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TBTF for 1995-12-10: Punctuated equilibrium: Visual Basic vs. Java

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Sun, 10 Dec 1995 23:13:16 -0500

Bill Gates picks the right fight

Four months ago AOL, Compuserve, and Prodigy were worried about being overtaken by a bigger, faster dinosaur. What streaked by them on Thursday was a sabre-tooth cat. It never even glanced back at them, its eyes on the small, furry mammals far ahead now scurrying for cover.

After Microsoft unveiled its Internet strategy on Thursday the stock market dropped. It hasn't been doing that much lately. The drop was precipitated by the Internet stocks: Netscape lost 18% of its value by end-of-day Thursday, UUnet fell 9%, Spyglass 7.5%. The market was betting that Microsoft is going to gobble a good chunk of the Internet pie and that the small, new players will be among the losers.

Bill Gates picked exactly the right level of the standards fight to weigh into, in my opinion. The trial balloon that Microsoft floated at Internet World early last month -- leveraging Internet Explorer and NT servers by taking aim at HTML and HTTP with Blackbird -- had sunk quietly from sight. (See TBTF for 1995-11-03.) Perhaps Blackbird was just a feint all along, but I doubt it; I think it was the evolutionary dead end of a strategy that evolved years ago when the online networks were riding high, when fewer than a milllion people planetwide had heard of the Internet.

The word "Blackbird" did not pass Gates's lips during the press event on Thursday 12/7 as far as I can determine.

Instead of trying to battle his way uphill toward conquering an entrenched standard -- the infrastructure of the Web itself -- Gates has wisely conceded that ground and gone around it to attack the next hill: dynamic Web extensions.

It's Visual Basic versus Java from here on out.

A future version of the Internet Explorer browser will speak Visual Basic Script. This is new. Microsoft describes VBScript as a high-performance, cross-platform subset of VB that can be used to create animated, interactive Web content -- sounds like Java, no? It will speak OLE, allowing Web applications to link to hundreds or thousands of existing Windows programs and databases. And, like Sun, Microsoft will license VBScript freely to all vendors. No cost. (I believe Sun charges money but don't know the details.)

Oh, and Microsoft almost as an afterthought announced its plans to license Java from Sun. A future version of Internet Explorer will interpret Java applets and JavaScript. Gates slugged back a jolt of Java and to all appearances it affected him about as much as if he'd already downed a quart of amphetamines.

VB is the most widely used language environment in the world -- Microsoft claims 3 million developer users. Dozens of companies make a good living browsing in its underbrush, making and selling VB component parts as building blocks for application developers. The catalog of such components is an inch and a half thick.

Think of Java as the Muhajadhin and Visual Basic as the Red Army. Java has God on its side, daring and courage to burn, mountainous territory it knows perfectly. VB has three million men and helicopter gunships. Perhaps neither side can ultimately vanquish the other, but they can and will lay waste the countryside in the attempt. And in the end the Muhajadhin, being many, will probably fall to squabbling among themselves and turn their heavy weapons inward to bounce the rubble.

Schedules for the pieces of Microsoft's strategy are vague; one of their press releases talks of some components being available within 90 days and all within a year. I don't know how far along VBScript is (or if indeed work on it began on Thursday 12/7); JavaScript is clearly more nearly ready for prime time. But Java development environments barely even exist yet, while Visual Basic is robust and mature. The connection to OLE will prove compelling for many. And by licensing Java, however offhandedly, Microsoft has defused in advance much of the likely criticism of its heretofore uniform practice of spurning standards it does not own.

If you haven't yet read James Gleick's cautionary piece "The Microsoft Monopoly," published in the New York Times on 1995-11-05, please take the time to do so. It's posted at <http://www.around.com/microsoft.html>. Since the fall when Gleick was researching and writing the piece some of his worries are already receding (such as fear of a Microsoft push for hegemony in online banking); and the now real liklihood that Microsoft will be a dominant player on the Internet field wasn't on anyone's radar screen. Gates amazes me daily.

Microsoft's many announcements and initiatives from Internet Strategy Day are detailed at <http://www.microsoft.com/internet/>.


Followup: Indecency amendment protests planned

TBTF for 1996-12-06

Last week I noted a House conference committee vote to regulate "indecent" material on the Internet. It's hard to imagine that such a law if approved and signed by the President could survive court tests of constitutionality.

Now large-scale organized protests are being mounted. The magazine Wired is instigating what it's calling the Rally Against Censorship from Ground Zero of the Digital Revolution on Monday 12/11 (noon local time, South Park in San Francisco, 2nd / 3rd / Bryant / Brannon). The Electronic Freedom Foundation in concert with many other organizations is calling for a National Day of Protest on Tuesday 10/12. See any of these Web pages for details on the pending legislation and the coming protests.

Electronic Frontier Foundation <http://www.eff.org/> Center for Democracy and Technology <http://www.cdt.org/> Electronic Privacy Information Center <http://www.epic.org/> Wired Magazine <http://www.hotwired.com/special/indecent/> Voters Telecommunications Watch <http://www.vtw.org/>


Threads Scientology's war against the Net
See also TBTF for
1997-11-17, 1996-01-22, 1995-12-18, 12-10, 12-06, 08-21

Followup: Scientology loses two more

Scientologists have not had a good day in court for a while now. Last week I reported a loss in a California federal court in a case involving the ISP Netcom Two more adverse decisions were issued last week in Federal court in Virginia in a case against the Washington Post and others. The judge wrote, "Although the [Church] brought the complaint under traditional secular concepts of copyright and trade secret law, it has become clear that a much broader motivation prevailed -- the stifling of criticism and dissent of the religious practices of Scientology and the destruction of its opponents." The judge called this motivation "reprehensible." TBTF for 1995-08-21 has more background on this convoluted case.


Followup: credit where due

I was remiss in the last issue in not crediting the person who pointed me to the threads of evidence for list hijacking. Many thanks to Matthias Ulrich Neeracher <neeri at iis dot ee dot ethz dot ch>, who also authored the counter-Java jive in TBTF for 1995-11-29.

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Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.


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