Spending spree! News this week includes IBM’s sudden attempt to buy Lotus, while in the background AOL seems to have purchased just about everybody else. In addition, we bring you information on updating your USR Sportster modem, a follow-up to Tonya’s article on pesky ReadMe files, information on that (ahem) "viral" component in Windows 95, and finally a revealing essay from Dave Winer on why software companies just don’t have a clue.
Last Saturday night marked an interesting point in the development of the Internet as a multimedia delivery system. We were invited to the offices of Point of Presence Company in Seattle to watch the first full-length feature film (called Party Girl) played live over the Internet via CU-SeeMe. I doubt CU-SeeMe will become a major source of movies via the Internet (since it’s more designed as a point-to-point system), but proving something can be done is important because it raises the bar for future attempts. A real-time technology for video that works like RealAudio is probably the next step, and then I’m sure we’ll see some truly interesting uses of video on the Internet. [ACE]
The Lotus-Eaters — Remember when the aborted Microsoft-Intuit merger – valued at over $2 billion – would have been the largest such deal in the history of the computing industry? No more! IBM today announced a $60 per share bid to take over Lotus Development Corporation. If the deal goes through it would be valued at approximately $3.3 billion, and IBM indicates it intends to pay for the purchase from "cash on hand." Lotus has resisted tight ties with IBM in the past, and this takeover bid has been characterized as "potentially hostile, IBM pursuing legal action to prevent Lotus from using a "poison pill" anti-takeover strategy. As of mid-morning, Lotus stock was up more than 25 points, with a volume over 10 million shares. [GD]
Patrick T. Pruyne <[email protected]> writes:
Owners of U.S. Robotics v.34 Sportster modems should act fast to receive a free ROM chip upgrade. Until 12-Jun-95 users providing a proper serial number will receive the chip (manufacture date 18-Apr-95) at no charge. Following that date, USR’s standard $15 shipping and handling fee will apply.
The release is a response, in part, to widespread reports of "Spiral Death" syndrome. The phenomenon is described as a heat-related failure to fall forward to higher speeds resulting in ever-slower transmission rates. According to USR, the chip also incorporates the current v.34 code which should provide improved compatibility with different types of v.34 modems. In addition to USR’s standard technical support phone lines, owners can use USR’s bulletin board to order the replacement chip. The chip sets will not work in any non-U.S. Robotics modems nor U.S. Robotics modems that are not already v.FC or v.34 class.
U.S. Robotics — 800/543-5844 — 708/982-5151 (tech support) —
708/933-552 (fax) — 708/982-5092 (BBS) —
<[email protected]> (use the subject line: IOD LIVE)
RAM Doubler 1.5.2 Patch — The last two issues of TidBITS – TidBITS-278 and TidBITS-279 – reported on Connectix’s new RAM Doubler 1.5.2 and 1.5.2a. (To recap, the RAM Doubler 1.5.2a Updater has a higher memory allocation, thus correcting troubles some people had with updating to version 1.5.2; if you successfully updated to version 1.5.2, you don’t need 1.5.2a.) If you recently downloaded either RAM Doubler updater, you may have noticed a RAM Doubler 1.5.2 patch. The patch is an extension, and it corrects a freezing problem that happens when you launch Symantec Project Manager 8.0 or 8.0.1 on a Power Macintosh running RAM Doubler 1.5.2. The patch does not correct any other problems. If you need the patch, here’s the URL: [TJE]
Lower Royalties for VR — In mid-May, Apple announced it was reducing the royalties it charges developers to publish material using QuickTime VR. The company waives royalties for non-commercial use of QuickTime VR, as well as for internal distribution within companies or educational institutions. Developers who wish to distribute QuickTime VR run-time software outside their organizations may do so with no royalty charge for fewer than 25,000 CD-ROM titles or 50,000 enhanced audio CDs. Above those quantities, Apple charges a royalty of $400 per 5,000 CD-ROM titles or $750 per 25,000 enhanced audio CDs. At the same time, the company has reduced the cost of the QuickTime VR Authoring Tools suite from $2,000 to $495 for the PAL and NTSC tools. (A bundle of both tools, plus MPW Pro, is $695.) Anyone who wishes to distribute Apple software must still execute a license agreement. The tools themselves are available from APDA at 800/282-2732. [MHA]
Reports are circulating on the nets and via "reputable" news sources that Windows 95 contains a "viral" feature called the Registration Wizard. This feature allegedly catalogs software and applications on a Windows 95 machine (and every system connected to it via a network), and then sends that information to Microsoft via Windows 95’s online registration system.
TidBITS is tired of hearing about this (we’re a Mac publication, folks!), so here’s the scoop. First, there’s nothing "viral" about the Registration Wizard – that word is just some dolt’s idea of sensational journalism. The Registration Wizard is an application that in no way propagates or spreads to other disks or machines.
Second, the Registration Wizard isn’t designed to sniff through your hard disk and find juicy letters or code snippets you may have written: it is designed as a technical support tool. Anyone who’s ever tried to help a Windows user over the phone knows why such a tool (and the system information it provides) would be useful. Microsoft Network – a separate beastie from the Registration Wizard, mind you – does upload information about the Windows 95 build and language installed (English, German, Dutch, etc.) so that users can take advantage of online updates without becoming a Certified MSN Upgrade Engineer. But remember, that’s a separate deal from the Registration Wizard.
Third, yes, the Registration Wizard can scan the system’s hard disk and compile information about the machine, including the installed software packages, but it does not look out onto any network the user might be connected to. To quote Russ Siegelman, General Manager of Microsoft Online Services, "this is done only with the user’s consent and is not required to complete the registration." The complete text of what the Registration Wizard sends is supposed to be available in the file \WINDOWS\REGINFO.TXT – and please don’t ask me to verify that.
If all this makes you nervous, just use the snail mail registration card – or better yet, buy a Mac. And – for our paranoid readers – don’t think other companies (Apple included) aren’t thinking about similar online system profiling and reporting. Remember, you may not know what AOL, eWorld, or your Web browser is doing behind your back. Oh, one last thing, no more mail about this, OK?
Actually AOL hasn’t bought everyone just yet, but at the rate they are acquiring companies, they’ll put even acquisition-hungry Symantec to shame. There have been a number of purchases, so sit down, catch your breath, and pay attention to the new list of AOL’s wholly-owned subsidiaries.
The first purchase in recent history was AOL’s acquisition of WAIS, Inc., the firm that spun off from Thinking Machines after the development of the WAIS (Wide Area Information Servers) technology. WAIS servers provide fast, full-text searching of massive databases and are widely used throughout the Internet as search engines. More recently, WAIS provided custom online services for publishers such as Encyclopedia Brittanica and Dow Jones. AOL paid for WAIS with 400,000 shares of AOL stock, which at the current price of about $37 per share works out to around $15 million. Not too shabby.
But wait, it gets better. Last week, AOL announced that it has purchased GNN (Global Network Navigator) from O’Reilly & Associates for $11 million ($9 million in stock, $2 million in cash). And then, since GNN doesn’t include any serious searching tools, AOL bought WebCrawler, one of the better Web full text search engines. Developed by Brian Pinkerton of the University of Washington, WebCrawler is used by more than 250,000 people each week, and it adds more than 2,000 new sites each month to its current 29,000 site index. AOL didn’t say how much they paid Brian for WebCrawler, but I hope he made out well.
Now, to look back, AOL has also purchased BookLink Technologies (makers of Internet client software for Windows) and NaviSoft, a company that’s coming out with some interesting tools for creating Web pages. And of course, AOL’s most important acquisition was ANS (Advanced Network & Services) in November of 1994, which has one of the largest and fastest public data networks (see TidBITS-254).
So let’s put this together. AOL has a heavy-duty network from ANS, and alliances with Sprint greatly supplement that connectivity. AOL has its own client software (and version 2.6 – with Web access provided by code from InterCon’s TCP/Connect II – is in testing; check the FTP URL below), and thanks to BookLink and NaviSoft, AOL has access to more code for both client applications and publishing programs. WAIS provides both server software and publishing deals.
There’s no question that AOL has a lot of content, much of which hasn’t been available on the Internet. I’m curious to see how, or if, AOL merges its content with GNN, since although AOL talks up GNN pretty heavily, I’m not a big fan. Nonetheless, content isn’t the issue for AOL right now – what’s important to them is attention, and that’s where GNN and WebCrawler stand to help.
Overall, I can’t think of any other company that’s in such a strong position to compete directly with the impending (and well-funded) juggernaut of Microsoft Network. Although financial dealings aren’t my strong point, I also wonder if AOL might be putting themselves in a weakened financial position through these acquisitions. Still, my bet is that in a few years it will be far more costly to assemble this sort of collection. As for how this will all shake out, only time will tell, being incapable of keeping a secret.
One minor peeve: With all this Internet activity, why hasn’t AOL put up a Web server with at least all of these press releases on it? Homilies about practicing what you preach come to mind.
TidBITS readers sent in a number of helpful or amusing comments in response to my "ReadMe Files? Read This!" article last week in TidBITS-279. The most common message concerned the file names given to ReadMe files. People pointed out that the Macintosh offers 31 characters for a file name and suggested that ReadMe files use those characters to take on meaningful names.
Wayne Morris <[email protected]> pointed out that the number of files that comes with a program can add to the confusion, "many software authors include several text files with their program: a ReadMe file, revision history, user’s manual, etc. Sometimes none of these files is called "ReadMe," making it difficult to find an "elevator statement" and other key information. Each file should be clearly named, and the number of text files should be kept to a minimum.
Wayne also had this to say, "Many software authors put the documentation into the program and/or use online help, and think they don’t need a separate ReadMe file. Think again! I might download a program simply because of the name – perhaps I’m looking for a utility for a certain task, and the name sounds promising. But once I’ve got it, I want to know what the program actually does before I run it. I’m even more reluctant to throw a new extension or control panel into my System Folder if there’s no ReadMe file."
A few readers focused on my complaint about read-only TeachText and SimpleText documents, which do not allow copy and paste so you cannot copy information (such as URLs or snail mail addresses) from them.
Steve Rothman pointed out, "Part of my job is creating ReadMe files for commercial software. I wanted to explain at least one valid reason for making the ReadMe files read-only. If you embed PICTs in the ReadMe, they often screw up the scrolling and screen display – unless the ReadMe is read-only. Fortunately, it’s easy to convert to read only and back via ResEdit or a thousand other utilities for changing type and creator [you’d change it from ttro to TEXT]."
Fabrizio Oddone <[email protected]> pointed out that Tex-Edit Plus [a $5 shareware utility] by Tom Bender can open read-only SimpleText documents and let you copy information out of them.
Fabrizio also noted:
Internet awareness is now easy to implement, thanks to Internet Config 1.1. In my opinion, a given application should implement four standard menus:
- Copy my/our email address
- Copy my/our WWW home page URL
- Send me/us email
- Show my/our WWW home page
1 and 2 might always be active, and 3 and 4 might work via Internet Config. I think these should be "standard-spelled" menus, becoming, as the Internet grows more and more widespread, as pervasive as Cut/Copy/Paste. [I could see menus being overkill in some applications, but such functionality could certainly live in the About box. -Adam]
And finally, <[email protected]> whose name (perhaps intentionally!) didn’t come through, contributed this advice to ReadMe authors, "I’d like to add that in my rread me experiences the one thing that sticks out is grammmmatical and speellling errors.’ I was al set to send in my money to a paritcular guy bu t his spellling errorz were so bAd athAT i figured no way mAn!!! So he go tno monsye get it??? anyeway when ou do yo read mne files check th espeleling."
Summing Up — So, in the end, if you write a ReadMe, try to follow these simple rules:
- Make it easy for readers to figure out what your product is called, what it does, who you are, and how to contact you. If appropriate, explain what the product costs and how to pay for it.
- Consider the pluses and minuses of a read-only TeachText or SimpleText file.
- Give the ReadMe file a meaningful name. If you include other informative files (such as a revision history or directions) consider whether or not it makes the most sense for them to be part of the ReadMe file. If you keep them separate, give them appropriate names.
- Make sure all of your files will be legible both onscreen and when printed. Keep in mind that screen size and font availability varies considerably from user to user.
- Run a spelling check. You could run a grammar check, but it’s probably faster and more effective to just read the file out loud to yourself (though I expect this advice won’t necessarily work for those trying to write a ReadMe file in a foreign language). If something sounds funny, fix it. You could also ask a friend to proofread the file.
[Dave Winer founded UserLand Software and in 1992, shipped Frontier, which he is in the process of releasing for free to the Internet (see TidBITS-279). Dave is also a columnist for HotWired, contributing essays like the one below. Check out Dave’s many and varied projects on the Web at:]
Bill & Microsoft — I missed the NBC TV documentary about Bill Gates on NBC last week, but I’m getting lots of email about it. The most interesting message came from Caryn Shalita <[email protected]>. She says, "It may be silly, but I like having products made by companies that don’t just fake a good vibe!"
Yeah! Caryn comes from Los Angeles; not Seattle or Silicon Valley. She’s an actress and webmaster and music nut.
And I have lots to say about this. Right on. I hear a lot of dissonant notes from Bill’s customers, which include some of his competitors. And Microsoft hasn’t been able to muster an acceptable response to any of the claims that have been rattling around the corridors in the groups-of-ten of DaveNet mailings.
I get a mixture of negative and positive vibes from Microsoft. For the second time I’ve had the accusatory finger pointed back at me. This time I was just the messenger, relaying a thoughtful flame, this time from a competitor – last time it was from a customer. I’ve seen Microsoft folks swarm all over a user and now a developer. It would be nice if they took us at face value. They could learn and grow. Be a better company. And deserve our support because their vibes could be seen as a positive thing, not a dangerous thing.
Yes, Microsoft is dangerous. But so is a lot of life. We may be outraged, but we have to be careful. They do have a right to exist. Bill is right, there were risks involved. I remember back when Windows 3.0 shipped, it wasn’t a slam-dunk. Should Microsoft be deprived of the harvest now? No way! It’s still not a slam-dunk. Read InfoWorld. Windows 95 is in trouble.
It’s Not Easy Being Bill — Dave Carlick <[email protected]> sends the Bill Gates Joke of the Week:
God calls Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates into his office and says, "The world will end in 30 days. Go back and tell your people." So, Boris Yeltsin goes to the Russian people and says, "I have bad news and I have worse news. The bad news is that we were wrong, there is a God. The worse news is that the world will end in 30 days." Bill Clinton goes on TV and tells the American people, "I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that the basic family values upon which we have based our lives on are right – there is a God. The bad news is that the world will end in 30 days." Bill Gates goes to his executive committee and says, "I have great news and I have fabulous news. The great news is that God thinks I’m important. The fabulous news is that we don’t have to ship Windows 95!"
It’s not easy being Bill. He’s the focal point of a lot of negative energy. I get a small taste of that every time one of my pieces appears in Wired or HotWired. Negative energy in my inbox, from people who are angry with their mothers or fathers or life in general, and decide to let me have it! It’s getting easier to push it back, and it makes me a better, stronger person to learn to let go of their pain. I’m not here to make these strangers happy.
Bill must get a mountain of negative energy. I glimpsed this back in an earlier round of email with Bill, a few months ago, when Word 6.0 for the Mac was The Big Problem. Bill said "I’m getting ten times more flames on this than anything else." Yes, Bill reads his email. And he’s affected by it. Good for him and good for Microsoft. It’s an amazing thing that he soaks up all that negative energy, processes it, and deals with it. It’s hard to make these things positive. Because sometimes people must think Bill is their mother, just as some people think I am! The numbers must be much higher for Bill.
But it goes the other way. Sometimes Microsoft people unleash their personal anger and direct it at the wrong place. I’ve seen it happen.
A Microsoft Story — At a party thrown by Microsoft at last year’s System Design Review (an annual assembly of the top developers from the leading software companies), I made the mistake of getting on the wrong bus.
I was supposed to be on the bus for other-company developers. Instead, by accident, I got on a bus for Microsoft employees. It was dark. I was quiet. I listened to the sounds of Microsoft internal people talking about the developers attending the conference.
Oh, the personal side of Microsoft – not a pretty sight! These people are not Bill Gates clones. Petty personal comments, disrespect, childish arrogance. It reminded me of the Apple of the 1980s, elitist and insulated. I felt ashamed to be at this conference. I thought it was a sign of respect from Microsoft to be included, and I’m sure it was – from the top of the company. They saw me as an important developer, even though there were no revenues at UserLand to support that belief. They believed in me, personally. And that was before DaveNet happened, my public presence was almost nil at the time. The respect came from the top of the company. From the troops I was just another hopeless bozo that was going to be crushed by the new Big Blue Machine of Redmond. I heard them saying that in the dark quiet of Microsoft’s corporate bus.
I realized then that Microsoft is just another company. They hire from the general talent pool created by the American education system and get young people who mistakenly believe that they have extra insight into the world just because they work at a successful company. You can see Bill fighting against this, reminding his troops over and over that the competition has to be taken seriously, to be respected, to be feared. They require energy, intelligence, and creativity to be dispensed with. You can’t just roll over them with mediocrity. But it must be a losing battle, even for a man of Gates’s intensity and intelligence. Microsoft, with 17,000 people, is less and less Gates, and more and more average. It has to be that way.
I believe Bill’s epitaph will be a slightly above-average company, as long as he is willing to be this intense. If he ever lets go, and lets Microsoft run itself, it will revert to the norm – an American company with all its weaknesses and self-serving agendas.
Why Companies? — All this leads me to the real question – why does Caryn expect great software to come from companies? What evidence is there that companies are the ideal organizational structure for creative, timely, and interesting software products? Is any other creative business structured this way? Can you imagine the Indigo Girls singing in three-piece suits? Making their bosses happy? And their boss’s boss? And on and on. Add enough CYA and you drown inspiration and good vibes in corporate agendas, petty egos, and ass-kissing. I’m not questioning the premise of Microsoft specifically; just the mistaken idea that software is vastly different from other forms of creativity. It isn’t.
It’s always frustrated to me to have my products evaluated based on the size of the company they come from. I’ve never met a company that could host my software without interfering. I’ve tried to compromise with the corporate model. But to hit the mark, I have to zig and zag, try out new ideas, learn and tweak, and go back and do it again. Most corporations have real problems with that approach. The Board of Directors wants detailed plans, head trips that predict exactly how a song will turn out. They want to see the numbers. I gave them the numbers they wanted, but they were lies. Eventually I had to divorce myself from the corporate scene. You can’t build software out of lies.
I’ve even seen software CEOs ask analysts to tell them what kinds of products they should make! What exactly is their contribution? Why be a software CEO if you don’t trust your own intuition to tell you what kinds of products to make? Most analysts don’t use the stuff. Same with CEOs.
Of course, Hollywood is no panacea. They have fat, sweaty, mindless executives posturing and pretending they understand what’s going on. Remember the Dogs Watching TV. But at least in L.A. they celebrate the individual – a movie makes a personal statement, not a corporate one. I’ve seen movies with fat, sweaty, mindless executives playing supporting roles to screenplay writers and actors who hate them. Who backed those movies? Cute!
Corporations may appear to be devoid of emotions. Actually they are emotional breweries, but they are in denial. "Dave, you’re being emotional again," I’ve heard it over and over. So what! My software comes from the heart. But the software industry wants to deny that. They want a sterile lab environment that spits out products that get four stars from PC Week Labs. Untouched by human hands. Good luck! That’s Bill’s game. You can’t win by zigging when he zigs. You have to zag to beat Gates. He must know that. When will you guys figure it out?
I see this unrealistic trust in the corporate system everywhere I go. John Doerr trusts Macromedia, but forgets Marc Canter, the genius who made Director happen. The world buys into Doerr’s deals because they think Marc is still there. He isn’t. No doubt Macromedia has smarts, but the blood of the company’s creativity flows through Marc’s veins, not Bud Colligan’s.
We Need Help — It’s time for minds to bend. Let people with talent and passion experiment with new ideas. Bet on people with track records, like the entertainment industry does, and accept the probability that you can’t pick the next Forrest Gump or Pulp Fiction. Sheryl Crow appeared to be washed up, so did Bonnie Raitt. Look who’s on top of the heap now!
We miss many dynamics in the software business. The venture capitalists are greedy, as I’ve said before. They trust people they can own. If you have an opinion, they don’t want to deal with you. But that’s not how you make money. Freedom of expression is the raw material from which great software is built. You can’t control that freedom or you lose it. You get what you pay for. Control the people and you get predictable, boring, bloated, late software.
Great passionate ideas make money. Lucky great passionate ideas make lots of money. To the money people, some advice: relax, spread it around, and hope you get lucky!
We need help here in Silicon Valley. We’re stuck playing the same old songs over and over. Head trips everywhere. Creative people need to be set free and given the resources they need, so products can be great and timely. Money is not the most precious thing. Passion and talent are. I don’t care if the money comes from Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates or John Doerr. We’ll know when the dam is ready to burst, a studio in Silicon Valley that really celebrated the individual creator would be a huge win.