I wonder if it’s time to adopt a variation of Gandhi’s famous formulation: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. It goes something like “First they ignore you, then they keep on ignoring you but you win anyway”. One nice thing about the new formulation is you get to skip the whole fighting part. I think Gandhi would approve.
On March 7, in his talk at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, Ray Ozzie, CTO Microsoft, demonstrated (short screencasts, live demo page) a method by which users can cut/copy/paste structured content between web applications and between web applications and Windows ones. Alert lesscode readers will notice that Ray’s blog post describing his inspiration and motivation for the idea bears a striking resemblance to my own post from last October. A deeper look at the screencasts, the live demo and the technical introduction remove any doubt that what Ray demonstrated, and in fact what Microsoft is offering under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license (you heard me right) is in fact the Web Application Clipboard as described in that original lesscode post and followup.
This is in no way meant to diminish the Microsoft folks’ brilliant implementation. The portable trick used to actually hook the browser’s built-in cut/copy/paste functionality is inspired. The design tradeoff resulting in a visible representation (scissors icon) of every clipboard-capable element is all their own, and quite frankly, is probably a necessary tradeoff if the Web Application Clipboard is to actually get traction. There’s a more technical analysis posted on my personal blog, but the executive summary is:
Live Clipboard (Microsoft’s name for Web Application Clipboard) is awesome and I believe sites will adopt it. I wish the name weren’t “infected” with the Windows Live brand but that won’t matter a whole lot so long as the specification is good and open. Right now though I can’t find any specification at all but I’m keeping hope alive on that front anyway (you listening Gandhi? MLK?)
What I find more interesting than that technical stuff though is the amount of mindshare this thing got “all of a sudden”. First off, note that Ray’s March 7 blog post on this subject comprises the only thing he’s blogged since the end of January. A whole month of the Microsoft CTO’s time — how many dog-years is that? Now realize that the good guys over at the Gillmor Gang podcast spent a full 48 minutes on this single topic on March 16 (Ozzie Gang I, Ozzie Gang II), most of which was spent interviewing Ray Ozzie himself. They were downright effusive. From Ozzie Gang II:
Mike Arrington, 4:45
Does this signify any sort of shift organization where people in microsoft who have ideas that can help the Web… that they can also get things through the politics and through the system fast enough so it doesn’t take and years?
John Udell, 17:52
Ray this is great. I just personally want to thank you for doing it. I think it’s a tremendous step.
Steve Gillmor, 17:57
Yeah, and I think that everybody is knocked out that somebody with your intuition is in such a powerful position at Microsoft. You know, bringing Microsoft into the community has been very difficult to do and you seem to be doing it.
Dan Farber, 18:31
I think as everybody on this call has said, we’re quite impressed with this very simple little notion that seems to be well executed and that it comes from Microsoft now really injecting itself into the big old Web community. It’s cool!
Dan Farber, 19:13
If you go to the desktop and you consider cut and paste, copy and paste, you know it’s everywhere… to be able to do that on the web… it’s like a big gift — it’s a contribution to the Web.
Mike Arrington, 22:18
I think the big story here is that we’re starting to see with Ray’s leadership that Microsoft is able to do things that seem selfless and simply good for their own sake and SSE is one example and (Live Clipboard) is another stunning example…
Steve Gillmor, 24:05
I think that Microsoft may well be on the threshold, whether they fully realize it or not at all levels of the organization, of winning by accepting a part in the community, and I think that’s a huge story.
Strange and wonderful times indeed.