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The Web Way and Other Daoist Thoughts

About 2,300 years ago, legend tells us, a man of the name Laozi wrote a philosophical text called Dao-De-Jing (the Classic of the Way and its Power). The man, it is said, practiced the "Way." This "Way" describes nature, not according to what it is, but by using paradoxes and describing what nature is not.

This article first apeared on the Aestiva Web Site about ten years ago; way before Android, iPhones, iPads, and the rise of Apple and Google. This article is still relevant.

The value of a cup, for example, is the emptiness within it. To advance, one must move backwards. The "Way" empowers us by favoring simplicity over complexity. By saying less is more.

Daoist thinking is a lot of fun, and at the very least, thought provoking. Here's a sample poem from the Dao-De-Jing:

The Dao is forever undefined.
Small though it is in the unformed state, it cannot be grasped.
If kings and lords could harness it, ten thousand
things would come together and gentle rain fall.
Men would need no more instruction and all
things would take their course.

Once the whole is divided, the parts need names.
There are already enough names.
One must know when to stop.
Knowing when to stop averts trouble.
Dao in the world is like a river flowing home to the sea.

The Dao-De-Jing is a collection of 81 poems. This is verse #32.

These Daoist concepts are not confined to the east. Daoist thinking dominates western science. Physics, for example, reduces nature to fundamental laws, like those formulated by Newton and Einstein. Chemistry explains nature through the Periodic Table. Indeed, the Daoist quest for simplicity makes good engineering. Which is better, the electronics product with one-thousand components, or the one with a few? The advent of the World-Wide-Web is a contemporary example of the Dao at work.

The Web and the Dao
The Web began in the 1990s, at the tail end of the PC computing era. At that time, if you wanted a PC software product, such as a word processor or a spreadsheet, you could still select from hundreds of small companies. If you wanted to build a program, you found a programmer and built one. Software stores dotted every town. But the PC era was ending. The professionals convinced the world that software had to be complicated. That we needed their expert advice. The grass roots in the industry collapsed leaving a few large companies in charge.

It was during this era the Web was born. Suddenly computing could be explained with a dozen symbols. They called it HTML or Hypertext Markup Language. In true Daoist tradition, HTML empowered those who embraced it. It was real. It was simple. You didn't need to be an expert.

Unlike its predecessors in the PC era, this was computing that could communicate and do things. It made a mockery of the PC industry because it could do so much, with so little, and anyone who wanted could learn it.

The Web uncovered a major flaw in the PC industry. The industry had (and still has) a love affair with complexity. Unlike the Web, the PC industry wins when we lose. When viruses hit the PC computing world, the industry makes billions as people rush around buying products and software upgrades to solve their problems. When software programs have compatibility problems the industry makes billions as companies upgrade their systems. The PC industry rewards those who cause pain.

The Web industry, on the other hand, thrives on compatibility, communication, and universal computing. It doesn't reward those who cause pain. It rewards those who introduce new and exciting products and services.

The Web Way
The World-Wide-Web sidestepped the PC world by redefining the center of computing. Web computing does not revolve around hardware operating systems. To do so, experience showed us, leads to enslavement by the masters of the PC world.

Instead, Web computing revolves around simple text documents containing special HTML tags. The Web, at its very core, is nothing more than programs written in any language, using any operating system, on any hardware, that pass these documents to browsers, where they are viewed.

The simplicity and universal nature of the Web has proven resilient to attempts by the PC industry to infect it. Even in the face of dot-com failures and the demise of Java and Netscape, it grows and flourishes. It is controlled by nobody, so it cannot be controlled. It seeks nothing, so it cannot be destroyed. It is in no one place, so it is everywhere. These are very Daoist ideas.

Every business uses the Web, even if only a little. It has spread to the software world too where it's fast becoming better to use Web software than PC software (see Which is Better, PC or Web Software?). Soon, most business software will be Web-based. The PC industry's technological elite has spent billions of dollars trying to dominate, control, and change the Web. And yet, the Web grows and grows and grows. It is much like the Dao itself. These lines taken from verse #32 (shown at the top of this article) could easily pertain to the Web.

The Dao (The Web) is forever undefined.
Small though it is in the unformed state, it cannot be grasped.
Those who try to dominate it are destined to fail.

Aestiva and the Dao

At Aestiva, our commitment to the Web and its Daoist roots inspires us. In true Daoist fashion, we favor the simple over the complex. Or as the verse #32 also says:

Once the whole is divided, the parts need names.
There are already enough names.
One must know when to stop.
Knowing when to stop averts trouble.

Our staff avoids PC technologies. We do not use Microsoft Office. We do not use Microsoft email products. Most of our equipment uses Linux with Open Office. To host our web site and company applications we use outside hosting services. Aestiva's customer support staff, Web site, Web site chat, knowledge bases, order processing systems, company email, marketing software tools and administration utilities are all 100% browser-based. Our product developers use HTML/OS, a 100% browser-based database development environment (that Aestiva also sells). Other than some PC graphics and desktop publishing programs, all software at Aestiva is browser-based.

Has this empowered Aestiva? Well, you decide. We don't suffer virus attacks. Our PCs rarely crash. Our on-line systems serve thousands of customers, as well as all our employees. And we do it with no IT department.

At the same time, Aestiva rolls out software products that require most companies five to ten times the development staff. Our products compete successfully against products from great companies like Oracle, SAP, and J.D. Edwards.

At Aestiva, you won't find people at PC upgrade coordination meetings. You won't find us setting up anti-virus servers in an endless quest to solve PC problems. You won't find us concerned about whether a workstation is a PC, Unix, or a Macintosh. You won't find our developers wasting time learning PC languages.

At Aestiva we've said enough-is-enough to the fantasy world of PCs where time, work, and money is allocated one-hundred parts "technology" to every part "solution." Our pure-Web approach has given us huge success and delivered even greater rewards for our customers.

Thousands of companies, representing millions of people, are benefiting from the simplicity of purpose and low overhead of Aestiva's software products. Young organizations are using Aestiva products because they know they can build and deploy entire business infrastructures for less than the first-year cost of one employee. Older organizations are using Aestiva products because they know they can grow and expand with Web technology where PC technology would create wasteful IT growth.

Millions more people are benefiting from Web-based products from other companies.

This is great news for the computing world. It gives us hope that change and progress is alive and well.

The Web is growing as the world slowly sheds its PC-based technologies. Already, most organizations have moved their marketing and sales materials to the Web. Soon, applications will follow. One by one, industry by industry, PC products are being replaced by Web products. Verse 43 of the Dao-De-Jing says:

Consider rain on a mountain of sand.
No single drop will do much harm,
but over time, the water will prevail.

And so too, will the Web Way.

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