Back in 1988, Dave Winer founded UserLand Software to sell a product called Frontier. It was a dynamic scripting system for the Mac. It was a bit odd; Dave was also the author of MORE, an outliner, and Frontier treated source code something like an outliner and something like a database. It was supposed to be quite good, but as of 1992 he wanted $250 for it, and if you were outside the US the price was jacked up by another 90%. So, I never bought it.

Then Apple introduced AppleScript. It did most of the important things Frontier did, and was free on every Mac. Dave Winer was furious. How dare Apple including a scripting language as part of the OS? Yes, they had added all the hooks to the OS, and he had used them for Frontier, but how had he been supposed to guess they were intending to use those hooks themselves? Sure, they were documented publically, but how dare Apple call them an “Open Scripting Architecture” when Dave wasn’t asked to help design them?

The rants have gone down in legend. The Mac was doomed now that Windows 95 had shipped. Apple’s best bet was to license Windows NT and make the Mac a graphical shell for it. Dave had spoken.

It was pretty clear that what Dave really wanted was for Apple to worship him. Of course, the nice gentlemen in Redmond were only too keen to invite Dave round for a chat about their plans and make him feel loved.

So before long, Dave was a Windows developer, had ported his software to run on PCs, and was eagerly drinking the .NET Kool-Aid.

Meanwhile, he had found a new niche for Frontier, as the basis of Manila, a content publishing system for the web. He started giving Frontier away for free, and gave away Manila free too.

Then after a year or two turned around and began charging everyone $899 a year for it. Not for upgrades, just for a license to use it. It must have seemed like a great business plan back in those dot com bubble days:

  1. Give away software for free.
  2. Once thousands of people are using it, tell them they have to pay you $899 a year to keep using it.
  3. Profit!

Of course, it didn’t quite work. And as the famous saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Before long Dave Winer was universally acclaimed by Dave Winer as the inventor of weblogs. He started, running on Manila. The plan was to give people free blogging space in the hope that they would like it enough to purchase his rather expensive software subscriptions.

Needless to say, they didn’t. And after a while, UserLand Software decided they were tired of wasting money on the exercise, particularly since Dave had officially left the company. Of course, he still owns the company, and is a multi-millionaire… but those are minor details.

Dave reportedly tried to transfer the blogs to a new server in Cambridge, MA. However, it was time for his chickens to come home to roost–his software is all Windows-based, and when he loaded it onto the new server and tried it out, the system thrashed itself to death. To get scalability for a mere 3,000 users he would have had to buy an entire server farm of Microsoft systems. That was too much like work, so Dave pulled the plug. Without notice. 3,000 weblogs vanished overnight. He recorded a heartfelt audio goodbye, and hosted it at Harvard University’s expense.

But hey, he’s a reasonable guy. He says he will provide people with their data some time in July, if they ask nicely. Not sure why it’ll take him until July to offer backups by request only, given that his software has overnight backup as a standard feature, but hey, I’m sure he has a good reason, just like he has a good reason for not even offering a redirect from the domain to the users’ new URLs. (He says his DNS server can’t handle 3000 hostnames. I guess he runs his DNS on Windows too.)

So anyway, my point is: when’s the last time you backed up your LiveJournal?

Update 2004-06-19

Dave Winer relented after people offered their hardware and bandwidth. Users will now have until September to sort out commercial hosting, and will get a redirect. Of course, there’s still the problem of either paying for commercial Manila hosting, or getting your data out of Manila somehow…

Update 2004-09-01

[LiveJournal][14] disabled my account. Yes, I had backed everything up.