CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, I.S.P.
World Renowned Entrepreneur, Distinguished Software Architect/Designer/Developer, Noted Speaker, and Widely Acknowledged Technology Expert
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, ISP, has an exclusive interview with Bill French, co-founder of MyST Technology Partners and Global Technologies Corporation, and a world-renowned, widely respected entrepreneur, software architect/designer/developer, speaker, and technology expert.
Bill authored or co-authored more than 36 software products sold to millions of customers worldwide, including some of the best award-winning software tools like dBRIEF, Multi-Edit’s Evolve, LapLink and QuickSite. dBRIEF, an editing environment for database programming, captured more than 80% market share before being acquired by Borland and together with Evolve has won the Database Advisors’ Readers Choice Awards for 9 consecutive years. Released in 1994, QuickSite, the first web-publishing system for small businesses utilizing database technology with site management capabilities, has achieved in excess of 800,000 installations. QuickSite has garnered a host of awards including IT Excellence and PCWeek Analysts’ Choice. With 16+ million customers, LapLink, created in 1985, a desktop-to-laptop information move utility, has won multiple awards for the last 15 years.
In the past, Bill’s roles have included Chief Architect for Starbase Corporation, Chief Architect for Site Technologies Inc., and Controller/VP Finance for Veldkamp’s Floral Corporation.
Bill is currently a regular contributor to IDG’s Information age with past regular articles featured in DBMS Magazine, Database Advisor, and Lotus Notes Advisor. Due to his internationally recognized expertise, he has lectured to software developers in more than 16 countries.
With an AS in Marketing and a BS in Business Administration, Bill has led a career of extraordinary successes.
Note: There is a free public experience platform is open to anyone that wants to experiment will Bill’s technologies.
Here is the publicly accessible address for this interview using Bill’s technologies.
Here is an RSS feed for it:
and here’s the full XML content for it should one want to present it on another site using XSLT:
Q: Thank you for taking time out to do this interview!
A: It's a pleasure to have this opportunity to express my ideas and talk about by background. Indeed, I learn something useful from every interview.
Q: How has your marketing and accounting background contributed to your career?
A: When I was young, I had no intention of going to college. I was on the professional Freestyle skiing tour making good money, but my dad suggested I study business. The only way he convinced me to engage in undergraduate studies was at a school high in the Colorado Rockies where I could teach skiing during the weekdays, study at night, and compete on the weekends. I went on to finish my studies at Colorado State University, but it was Colorado Mountain College that helped me understand there was more to life than skiing.
Accounting and marketing provided me with just the right balance of business acumen necessary to start my own consulting practice that involved software development. My interest in computing was purely an accident; I was the accountant for an ABC television affiliate that had some engineers that had built one of the first Heath H-80 (Z80) systems. The general manager of the television station assumed that my accounting skills were sufficient background to write accounting software, and so my software career was born.
Q: You have had incredible success with the software packages you have developed. What motivated you to produce each of these tools?
A: Oddly enough, laziness and accidents have played big roles in the development of many of my products. LapLink was an accident - originally it was intended to provide a way to move documents easily between two competing desktop PC's (the IBM PC, and the Victor 9000). My partner and I (Mark Robbins) were simply interested in making it possible to exchange data files via serial connection because the disk drives were incompatible. The Victor 9000 used a variable speed drive to compact data at 1.2mb per 5.25" floppy diskette. The IBM PC was capable of storing 320k per floppy, so there was no way to interchange the diskettes. The market for FireFile (the original name of the transfer toolkit) dried up when Victor Technologies filed for bankruptcy in the early 80's. FireFile collected dust for a few years until the first laptops appeared and I sent a letter to Mark Eppley at Traveling Software in the mid-80's.
dBRIEF (which was eventually sold to Borland in the early 90's) was built exclusively by me and for me. I was tired of typing dBASE commands and needed an easier way to create custom code faster and with greater accuracy; indeed, I was lazy. The editor of Data Based Advisor asked me one day how I was able to produce so much code and a few articles later, and the rest of the dBASE industry knew they wanted the same collection of macros. As an add-on product to both dBASE, Clipper, and FoxPro, we managed to garner an 85% market share in just a few years. I learned that most programmers were lazy as well and dBRIEF was born of both accident and laziness.
Q: What stories can you tell from your rich experiences?
A: There are lots of them, but one of the best was attempting to convince Grid Computer Corporation that FireFile (eventually renamed to LapLink) was the perfect complement to their laptop system. I recall one of their executives commenting, "We don't think anyone will ever want to move more than 360k of data between a desktop and laptop system." This thinking is right in line with the way most people think; even seemingly well-versed technologists in this era.
If I said that palm-sized pc's will soon sport storage systems capable of multi-terabyte repositories, most reactions would be negative. Many people would immediately seize upon the unlikely ability to manage that much data. It's coming though - in a few years we will wonder how we ever managed with iPAQ's less then 100gb's in size.
Q: Any funny stories?
A: Yes. I once presented to a group of IT professionals in China and at the time, I had assumed that everyone understood a fair bit of English. During a tour through many regions of Asia, I encountered only a few places that required interpreters, so I was expecting my Hong Kong audience to understand my opening remarks. I was perplexed to see that 100% of an audience of 500 developers responded with their hands raised when I asked "How many of you use NotePad to write your dBASE code?". 100% response seemed very unlikely. I then asked "How many of you use BRIEF and dBRIEF?". Again, 100% of the attendees indicated they did. So in an attempt to see if they were raising their hand because I was, I decided to ask "How many of you want to be a fire engine?". Once again, a 100% response. I quickly shifted to a graphics-oriented presentation and later found out that the audience was composed of software developers that had been bussed in from mainland China.
Q: What are the vision, mission, strategies, goals and values of your current companies?
A: At MyST Technology Partners, my partner Andy Seidl and I have created a mission based on a long-view vision - the idea that software architectures can (and should) outlive their intended objectives. Very few software developers consider their designs in terms of longevity. Andy and I are building a platform that can be relied upon to provide enough flexibility to solve IT problems this year as well as in 2005, 2007, and in 2009. In this regard, we believe that the MyST platform is capable of sustained disruption.
What makes MyST and MySmartChannels disruptive? At a glance, MySmartChannels looks like an ordinary content management tool, or perhaps a blog application with some unique design aspects. But it's quite a bit more than that, and I suspect it's a lot more than even I can comprehend. I believe that channel innovation will come from the pervasive availability of URL-friendly APIs that support unintended consequences. By exposing the collection, management, and output methods of channels via APIs or as XML and RSS feeds, MySmartChannels users are plugged into a network of content innovation. This is an innovation network where the potential outcomes are beyond the imagination of any individual participant. I think this is specifically why this platform is disruptive; we have spent the most amount of time on the most important disruption trigger - the architecture and making it extremely agile. In addition, this architecture is well positioned to solve problems that are far beyond today's intended objectives and quite possibly tomorrow's requirements.
Q: How will these evolve over time—two, five, and ten years?
A: Global Technologies will continue to serve as a place where ideas unfold, and MyST Technology Partners will most likely always be a place where ideas are implemented and monetized.
Q: What role will you play?
A: The benefit that I bring to these companies and our clients is simple; clear thinking about technology to produce high business value. I've been focused on issues such as productivity for most of my professional career and I plan to keep doing that.
Q: Describe in detail your current work.
A: Sure - the MyST platform is a very abstract space for solving many types of IT-related problems. It provides an abstract model for persisting associative meta-data. What differentiates MyST from any Web services enabled data store is the object model - it embraces topic-map concepts (XTM) through an association object that deepens the possibility of managing complex information sets as ontology rather than a rigid taxonomy. In so doing, we recognized the importance of business terms and conversations because information systems fundamentally lack a context for describing and organizing business content. The MyST platform embraces information objects as a collection of structured symbols (i.e., topics) in a sea of mostly unstructured business content (i.e., occurrences).
To demonstrate some of the benefits of such a platform, we decided to build MySmartChannels - a demo application built on the MyST platform.
MySmartChannels enables individuals and organizations to easily create and organize pools of information around the MyST Web services platform, providing a variety of features including, secure weblogging, intelligent searching, automatic Office XP smart tag generation, news feed generation, and much more. Users can publish and organize thoughts, ideas, and writings about any topic that's important to their areas of expertise. Colleagues, co-workers, and business partners can be invited to subscribe or collaborate on relevant topics.
Our platform elevates the role of knowledge-workers through an open and flexible environment for creating highly focused and accessible information about their specific work topics. This enables management and employees to recognize and naturally promote expertise within the organization. The objective - your company can grow in terms of business intellect, awareness of rapidly changing information, and the velocity with which informed decisions can be made.
All of this is possible, of course, with combinations of other technologies - the difference with our platform is the agility factor; the openness and flexibility of creating and purposing content for any need without fully understanding or comprehending future IT requirements. Here are a few examples:This interview content was created as a collection of discrete information objects in MySmartChannels. If I wanted, I could immediately share it as raw XML. Or, I could host it as a secure RSS feed. Don't like RSS version 0.91? Here it is in RSS 2.0. I can also deliver it as an ECHO feed, or a Microsoft Office Smart Tag document, or a Microsoft Sharepoint webpart component. The point - agility - the MyST platform provides a formidable array of architectural possibilities without any additional development.
Q: Any additional predictions about specific technologies, future trends, winners and losers; “killer apps?”
A:I have lots of ideas concerning future "killer apps", but one that I'm certain about is a phone call will continue to be the killer app for a cell phone. A wireless high-velocity verbal interchange is tough to beat. Seriously though, there are likely five additional killer apps that will be introduced in the next 15 years. I don't know specifically what they are, but I'm pretty certain significant innovative advances are about to leap forth.
Q: Web services are gaining a solid foothold and your international expertise in this area is considerable. How do you create a successful business model for Web services? What are the required steps, processes, and actions?
A: In my view, a Web services approach to a solution is an implementation detail. However, this detail can have a profound impact on the possibilities of generating revenue. There's no secret or proven method to creating a successful business model based on Web services because so few people have done it. It's synonymous with asking how you create a successful business model for Corba, ODBC, or dCOM, isn't it?
Q: What specific new ways of thinking about business will come from the planning and implementation of Web services?
A: That business processes must become loosely coupled. Web services architectures cause you to think about information systems in very disjointed ways. This naturally transforms your thinking about business processes that are supported by them. In many cases, you need to have rigid processes, but in others, agility may allow other (operationally efficient) processes to emerge that were never considered before.
Q: Please detail the top traditional business models and the impact Web services will have on each of these models.
A: For starters, I don't know what the top traditional business models are, but I do know that Web services have already started to impact areas where core competency decisions are key in building businesses. For example, our MyST platform is very good at a number of things, but extremely good at creating, managing, and hosting RSS feeds. Since our platform is based solely on a Web services model with a complete SOAP interface, we are in a unique position to provide core RSS competency to companies that need to integrate it seamlessly into their own products and services that can benefit from our RSS capabilities. Web services will allow highly focused technologies to flourish through relatively low-cost licenses.
Q: What are the current impediments to the planning and implementation of Web services today?
A: When Web services appeared on the scene, everyone thought they would be simple and cheap to deploy. They are far from cheap, and the security aspects alone cause them to be complex at times. One of the greatest impediments to rapid adoption is the viewpoints of developers in general; thinking about applications as loosely-coupled components is not an easy leap if you've been involved in traditional application development for a few decades.
Q: What steps are necessary, how would you plan, create and implement a long-term business model for Web services—one that will have a positive ROI?
A: The key to any long-term model for using Web services rests on the overall information architecture. This is why we created the MyST platform; a completely abstract place to build knowledge and content-related applications with Web services. The platform itself makes no assumptions about your requirements except that you must be able to:
Q: What are the hottest areas in IT?
A: In my view:
Q: What are you top recommended references and resources for business people and IT professionals?
A: Today - Google and newsreaders like NewsGator. Tomorrow - I really don't know. But even so, my answers are tempered with personalized needs that include certain Weblogs and other information sources that are important from time-to-time and depend on real-time awareness of what other people are thinking.
We have now entered a phase of the Internet where it's no longer important to pick specific information resources and peruse them periodically or manually. Rather - it makes more sense to rely on semantically tagged information to feast on a diet of information that's relevant and important based on your current project or focus. For example, I monitor about 75 RSS feeds that are frequently modified to tilt in favor of my present information needs.
The feeds I use are based on a wide variety of information sources including Waypath, Google, BlogLines, and Feedster. MyST also serves as a significant management tool in formulating my information diet because we've created a concept called channel gears. Gears make it possible to aggregate a channel with content items from many information sources at regular intervals. This allows me to essentially build my own personalized crawler. This is the future of information research and peppered with the process of harvesting the semantic web is the use of ad-hoc search processes that integrate with your own information space.
Q: Where do you see yourself in two, five, and ten years?
A: In two years I plan to be building the middle phase of the MyST platform (the "teen years"). By then, MyST will have reached a maturity stage where it will be the basis for a few dozen products and services through OEM relationships. In five years I'll still be deeply involved in MyST but it will be at a mature stage; a phase that will require lots of tools and planning for broader adoption; specifically in the area of finding information easily. In ten years, I suspect I'll be deeply involved in building something new - perhaps a product that has no user interface.
Q: Describe your computer setup?
A: It's rather simple – I develop applications on a Gateway 2.4gHz workstation with 1GB RAM, and a 120GB drive. This is the same system I use for all my business-related activities. I also have a dedicated T1 at my home in Keystone delivered wirelessly from a tower across the valley. I use a D-Link wireless router with BlueTooth support and also use various mobile devices around my home and office for development and productivity purposes.
Q: If you were to do it all over again?
A: I actually spent some time thinking about this exact question more than a year ago.
Q: Bill, with your outstanding career, we will continue to watch your future projects, writings, and successes with interest. Thank you for sharing your considerable knowledge and experiences with our audience.
A: It's truly a pleasure to think about questions like this because it provides a opportunity to reflect on the triggers of innovation. I encourage your audience to contact me with their thoughts, ideas and questions.