Whenever I read Dan Bricklin’s blog I smile. For those that don’t know, Dan is the ‘father’ of the spreadsheet. The guy who, though he didn’t know it until we talked earlier in the year, hooked me into buying my first lugtop – an Apricot – which came with a green screen thing called Windows and SuperCalc II. A few years prior, I’d used VisiCalc. That was some 23 years ago.
Today, Dan updated his blog, talking about the way wikiCalc is being developed for use with the SocialText wiki, coincidentally on the day after Ross Mayfield announced the open source version of SocialText along with a raft of welcome cosmetic changes. Meanwhile, arch curmudgeon Nick Carr is taking Joe Kraus to task over his including Office style apps inside JotSpot. Dan Farber has the details. Which got me thinking.
When I look back over the history of modern computing, the truly great breakthroughs have been the invention of very small teams. Dan hand crafted wikiCalc at his home office pretty much in his spare time. Graham Wylie, one of Sage’s co-founders once told me about the times he spent writing code as a university graduate. Even the mighty SAP started with just three guys and a great idea. The core teams at the companies the really interest me are often no more than a handful of seriously bright people. They are the true innovators.
The difference today is that an Internet fueled media can get the word out and make these new inventions virally successful in a matter of weeks and months. Look at Basecamp’s 500,000 users. Massive scale can be near instant. Is it surprising then that I don’t see any appetite among the current innovators who are getting traction to be acquired?
So when people like Nick Carr and others tell me that my sniping at SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, Sage and IBM is little more than pissing in the wind by a grumpy old git, I have two questions: What makes you think you’re invincible? What right have you earned to say, with any degree of confidence, that Microsoft (for example) near monopoly on the desktop cannot be successfully challenged?
Is it because of their having $40 billion in the bank or 65K staff or that their stuff comes with every PC Dell ships? If the answer is in the affirmative, do you think people like Dan, Joe, Ross and others are so stupid as to develop something they haven’t a hope in hell of selling? Or worse still, take a great idea and then put a developmental bullet through their brains?
The world has changed. I don’t get impressed when I’m told that, for instance, “All SAP deals are 20 year deals.” If anything, such statements horrify me. You need a sense of history to understand that when people make those statements, what they seem to be saying is that computing history doesn’t exist. That’s simply not true. And it’s part of why, 23 years on, I’m not betting on the five I’ve mentioned above.
They won’t go away any time soon. They will continue. But, they will be rendered irrelevant in their current form. For a measure of others screwy thinking, consider this. Last week, Oracle UK folk were asked by a good friend of mine for their thoughts on NetSuite. The answer: “We don’t talk about it, we don’t know about it.” That’s taking your eye off the ball. Big time.
For those who think I’ve completely lost the plot, it’s useful to remember that history teaches us something else: All empires fall.