Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Tim O'Reilly continues his arguments, "that in each generation of technology, market power ultimately accretes to the players who are able to turn what they do into a platform that enables others, rather than just a standalone application." Reader and long time mainframe platform developer Mario Morino responds to this argument saying that openning up the platform API to greater partticipation not only provided a way for the platform to, "entrench itself through APIs that encouraged other development, it also created an enormous psychological advantage as it built a base of ardent followers who were not simply consumers, but active, contributing participants." I wanted to take this argument even further, applying the "particpation principle" to the battle between the participation by permission model driving Microsoft's XP Stack collaborative computing proposal, and, the open particpation model offered by the emerging Internet API, the Open STack. This argument requires a traipse through recent history: Permission based Participation Platform participation is an interesting insight Tim. Somehow this morning i stumbled my way from Jon's Radio commentary concerning RSS accelerated participation, to David Reed's GFN work, “That Sneaky Exponential—Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building”. Reed's Law simply states that; “Networks that support the construction of communicating groups create value that scales exponentially with network size”. Your work on applying the O'Reilly version of Reed's Law to information infrastructures and business processing systems, casts the entire issue of a platform API in a new light. Is the API participation deal a “participation by permission”, or is it a “participation by need and opportunity”? Reed's Law introduces another interesting concept, that of “potential participation” being a hidden accelerator of a platform's collaborative value. “The value of potential connectivity is the value of the set of optional transactions that are afforded by the system or network.” “Optional transactions”. “Potential Participation”. Humm. Applying that thought to your information platform arguments, one quickly realizes that the platform with the most open and permissive API would soon reflect the higher values hidden in the exponentials of “optional” participation. Unless of course there is some sort of marketplace distortion at work. Perhaps one where the platform with the greatest participation level, has also been shown to be one where the “options” of both opportunities and necessity are artificial. The truth being discovered after the fact of significant platform investment, that all the opportunities belong to a single platform vendor, or to those whom that vendor favors. A costly tragedy no doubt. But one from which the information systems markets will learn a new lesson. Emerging platforms will have to offer extreme levels of open transparency to lower the risk of future investments being lost through the deceptions possible with permission based API's. Call it Open Source. Call it Shared Source. Call it Community Source (the Java Community Process). Clearly there are new rules in the marketplace for information systems. Nothing is more transparent than open and unfettered access to the source code. Clearly it can also be said that the water of platforms markets has been poisoned. Perhaps forever. No proprietary vendor is likely to ever get the chance Microsoft had, to be entrusted by hardware systems manufacturers, application developers, and users, with such a critical part of the global information infrastructure. This is no longer about innovation, superior engineering, or technical brilliance. It's about the trust factor demanded by a platforms participation promise. No trust, no participation value proposition. The “options” factor in Reed's Law of participation fascinates me. Users, developers, and those who invest in systems development are all caught in the quest to have their cake and eat it too. The Windows platform has the greatest level of participation. But it also has highest “opportunity” risk factor, due to the least permisive API. The entire XP Stack - .NET framework is opaque. The platform is a dark uncertainty where any and all opportunities belong to the platform vendor. It's just a matter of if and when opportunities become profitable enough for the Emperor to seize them. And the Emperor is quite content to let others invest and grow a market category, knowing full well that when the opportunity is ripe, he can swoop in and seize it at will. The mere announcement that the Emperor is thinking about entering a market category is enough to decimate the competition and scatter their efforts to the wind. If the exponential value of a platform is based on “potential connectivity”, not actual, then we might say that the open source “API” alignment of the Internet, Linux, and the endless sprawl of Open Source Community application and middleware efforts would clearly have the highest “value” potential. The “potential connectivity” value of an open source platform having a transparency, trust and inclusive participation proposition that is without parallel. I also think there is near unanimous consensus that this is true. As the comments from Mario prove, systems providers have long known that the most “participatory” platform wins. And, the most permissive, transparent, inclusive, and openly accessible platform API's are at the core of the participation promise that will make or break any platform. I first became a Windows developer in 1989. We worked long and hard to convince users and developers alike that Windows was the platform of the future. Microsofties even provided us with the unverified and now highly suspect claim that 99% of all future applications development was taking place on Windows. We believed this crap and repeated it verbatim precisely because we knew that if Windows didn't reach a critical mass of participation, our efforts and investments were for naught. We were greedy. We deceived. It worked. Then we were unceremoniously hoist on our own petard by our trusted benefactor. The key factors for me then were that of a 32 bit GUI interface riding the open market innovation wave of commoditized hardware. What Chairman Bill promised early Windows developers was three fold. Microsoft would provide an open hardware reference platform that would feed the innovative frenzy of hardware component makers, even as commoditization drove the prices of pc systems ever downward. Chairman Bill assured the nascent Windows developer community that Windows would ship on every DOS machine, whether users ordered it or not. It was up to developers to take it from there, convincing users to load and learn Windows in order to reap the developers application benefits. The first two parts of the Microsoft promise to developers, mass distribution and falling systems costs, were faithfully carried out. Windows did a magnificent job of also reducing the complexities of application programming and systems configuration. Chairman Bill promised a simplification of the hardware reference (drivers), while expanding the hardware options. Beautifully done! The third part of Chairman Bill's promise was that the Windows API (Win32) would be open and equally accessible to all developers. Uh oh. This third part of the “participatory” deal was critical to developers and their investors. Recall that Apple, with the MacIntosh, had at the time a proven GUI with a comparatively open API, but a closed hardware reference. Since Apple was a hardware maker and systems configurator themselves, they missed the entire sweep of component innovation and commoditization that Microsoft seized upon and so artfully exploited. The Windows participation deal rested upon the potential value of the Windows platform reaching critical mass with the enormous market place of then, non computing users. Microsoft presented a compelling plan to developers to reach that critical mass. A plan where everyone would benefit through exploding opportunities. The open API part of the participation deal was so important that Chairman Bill had to personally assure and promise developers that there was a “Chinese Wall” between the Windows OS division, and the Microsoft Applications and Developer Tools divisions. The playing field had to be level if Windows were to get the critical developer (and investor) buy in they needed to become the dominant user interface to information systems platform. The whole “Chinese Wall” scam came crashing down with Andrew Schulman's publication, “Undocumented Windows: A Programmers Guide to Reserved Microsoft Windows Api Functions” Andrew's disclosure that the playing field was not level, that there was no “Chinese Wall”, hit the developer community hard. The risk of investing in Windows platform opportunities went from that of competing on a level playing field where the best effort wins, to one where no matter what you do, any and all opportunities belonged to Microsoft. It was just a matter of if and when categories of opportunity became profitable enough for the Emperor to seize them. And everyone soon came to realize that the Emperor could seize opportunities with the mere announcement that they intended to enter a category. The original participation deal had been so compromised by these disclosures that investors soon realized that, as their Windows opportunities investment risk went vertical, Microsoft had near zero risk for entering any category on the Windows platform, nascent or mature. And knowing the certainty of successful opportunity seizure, the Emperor could well afford to encourage and even pour on the support for competitors venturing to grow a new Windows platform market category. Within a year of Andrew's publication, and in the wake of the Netscape IPO, the Win32 API lemmings were rushing to the Internet. The Internet, an extraordinary platform of universal connectivity and exchange. But hardly the alternative computation platform these developers were looking for. Still, the promise of massive participation, on a global level no less, sent them swarming to the web. The threshold of participation was now within the grasp of near anyone with access to a phone line. If Netscape could break the Redmond lock on the Win32 API, by riding over it to create a new collaborative computing environment outside Microsoft's control, the carefully guarded gateway to the great mass of Win32 users might be breached. Open opportunities could be had at a much lower risk. The web participation potential was off the scale. There is no doubt in my mind that half the problem Netscape faced was fear within the developer and investment community that we would be deposing one dictator in favor of another. A possibility Microsoft was always quick to point out. Many with a heavily vested interest in the Win32 ecolopoly, both developers and users, joined the chorus. Their fear of a ruthless and ever hungry Microsoft being offset by the very real possibility that the participation value of the platform they were vested in would be seriously diminished if developers and users fled to a Netscape API. IMHO, i really do think the Win32 ecolopoly would welcome with open arms a non corporate, Internet API. As long as they could continue to eke value out of their Win32 investments, while also being able to make that transition to next generation collaborative computing, i would think the ecolopoly would welcome an XP Stack alternative. Significantly though, regarding platforms, the “corporate” waters have been poisoned, and it happened long before the anti trust trial. In crushing Netscape and trying to destroy Java, Microsoft also destroyed the essence of the Windows platform participation value equation. The only hope they have is in keeping the Win32 ecolopoly chained to the migration towards their next generation platform offering. A very tricky proposition, as they must also make the difficult transition from a pc-centric model to a collaborative-centric computing model. One has to admire the sweeping completeness of the XP Stack - .NET platform proposition. Even though it shamelessly pushes to unprecedented levels the tying, bolting, and screwing into the XP Stack every key collaborative connectivity aspect, the platform is beautifully designed to ring in that next generation of collaborative computing, the Fourth Wave. It would seem to me though that beautiful designs of sweeping well architected and integrated systems are not enough. A platform must challenge all comers on the basis of the participatory connectivity value proposition. Reed's Law insists that it is no longer enough to just connect to the network. The value of simple connectivity is near nothing compared to that of collaborative connectivity. The Fourth Wave is one where the collaboration is not just between workgroups and communities of users and developers. The collaboration must also include the many shapes and sizes of information machines those knowledge workers need to make sense of digital global participation. Few can continue to ignore or doubt the impact of the rapidly expanding galaxies of Open Source Community efforts now roiling across the universal carrier grid, the Internet. These communities live by and write to emerging Internet API's. Owned by no one. Shared by all. ~ge~ community representative serving on the OASIS Open Office XML TC, and, the OASIS UBL TC That Sneaky Exponential—Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building”. The whole “Chinese Wall” scam came crashing down with Andrew Schulman's publication, “Undocumented Windows: A Programmers Guide to Reserved Microsoft Windows Api Functions” Fourth Wave