Interview with Ray Ozzie, inventor of Notes.

Rohit Khare (
Wed, 3 Apr 96 22:46:05 -0500


> INFOWORLD: So is Netscape on the right track? Where does
> their strength lie?
> OZZIE: Netscape's strength is in their brand, not
> necessarily in their code. Their code is very, very
> architecturally unsophisticated. Notes has had the luxury
> of being grown over many years, not created very quickly
> in a highly competitive environment. Very quickly putting
> together that much complexity into one program takes its
> toll, and Netscape already shows it. If you look at
> Netscape Gold and Navigator 2.0, it does not have the
> level of integration that it should.
> Microsoft's feels much better to me than Netscape's does,
> from a consistency standpoint. The way that Netscape puts
> the browser in one window, mail in another window, news
> in another window, their editor in another window -- it's
> very haphazardly put together. And the Collabra stuff,
> from all indications, is just going to be basically thrown
> in there, too.
> It's all about managing complexity. Once they get to a
> level, like Notes, with the number of features in that
> product -- trying to manage the complexity to the user
> is very tough. That's why we always put mail in with the
> same kind of design features as other databases, so the
> user only has to learn a couple things. And it's highly
> leveraged -- they can use many different types of
> applications with a little bit of knowledge. When you
> start throwing things in -- creating a very powerful
> browser, or any kind of a program, through add-ins and
> quick integration, you very much risk boggling the user.
> I think Netscape is making a big mistake, and
> unfortunately they can't correct it, because they've got
> to compete with people like us and like Microsoft in very
> small amounts of time. Microsoft had exactly the same
> problem with Exchange, and arguably that's why they didn't
> succeed. They had a mission to kill Notes -- that was
> their directive. They started with a messaging directive,
> but then their directive was modified to "Go after Notes."
> Notes is not the kind of product you can go after by
> throwing people at it. You can't just say, "Go build it,"
> because whenever you have too many people, the code
> develops seams where the people interact. And from the
> user's standpoint you start to see those seams, and when
> you try to manage the system you see those seams.
> Microsoft had 300 programmers on Exchange, from what I've
> heard. We did most of Notes with a dozen.


> INFOWORLD: How impressed are you with what you know about
> Exchange?
> OZZIE: They're good, smart people. They produced a good
> messaging product. It's very competitive -- we'll go
> head-to-head, and we'll win some and they'll win some.
> Exchange is not an application development environment.
> They really tried to make it one, but they did not execute
> well in that space.
> From a messaging standpoint, it's a good system. It's
> not in any dimension twice as good as Notes, and Notes
> in any dimension is not twice as good as Exchange. From
> a user interface standpoint I think we're far superior,
> but that would be up to the customer to judge.


> INFOWORLD: In an interview with me last month, Netscape
> Chairman Jim Clark argued that Notes is still too
> proprietary -- he cited specifications related to security
> and databases, and he contrasted that with what he's
> doing with Collabra [Software Inc.]. He says that if you
> truly want to be competitive with Internet-related
> alternatives, you have to completely open up all of those
> specifications. Does he have a point?
> OZZIE: Think about the customer for a moment, instead of
> the competitive nature of the industry. Clearly the best
> thing for the customer is no lock-in, so they can put
> their information in an object store and make sure they
> can get it out in an open format, and not have it locked
> in a proprietary format. From that standpoint, absolutely,
> there's no question that the way of getting data in and
> out should be open.
> And it's very easy -- I will argue, extremely easy --
> because the open formats that are out there right now
> are very trivial compared to the robustness of what's in
> Notes. It's very easy for us to expose our tools to
> nonproprietary data formats. However, you have to
> implement a product internally based on proprietary
> things, otherwise it wouldn't be that product.
> For example, Oracle [Corp.] has its own on-disk
> structures, even though you get data in and out through
> SQL. The data structures are proprietary. Similarly in
> Netscape -- the way they store stuff is proprietary.
> There is a gray line between what should be and what
> shouldn't be [open]. The thing we do is we look at it
> from the customer's standpoint, and provide the tools
> and the APIs to get in and out.