World Renowned Entrepreneur, Distinguished Software
Architect/Designer/Developer, Noted Speaker, and Widely Acknowledged
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
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
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
There is a free public
experience platform is open to anyone that wants to experiment will
Here is the publicly
accessible address for this interview using Bill’s technologies.
Here is an RSS feed for
… and here’s the full XML
content for it should one want to present it on another site using
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
LapLink was an accident - originally it was intended to provide
a way to move documents easily between two competing desktop PC's
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
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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
. Or, I could host it as a secure
. Don't like RSS version 0.91? Here it is in
. I can also deliver it as an
, or a Microsoft Office
document, or a Microsoft Sharepoint
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?
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
*What specific new ways
of thinking about business will come from the planning and
implementation of Web services?
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.
*Please detail the top
traditional business models and the impact Web services will have on
each of these models.
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.
*What are the current
impediments to the planning and implementation of Web services
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.
*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?
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:
- persist and retrieve
content through Web services transactions;
- manage security and
- transform information
objects in any presentation model.
Q: What are the hottest
areas in IT?
A: In my view:
- search, discovery,
- just-in-time learning
Q: What are you top
recommended references and resources for business people and IT
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
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
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
Q: Describe your computer
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
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
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.
- I would look farther
and wider for people to work with that understand what disruption
- I would focus more on
(and invest heavily in) technologies and ideas that I have to cram
down people's throats - because that's the sign that you're really
on to something hot;
- I would send fewer
- I would spend more time
on architecture, and less on second-generation prototypes - there's
never time to do it right, but there's always time to do it again
- I would never make time
in my schedule for stupid people;
- I would work more while
- I would spend more time
focusing on the word "focus";
- I would spend more time
thinking about core competency;
- I would manage my
contacts list more diligently;
- I would purchase more
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
contact me with their thoughts, ideas and questions.