—content rules. And as long as there is no proprietary tie between the content and the player, the game is open.

This of course begs a number of questions. Is anyone trying to create such ties? And how? The rest of the exercise is left to the reader, or for other columns.

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