Abstraction leads to profits
Posted by David Chandler on October 1, 2005
I found an interesting quote in an interview with Microsoft great (and very rich man) Charles Simonyi. Speaking of his early days at Microsoft writing their first spreadsheet program, Multiplan, (which was subsequently wiped out by Lotus 1-2-3), he says:
We were competing very effectively against Visicalc using a strategy that is very much like Java today; it was a platform independent, interpretive, bytecoded system, that enabled us at one point to run on 100 different platforms, so we could fund the international organization and get acquainted with localization problems, and all those things.
Abstraction and the reusability it enables is a powerful support of profitability. Object-oriented programming was a step up in abstraction, followed by patterns, and in a related vein, components. What’s next?
According to Simonyi, Intentional Programming, which is yet another step up in abstraction that lets you specify the INTENT of algorithms and relationships in a language-independent, platform-independent way. It will be very, very interesting to see what happens next.
However, the failure of Multiplan may also provide a warning to purveyors of Intentional Programming. Simonyi continues:
Actually, Multiplan, our spreadsheet, remained very popular in Europe, for much longer than in the States. What happened in the States was that Lotus 1-2-3, wiped us out. So that was kind of difficult, but it was our fault. We were betting on the wrong horse — the mixed market with a variety of systems, instead of the right horse, which happened to be also ourselves, namely MS-DOS.
Microsoft, having learned its lesson early, seems to have never repeated the “mistake” of pursuing a multi-platform strategy. Perhaps the apparent conflict of interest between Intentional Programming and the Microsoft cash cow is why we haven’t see it yet. Can Sun beat Microsoft to the punch on this one?