[Updated 22-Aug-06. See below]
I've been sweating for weeks in anticipation of a Forbes article covering the PubSub melt-down and now, it is finally out. It could have been worse... Fortunately, Matt Rand stuck to his promise to focus on the "lessons learned" and avoided most of the more sordid aspects of the affair. However, as seems inevitable in press coverage, there were some errors in the piece. One, at least, I need to deal with immediately.
Rand writes: "Wyman had a hand in designing the Lotus Notes spreadsheet program". Well, clearly, Lotus Notes is not a spreadsheet... but, let's ignore that minor error. The really embarrassing thing is that I never had a "hand in designing Lotus Notes" and have never said that I did (although Salim Ismail has often said that I did...). What I did do, back in 1984/5 at Digital, was develop a program called "NewNotes". New Notes was a client/server implementation of the earlier "VMS Notes" program written by Len Kawell (circa 1980?). My NewNotes was an attempt to show a better way to implement Kawell's VMSNotes and used a publish/subscribe system to replicate its database. (The code I used was based on the "SDDB" -- Self Distributing Database-- developed by Beat Marti's group at Digital in Geneva).
My New Notes program was one of a number of predecessors to both Digital's VaxNotes product (which replaced the internal use only VMSNotes) as well as the "Notes" that Len Kawell and Ray Ozzie later built at Iris and later sold to Lotus. The Kawell/Ozzie Notes that eventually became known as "Lotus Notes" can really be considered as the combination of a number development paths and influence vectors: The original Plato "Notes" program that Kawell and Ozzie worked with during the mid-70's, Kawell's VMSNotes, my New Notes, a variety of other "Notes" implementations, and the programmability of the ALL-IN-1 Office Automation system of which I was product manager at Digital. In any case, I was never an employee of either Iris or Lotus and thus whatever influence I may have had on Kawell, I cannot be said to have "had a hand in designing Lotus Notes."
I think, when speaking with Rand at Forbes, that I was clear in stating (as I always do) that I worked on "a predecessor" to Lotus Notes. The intention in that wording is to show precedence but not a hands on role. I think my wording is fair and accurate -- what was published in the Forbes article is not accurate.
My suspicion is that Rand was misled about my role by talking with Salim Ismail, who he also interviewed for the story. Those who know me will know that one of the things that really infuriated me about working with Salim was that he consistently overstated my accomplishments. In particular, he regularly told people that I "had a hand in designing Lotus Notes" as well as Microsoft Office, and a number of other products. On literally scores of occasions I discovered that Salim had once again exaggerated my history and I was forced to object. It got monotonous. At one point, I got so frustrated that I had to present to our PR agency a list of "Things you are not allowed to say about Bob -- even if you hear Salim say them."
In any case, it is a bit disappointing to see my exaggerated and thus false "role" in the prehistory of Lotus Notes as the key item used to sum up my career... I've done many more interesting and important things. ALL-IN-1 was the first customizable, integrated office automation system and was a multi-billion dollar business back in the 80's... I developed what I believe was the first wide-area network hypertext browser (well before TBL got the Web going at CERN -- where he was a VaxNotes user...) I was awarded some of the earliest "Digital Rights Management" patents. As a product manager at Microsoft I was responsible for getting OLE Automation going. I launched the first broad-market CDROM based magazine. I once ran one of the largest "search engines" freely available on the Web. I've done many other things much more worthy of notice -- including building PubSub...
I always try to accurately and truthfully represent what I've done. The problem is that what I have done over the last 30 years is pretty darned impressive -- yet, I've never managed to make much money in the process and most folk can't understand how you can do what I've done and not make gobs of money. (It's a long story...) The result is that folk who don't know me and review what I've done often suspect that I've exaggerated. As a result, my resume gets a great deal more scrutiny than most people's resumes do. My real fear is that someday someone will decide that false statements made by people like Salim or mistakes in articles like Rand's piece in Forbes actually originated with me and they will decide that I am the one not telling the truth... The truth is that if I tell you what I've done, it is probably a understatement not an exaggeration. If someone else tells you what I've done -- unless they were there -- you should ignore them.
[Updated 22-Aug-06: It seems that in the process of objecting to an overstatement of my own role in the history of Notes, I managed to overstate the role of Kawell and Ozzie... As Richard Swartz points out in the comments, the original Plato Notes system was actually created by David Wooley. I've changed the text to correct my misstatements. Also, please note that Forbes has declined the opportunity to correct the wording in their story. They claim that "being a predecessor" to something is included within their understanding of what it means to "have a hand in designing" that thing. I disagree.]