October 30, 1999

Getting a Head Start on Writing an Important New Category of Software

Review of Charles Ferguson, High Stakes, No Prisoners

by Michael Froomkin and Brad DeLong

Charles Ferguson has written a very honest book. That honesty is one chief reason to read it: he dishes the dirt on Netscape, Microsoft, his lawyers, his venture capitalists, and not least himself. But his very honesty gives the reader some critical distance--and gave us the tools to question how long the core conclusions of the book will continue to apply.

In 1993 Charles Ferguson--MIT-trained engineer, consultant, and high-tech industry analyst--had a brilliant idea: the world needed a visual development software tool to create online information systems. The tool had to be visually-oriented to be useful to the non-programmers who knew the information. Yet the tool had to be sophisticated to allow organizations to structure their data in useful ways. Ferguson sunk his then-life savings into his idea. He created his software corporation, Vermeer. With his partner, Randy Forgaard, he assembled a very good programming staff. He raised venture capital. He pursued the enterprise with monomania mixed with paranoia. And by the end of 1995 there was code that was more sophisticated than the code of potential competing programs like NaviPress, Netscape Composer, or PageMill, and that actually ran.

Ferguson and his startup jumpstarted an important part of how we interact with the Internet. Because of his idea, because he backed it to the hilt, and because others saw what he was doing and imitated him, we as a society got a nine-month head start on the development and diffusion of visual tools for Internet information systems design. This has enriched us all...

Posted by DeLong at October 30, 1999 03:06 PM | TrackBack

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