Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Demystifying Frontier

Author:Dave Winer
Posted:4/21/1999; 6:45:11 AM
Topic:Demystifying Frontier
Msg #:5152
Prev/Next:5151 / 5153

In his Tidbits piece, Matt says many things that are true, but some of his points about the history of Frontier could use some clarification or at least respectful rebuttal. I decided to wait until I got back from vacation, even though I saw it when I was on the road.

Yesterday when I was reading my accumulated email (lots of it!) I saw a posting from Matt saying that the word "grunt" wasn't one he uses, apparently it was added by one of his editors at Tidbits. This provides the perfect introduction to another motivation of Frontier's relatively new (five-year old) role as a web content management system. Here's the message I posted early this morning to the Script Meridian Community list.


Matt, I read your posting on the Script Meridian community list and thanks for the explanation, I was frustrated by the "grunt" comment, because I wrote the Frontier 6 press release, and I don't think they're buzzwords, I think there are lots of important new features in Frontier 6, and rather than turn the press release into a tutorial, I just listed them and pointed to the website where they were explained.

But your posting provides an ironic and perfect explanation of why Frontier is going where it has been going. There's a bit of history that you haven't included in your analysis of Frontier, and since you raised the history as an issue, it's relevant.

There was an important change in 1993. I quit. I quit UserLand, and I quit trying to be in the Mac system scripting business. We lost. Congrats to Apple, they beat us. The better man won. Over. Behind us.

In the summer of 1994, looking for something interesting to do, up pops the web. By accident I became a writer. I took a job at Wired, the hottest pub at the time. I loved it and at the same time I hated it. Why? Because they edited my pieces, and changed what I said. I was in the odd position, several times, of wanting to write rebuttals to pieces that had MY NAME on them! Something's wrong here.

"Everyone needs an editor," my editors at Wired said to me. "You have to learn this," they said. After devising tricks that made it impossible for them to edit me (playing with lead times) a new editor read me the riot act. "You will submit your pieces on deadline or you won't get paid." I quit and started my own website, because to me, writing is precious. I choose my words carefully, a casual substitution of words can sometimes completely change the meaning. And sometimes they were that casual, as it appears your editors were.

Anyway, as of 1994 there was a new direction. Tools to enable web writers, to tap the editorless writing medium, the one where the writer can own the printing press, the medium that does to the power structure of the writing industry what Amazon did to the book reselling industry. I spent a couple of years exploring tools to write for the web. First the SF strike paper, then AutoWeb, then Clay Basket, and finally I realized that all the front ends were just masking where all the real work was being done, in the combination object database and scripting environment, Frontier.

If you look at the competitive landscape in publishing software, you'll see that they're all built around scripting. From DreamWeaver to Vignette, customization is key, and where customization is important, scripting is central. I think the work we did in system scripting in the early 90s was a necessary warmup for the development of inexpensive web publishing systems in the late 90s and early 2000s. The more powerful the scripting, the more useful it is as a publishing system. People who complain about the price of Frontier are missing an important point, it's much much cheaper than the systems it replaces. For $900 you can replace a whole infrastructure of people, and at the same time, get ideas out to the world that aren't watered down, pre-digested, dumbed-down and neutered. This is why I got back into the software business in 1994, not to try to defeat Apple. The web, thankfully, made individual OSes much less important. The Net is our OS now, the platform without a platform vendor. The lesson gets relearned by people who need to relearn it. The failure of Netscape is a good example. Our reliance on Microsoft. The Net will eventually erase these aberrations. Eventually we will give up our hope that any individual company will act in our interest. They won't, that's not how companies work.

I think all this has to be factored into any historical explanation of Frontier's evolution, because it accurately represents an unedited process, that I, the architect and visionary of this software, went thru to get where we are.

In the future, I'd like to read unedited versions of Matt Neuburg's writing, not Adam's or Tanya's (or some grunt's) version of what they think I should think is what Matt has to say. No, it's not true that everyone needs to be edited. Some people are good writers without editors, and reading something that has one person's name on it but actually represents a community "mind" is very confusing, a confusion that I have just experienced and one that I don't like.

BTW, vacations are great. I highly recommend them! ;->

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