danbricklin.com/log

Starting October 8, 2003
Interland Platinum helps me help others, Press tour, David J. Galter, VisiCalc, Longhorn, DRM, and Larry Magid's weblog, The Innovator's Solution, The State of Massachusetts addresses Open Standards and Open Source
8Oct0321Nov03
2003_10_08.htm
Friday, November 21, 2003 
Interland Platinum helps me help others [link]
As I mentioned last week, as part of my job as CTO of Interland, Inc., I was on a press tour previewing a new Interland offering. That offering was announced today. It's called Interland Business Solutions Platinum. What's special is that Interland is not just adding features to a "do it yourself" product (the easy to use browser-based editing system I've mentioned here many times which Interland sells as Business Solutions Site Builder), though there are some good new features that went live this morning. Instead, finally acknowledging that no matter how easy you make something to use many people still need professional help getting started and throughout their use of a product, especially with the Internet, there's more than just programmed features in the offering. Platinum bundles a "you can do everything easily yourself" set of tools together with "we'll build a professional-looking web site with it for you" and "we'll coach you from then on as you try to take advantage of using the Internet for your small business". This long-term mixture of people and software is important. The pricing is quite reasonable, too, from a small business person's viewpoint, thanks to the leverage the tools bring letting the user do routine work themselves.

For me, I now have a good answer for people who ask me how they can get started with a web site for their business. As a known techie among my friends and relatives, I frequently get tapped as the one who can help get an Internet presence going. Unfortunately, due to the nature of web sites and the depth of learning needed to fully take advantage of them (from knowing which pages are needed, to how to do "interactive" things like have people fill out forms, to search engine marketing), I hate getting stuck as the "brother-in-law VAR/webmaster" forever. With Platinum, I can make one recommendation and know that they'll soon have a professional-looking web site, be able to maintain it themselves, and have someone else to call (24/7) to coach them on the ins and outs of the tools and how to best take advantage of the Internet with a web site, email marketing, e-commerce, and more.

Of course, I'm biased given my involvement with this project. On the other hand, I think there is enough unique about this new offering, and the results good enough, that it's worth it for other techies to look into it so they can tell people about it when appropriate.


Friday, November 14, 2003 
Press tour [link]
It's been a long time since I posted anything. I've been busy with lots of stuff in my job at Interland. This week I was on a press tour. One stop was at Reuters to talk to Eric Auchard. I got to see where part of www.reuters.com is created (where I've gotten lots of news over the years). Here's a picture of a little piece of it:

Lots and lots of low cubicles with screens and people
A piece of the Reuters.com New York newsroom
 
David J. Galter [link]
My mother called today. It is the anniversary of the death of her father (my grandfather) a little over 40 years ago, and she wanted to share it with someone else who remembered him. Though he died when I was in 5th grade (and I only have that level of memory), I still remember him and he had an impact on my life. The editor of the local Jewish newspaper, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, not a technical person, he took me once to see the IBM punch card sorting machines they had -- my first (and an influential) in-person encounter with computing equipment. (I later made a model punch card sorter as a science fair project.) He wrote (under a pseudonym) a column that examined important issues of the community. Maybe that's the blood in me behind this web site?

I thought I'd mention him here, and maybe one of my readers knew him, or knows someone in Philadelphia from the 1930's through early 1960's who might have known him, and share his memory around this anniversary. If you do, could you send me an email at the webmaster on bricklin dot com? Thanks!

Black and White photo of smiling father with daughter
My mother as a child with her father, David J. Galter

Monday, October 27, 2003 
VisiCalc, Longhorn, DRM, and Larry Magid's weblog [link]
I just got a heads up from Larry Magid, who noticed on News.com that Microsoft demonstrated Longhorn's "backward compatibility...running VisiCalc, the 20-year-old spreadsheet program." That's really nice that they are continuing the tradition of compatibility and showing it with VisiCalc. Software compatibility is something I have discussed about an older version of Windows back in 2000 in my "The Evolving Personal Computer" essay. Of course, as I pointed out in "Copy Protection Robs The Future", the only reason I have a copy that can still work is that someone kept a "bootleg" uncopyprotected copy around. The original disks may not have worked on a Longhorn machine. Just copying the files from the original 5 1/4" floppy to a 3 1/2" one that would fit in today's machines certainly would result in a non-working copy, because of copy protection. We will regret "Digital Restriction/Rights Management" in the future.

Larry (a journalist, both in print and radio), reads a wide variety of online reports about technology every day as part of his job. He posts links to articles of interest, that his radio producers can always ask him about, on his "Larry News" weblog. I've recently added it to my daily Favorites, given the overlap in our interests.

Friday, October 17, 2003 
The Innovator's Solution [link]
Like many others, I have been recommending Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma for many years. Clayton, along with Michael Raynor, has just come out with a follow-on book, The Innovator's Solution. I wholeheartedly recommend the new book to anybody dealing with innovation or corporate strategy. It looks like it will become a classic, eclipsing the previous book. Starting a new venture or a potentially disruptive product without understanding the concepts in this book is a much more risky endeavor.

To quote from the jacket flap: "Drawing on years of in-depth research and illustrated by company examples across many industries... They identify the forces that cause managers to make bad decisions as they package and shape new ideas -- and offer new frameworks to help managers create the right conditions, at the right time, to succeed."

While it sounds like it's aimed at the heads of the big corporate world (which in many ways it is very explicitly) it is a real "how-to" book for start ups and entrepreneurs. Many of its teachings will be "motherhood and apple-pie" to experienced innovators, but it offers an invaluable checklist, wonderful insights, and is a great catalyst to thinking. While reading it, I found that its theories help explain many successful ventures and spectacular (and not so spectacular) failures as you apply them to companies and products you know from the near and distant past. I know that I have a much better appreciation for the reasons for the success of my two biggest and most influential hits, VisiCalc and Dan Bricklin's Demo Program, as well as for the misses. Sigh... I wish I had read this before them all.

The theories, backed with many interesting footnotes and references, should be taken to heart by people who put down simple, "not-good-enough" innovations. "Because new-market disruptions compete against nonconsumption, the incumbent leaders feel no pain and little threat until the disruption is in its final stages. In fact, when the disruptors begin pulling customers out of the low end of the original value network, it actually feels good to the leading firms, because they move up-market in their own world, for a time they are replacing low-margin revenues that disruptors steal, with higher-margin revenues from sustaining innovations." [Page 46] "Some people have concluded on occasion that when the incumbent leader doesn't instantly get killed by a disruption, the forces of disruption somehow have ceased to operate, and that the attackers are being held at bay... These conclusions reflect a shallow understanding of the phenomenon, because disruption is a process and not an event." [Page 69, the footnote associated with the quote on page 46]

Another theory: "...customers -- people and companies -- have 'jobs' that arise regularly and need to get done. When customers become aware of a job that they need to get done in their lives, they look around for a product or service that they can 'hire' to get the job done." [Page 75]

For fun, let me, with my only recent exposure to the book, try applying some of the book's thinking to a discussion about blogging:

The New York Times' John Markoff commented recently about blogging:

"...I certainly can see that scenario, where all these new technologies may only be good enough to destroy all the old standards but not create something better to replace them with. I think that's certainly one scenario. The other possibility right now -- it sometimes seems we have a world full of bloggers and that blogging is the future of journalism, or at least that's what the bloggers argue, and to my mind, it's not clear yet whether blogging is anything more than CB radio.

And, you know, give it five or 10 years and see if any institutions emerge out of it. It's possible that in the end there may be some small subset of people who find a livelihood out of it and that the rest of the people will find that, you know, keeping their diaries online is not the most useful thing to with their time."

Equating blogging to CB radio was meant as a put-down. Using some of the book's thinking, you could ask: "What were the 'jobs' people 'hired' CB radio to do?" It may have been to talk with their "buddies" when they had some free time, such as when driving, and for "safety" like calling for help, or organizing among each other, such as when avoiding speed traps or deciding where to eat. The "job" wasn't to become a mini-FM or AM radio personality. Personal radio technology grew up from "not-good-enough" for the mass market to "good enough" and we got to talk to our real buddies wherever they were with cell phones, a huge success by almost any measure. (Notice that Motorola has continued to be a major player in personal radios and base-stations as it had been since the 1930's. By my reading of the theory, this is to be expected because cellular technology was a sustaining innovation for them, not disruptive.)

There are "jobs" that blogging serves for both the blogger and blog reader. Those jobs are real, and are probably not served well enough by today's journalism system (nor today's blogging, yet). Blogging will evolve to eventually "fill" those "jobs" well (though the name we use for personal publishing may change). John's assumption, that only through big institutions and well-paid employees can you judge the "jobs" as being "filled", is sustaining-technology thinking. It sounds like he envisions only a similar business model and cost structure to what he is involved in now. We didn't replace "Disk Jockeys" with "Cell Phone Jockeys". (I could present a more thorough analysis, but you'd all have to read the book first...)

Note: Clayton went to Harvard Business School the same years that I did. Our graduating class of 1979 (around 800 people?) included Meg Whitman (eBay) and Elaine Chao (now US Secretary of Labor). Those three were not in my section so I don't remember them from then other than their names, though I think we may have overlapped in some classes second year. (Clayton and Elaine were in Section C, I was in Section F, and Meg was in Section H.) It's nice to see classmates do well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2003 
The State of Massachusetts addresses Open Standards and Open Source [link]
This morning I attended a meeting with Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance Eric Kriss, organized by the Massachusetts Software Council. A leaked internal memo relating to an "Open Standards, Open Source policy" has created much questioning by members of the software industry, and this informal meeting with Software Council members and other industry representatives was to help explain what was going on and get some feedback. Representatives from companies large and small attended, along with representatives from some trade organizations and academia, I believe. I think some of the issues brought up are of general industry interest, so I got permission to write up my impressions (there were no press people at the meeting and I took no pictures).

Secretary Kriss' background is in consulting and industry, as well as government administration. Listening to him talk, he spoke "techie" impressively well for someone high in government. (Reportedly, he was a PL/1 programmer years ago, and on occasion has programmed in Perl and PHP, both of which he mentioned in a way that showed understanding.)

He started by giving some background for motivation of what needs to be done. The State of Massachusetts has been around for a long time. It, like most states, is in more different "businesses" than most corporations, from roads to judges to education to social welfare. Even the Federal Government often just administers programs, with the states actually implementing them. They have "data" that goes back 200 years. They are big: $10 billion a year on various social services alone. Their IT budget (capital and operating) is in the $100's of million a year.

The problems he is trying to address include:

Long-term data migration, so that they can still use data from today 200 years from now.
Inter-systems communications. When you plead poverty to get a public defender, they can't check your tax records now. Things you expect them to do they can't.
Spending money wisely.

His main emphasis at first is on "Open Standards". He means standards like HTTP, XML, SSL.  He feels that proprietary standards (including in implementation languages) leads to costs in the long term when you try to do data migration or sharing. The State is suffering from old programs on proprietary or ancient platforms. They have lock-in to an extraordinary degree, where they can't even get some data on a screen, let alone share it. New young programmers don't know early COBOL. The State has become subject to the whims (and fortunes) of companies in the marketplace. I did point out at the meeting how, for example, using Microsoft products doesn't necessarily mean "proprietary" when it comes to using certain standards. It often matters how you use a product.

He feels that open standards and open (as in "source code available") source are important elements to easing the migration and sharing paths.

On Open Source, it was clear there are two, and maybe three, issues. The first is access to source code for escrow, maintenance, and interoperability reasons. The second is "free" distribution, for the saving of money. The third, I surmise from a slide show I'll discuss later, is the idea of sharing the code they write as open source within the state government, as well as with other states and the Federal government.

It is the issue of Open Source that has gotten the most coverage. The State is explicitly saying to its people that when possible use Open Source (for the reasons above), evaluating it on a level playing field with alternatives. If a given Open Source product (like Apache or Linux) is known to be robust, widely used, etc., it should be considered, though not required if alternatives meet the Open Standards tests and overall real-cost is competitive. From what he's seen, I guess, this has not been the case in the past. He told me afterwards that of over 1000 web servers in the government, only one used Apache, which is surprising given Apache's popularity in the general computing world. I have found that often you need to explicitly tell people who have never gone with an Open Source product that it's "OK to consider it" or else they might dismiss it out of hand. Such "permission" may come across as a strong endorsement, just to get people changing their behavior a little bit. (There was talk of turning a battleship...)

An issue was a talk given by Commonwealth of Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn to the AEA on September 25th. According to the slides of the talk on the AEA web site, Quinn discussed "Freeware" on slide 9 and 10, after talking about Information Sharing. What intrigues me are the following two points: "Freeware Construct between the States" and "Eventual Freeware Construct to Municipalities and the Federal Government". Does that say that the State will release software it writes as Open Source and share it with other states and the Federal Government? As I read it, Secretary Kriss is quoted as such by Margie Semilof on SearchWin2000 ("It makes sense to operate in an environment that can be given to other states to enhance"). Interesting. Given their special needs and the millions they spend on customizing software to those needs, that shows a possible public benefit from Open Source methodologies.

I found more information about all this in some articles on the web, especially Rob Reilly's on Linux Planet (I searched on Google for "Kriss Massachusetts").

An issue I didn't get to raise during the meeting: Given the importance of long-term access to data, what should the State do with regards to initiatives on Digital Rights/Restriction Management (DRM) brought on as a reaction to the entertainment industry? Will Massachusetts and other states use their huge buying power to require computers that are open to Open Software and Open Standards? I worry, as I pointed out in my "Copy Protection Robs the Future" essay, that such "protection" techniques, together with the DMCA making it a crime to publish descriptions of protection methods and transformation techniques ("Rosetta Stones"), will thwart the goal of long-term access to, and the sharing of, data.

As a follow on to this meeting, Secretary Kriss has asked the Massachusetts Software Council to convene a meeting in about six weeks with Peter Quinn and him to review a draft proposal regarding this "Open Standards, Open Source" initiative.

Following this process is important. It shows a process that many companies are going through as they come to terms with the long-term importance of their IT assets, both software and data. Standards, interoperability, customizability, cost, and shared development are all issues that matter. We can't think of systems we build as a short-term thing like we did years ago, leading to the Y2K problem.

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