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Feb 96 Crabbs Apple
Volume Number:12
Issue Number:2
Column Tag:Crabb’s Apple

Putting the Moves on the Internet

By Don Crabb

Well, we’ve all wondered, of course. Wondered when Microsoft would get serious about the Internet. Serious about leading its development. Serious about co-opting it as another market in the Microsoft hegemony. Serious about making the Internet and the World Wide Web the The Next Big Thing.

Well, on December 7, 1995 (is it just me, or does that date send shivers up your spine, too?), Microsoft stopped our wondering and let us have it - right between the Web pages, if you will.

To wit, Microsoft has decided to stop fooling around with its Internet science project (Microsoft Network) and to start making “every effort” towards “dominating” the World Wide Web, according to Microsoft co-founder and chairman, William Gates III. As such, Microsoft plans to integrate Internet components that it is developing, as well as those it will license from others, along with communications links, into every Microsoft product, including Windows 95 and NT, Microsoft Office, Visual Basic, Access, and all of its development tools, including SQL Server and other big ticket items. I suppose it will even get into an upcoming release of Microsoft Bob!

The Microsoft Effect

Whether Microsoft can come in and repeat its 800-pound-gorilla act among Internet and Web vendors remains unclear, however, thanks, in no small part, to the current Web hegemony of NetScape Communications Corp. and the heavy Web bandwagon that Apple has successfully pulled down the road for most of 1995.

But just the mere mention of that 800-pounder stomping around the Web caused NetScape’s stock to drop 18 percent in a single day of trading - down $28.75 to $132.50 on December 7. Another Microsoft Net competitor, Netcom On-Line, lost $8.75 to close at $54.75 that day. Ouch, that hurt!

Showing the ripples that the big hairy beast makes no matter where it treads these days, shares of Microsoft partner Spyglass also fell that same day, dropping $14.75 to $95.25 - despite the fact that Microsoft’s new Internet presence will make it heavily dependent on technology that Spyglass is developing for its Internet Explorer browser.

Meanwhile Microsoft’s own stock slid a piddling 12.5 cents to close at $90.50.

Besides partnering more heavily with Spyglass (watch your backs, guys), Microsoft has embraced Sun Microsystem’s Java and JavaScript, a mere week after every other computer company on the planet already declared JavaScript the new lingua franca of the multimedia Web. Apparently, even Microsoft is mortal.

Although we can certainly expect them to figure some way to co-opt Java to their own market aspirations - no matter how “open” Sun insists it will remain (just ask CI Labs how much Microsoft has embraced OpenDoc if you doubt their comfort factor at dealing with standards they don’t own and control) - with Java already being supported by all the other computer bigshots (including Apple), Java’s probably too big for even Uncle Bill to kill. No matter how much he’d like to, since it poses a big threat to the growth of Visual Basic as the choice for Web creation.

In the same set of announcements, Microsoft’s Gates said that “the Internet is the primary driver of all new work we are doing throughout the product line.” Gates also said, “We are hard-core about the Internet.” As if any of us needed to be reminded. I can’t imagine any Mac developer actually believing Microsoft would attempt anything less with the Net than it’s done on the desktop - near-total hegemony.

So, there we have it. Microsoft is going to try to kill NetScape and as many other Net rivals as it can (IBM’s Lotus Notes division, America Online, and Unix companies including Sun Microsystems - no matter what they say about Java). And those it cannot kill, it will try to absorb, like Spyglass.

What does this all mean for Mac developers?

The Mac and The Web and Mr. Bill

Well, make no mistake about it, Microsoft is psyched to chomp up the Net. According to Roger B. McNamee of venture capital firm Integral Capital Partners of Palo Alto, CA, “It was really fun to see Bill Gates so pumped up. He had the same kind of fire in his eyes that I suspect he had 20 years ago when he started the company.

“I imagine he has been wrestling with the approaching maturity of his core business, and wondering what to do with it,” McNamee continued. “The Internet offers the right scale of business opportunity at just the right time.”

But just because Bill and Microsoft are jazzed about devouring the Internet, does that mean they will pull it off? Not by a long shot. The differences between having a good plan and executing it flawlessly have slain bigger dragons than Microsoft. And with the Internet, where part of every successful software vendor’s strategy to date has been free software, Microsoft has little practice.

Still, Microsoft has promised to give away its Internet Explorer and Web server software for most platforms - Unix, Windows 95, Windows NT, and even the Mac OS - in an effort to blow away NetScape and gain the lion’s share of the market.

No matter how successful or unsuccessful Microsoft is at its Web hegemony strategy, Microsoft’s move into the mainstream of the Net and the Web is good news for Mac developers. But only as long as Apple can continue to try to push the Mac OS into all the expanding corners of these markets (by getting us Cyberdog and OpenDoc, and by partnering with NetScape to provide us with a browser construction kit that can easily be incorporated into our own applications). If Apple can maintain its thrust, having Microsoft help out by pushing its own browser onto the Mac OS is a win for us.

The key here, though, is not what Microsoft does, but what Apple does (and what we do with it), as well as its major development partners. With Metrowerks cranking out a Codewarrior for JavaScript, we’ll have one of the core tools we need to accelerate Web product development beyong the HTML and CGI state, but we need others that do not require C and C++ expertise.

For Apple to help us carve out the Web high ground, we need tools that let AppleScripters (borrowing from Cyberdog in some ways?) build Web objects that work with the other tools they use each day, be they multimedia, or database, or spreadsheet, or decision support. In short, we have a real opportunity here, now that Microsoft has joined the Web party (and before they can choke it into proprietary conformity), to spawn a new generation of object tools for Mac users and managers that can be used without programming experience to build sophisticated query and information delivery systems on top of their Web servers, while also being able to build ad hoc looks into other Web sites. But they need the solid Mac tools to do this; HTML and CGI and even JavaScript are at once too limited, too complicated, and too tweaky.

Maybe Apple ought to reconsider Apple Dylan as the core for such a group of Web tools. Maybe SK8 could have a second coming as the engine behind such a tool package. Or maybe even a new version of HyperCard, strengthened with AppleScript, Cyberdog, and OpenDoc, and with an easy way to add Java applets, could fill the bill. I just hope that the bill gets a close examination while we still have this golden opportunity.

 

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