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Whizzkid with a passion for changing the world

The Financial Times
Wednesday September 15, 1999

Whizzkid with a passion for changing the world

Young entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar is pursuing a dream to reshape the global software market - and his new web-based service might do just that, writes Louise Kehoe.

Shervin Pishevar may be Bill Gates' worst nightmare; an extraordinarily bright young man with radical ideas about software, a passion to change the world and a business plan.

Mr Pishevar, 25, is the president and chief executive of WebOSInc (formerly HyperOffice), a software start-up with 10 employees, of whom he is the oldest. Unencumbered by the complexities of running a large company or pleasing shareholders, Mr Pishevar is pursuing a dream to "democratise" the software market and "open access to technologies previously reserved for the few who could afford it".

As the new name of his company implies, WebOSInc has developed a web-based operating system, my-WebOS, a platform for applications that are hosted on a web server instead of desktop computers. Mr Pishevar is quick to give credit to Fredrik Malmer, an 18-year-old Swedish software writer, who created the operating system that the company is now blending with a full suite of office applications.

Rather than licensing its software to individual users, WebOSInc plans to offer access to the programmes as a service via the internet. This places the fledgling company in the forefront of a rapidly growing trend toward "software as services" that is supported by some of Microsoft's fiercest rivals, including Oracle and Sun Microsystems.

Yet WebOSInc has not affiliated itself with the anti-Microsoft camp. Although it may end up competing with the world's largest software company for customers and for the time and attention of third-party developers, this start-up has no plans to tackle the mighty Microsoft head on.

Drew Morris, chief technology officer, says the team is too smart to "pull the tiger's tail". Rather, they aim to reshape the software market. Then, it will be up to Microsoft to respond. "We are small, fast, agile, flexible, young, filled with a passion for ideas and vision and we will leverage our first-mover advantage to gain a leading share of a new market we will have enabled," says Mr Pishevar.

MyWebOS is a "disruptive technology", he says, one that will change the dominant distribution channels for software. "Since our technology will also enable the full realisation of a true 'network computer', the distribution of computer hardware will shift as well," he predicts.

Microsoft is not ignoring the trend. This week, it announced plans to offer tools to enable software developers to create web-hosted applications. Yet these tools remain tied to the Windows operating system.

In contrast, WebOSInc aims to make its software available to any computer user, no matter what sort of computer or web-access device they are using and regardless of the computer operating system involved.

WebOSInc will launch myWebOS later this month. In October, it plans to announce partnerships with some of the busiest web sites on the internet. It is also targeting PC manufacturers. The software company will share software use fees with its partners.

The business model has huge potential, says Chris Shipley, editor of DemoLetter, an industry newsletter. If WebOSInc's software begins to appear on popular web sites, this will get PC manufacturers thinking, she suggests.

With PC manufacturers under pressure to reduce their prices, they may well ask: "Why pay Microsoft to bundle Works or Office with our products?". In contrast, a partnership with WebOSInc could reduce the PC manufacturer's costs and also provide it with an "annuity revenue stream" of monthly fees for software use, she says.

WebOSInc is not alone in spotting the potential of web-hosted software., a San Francisco start-up, is heading in the same direction. Sun Microsystems announced earlier this month plans to make a suite of office applications called StarOffice available for use free of charge over the internet.

These and other offerings "validate our space", says Mr Pishevar. Besides which, each of the pioneers of web-hosted software is taking a slightly different tack., which has revealed little about its plans, appears to be aiming at the individual computer user.

Sun Microsystems is out to prove the concept of web-hosted software, which could boost demand for its high-performance servers, rather than to dominate the market itself.

WebOSInc also aims to differentiate itself through close relationships with third-party software developers. MyWebOS comes with a full application programmer's interface and developer's tool kit that enables software writers to begin building applications.

The HyperOffice suite of productivity applications will be "open sourced", so that all developers can participate in improving and expanding upon them, says Mr Pishevar.

"Since we will be licensing our technology to other companies that will be hosting the software, we can focus on our developers' network and enabling developers to create web applications that no one has ever seen before."

If Mr Pishevar sounds like an idealist, he makes no apologies. A former student activist who involved himself in local education as well as global issues - he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, just two years ago - he now aims to become an "entrepreneurial activist".

Yet Mr Pishevar may have more in common with today's leaders of the computer industry "establishment" than he realises. Steve Jobs, of Apple Computer, was determined to bring computing to the masses. Bill Gates wanted a "computer on every desk and in every home" to run Microsoft software long before most people had thought of owning one.

As Mr Gates has warned that Microsoft is vulnerable to new competitors, so Mr Pishevar is already planning to avoid being caught out by the next generation of software entrepreneurs.

If we execute perfectly we will, in the future, face the same challenges that our larger competitors face today," he says. His goal is "to keep WebOSInc a very simple organisation".

The irony is that Mr Pishevar and Mr Gates, although they have very different backgrounds - the former the son of a taxi cab driver and a hotel worker, the latter the son of a prominent Seattle family - share an unusual intellectual curiosity and capacity that might make them friends, were they not destined to become competitors.

Abroad at Home; Thanks And Giving

Published: November 25, 1994

Two days before Thanksgiving I had a telephone call from a young man who asked how he could reach a Sarajevo children's doctor I had mentioned in a column. "I want to help," he said.

Who was he? I asked. A 20-year-old student at the University of California in Berkeley, Shervin Pishevar. And why was he interested in what was happening in Bosnia?

"I know about the feelings of children in war," he said. "I was a 6-year-old in Iran when the Iran-Iraq War started in 1980 and bombs began falling. I'll never forget my fear."

Then how had he come to America? His father had been an executive of Iranian television, Mr. Pishevar said; after the revolution he was in danger, and in 1980 he left for America. The rest of the family followed a year later.

"Thanksgiving is very important to my family," he said. "It's the one holiday my father and mother put all their heart into.

"Even with hard times, we've succeeded in this country. My father went from television to driving a taxi in Washington, D.C. My mother worked as a maid. Now my brother, who's 26, is a lawyer. My sister, 24, is getting her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. And my father, who's 56, is working on a Ph.D. in mass communication; he has his dissertation defense tomorrow.

"Every Thanksgiving my mother gets up at 6 in the morning and cooks until 5 in the afternoon. The whole table is full of food. We sit down, we say our prayers and each of us talks about what we've been through and how important we are to each other. And we always talk about how we have a responsibility for other people.

"One of the Persian poets, Sa'di Shirazi, said: 'The sons of Adam are limbs of each other, having been created of one essence. When the calamity of time affects one limb, the other limbs cannot remain at rest. If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others, thou art unworthy to be called by the name of man.'

"That's what Sarajevo is about. We all have a responsibility to each other."

At Berkeley Mr. Pishevar is majoring in plant genetics and cell biology. He is studying the wing bean, "a wonderful plant from New Guinea. It has underground tubers that are edible, and so are the beans and the leaves."

He also works as a volunteer in the emergency room of a children's hospital, running for supplies and helping the children to stay calm -- "the doctors and nurses have enough stress trying to save the child's life." But now Bosnia is on his mind. He wants to reach the doctor in Sarajevo and offer to come and help in the children's clinic.

"A couple of days ago I saw a picture of a 7-year-old boy in Sarajevo who had been shot in the head. I don't know how we can ignore the killing of children. What has become of our humanity?

"I'm afraid we have lost the sense of responsibility for people who are being murdered by hate. I don't know what has happened to us. America has a history of helping those who are suffering.

"Just 50 years ago we saw the horror of mass murder that happened because people hated those who were different. I can't understand why we haven't learned."

As Mr. Pishevar spoke, I began to write down what he said. It seemed to me that he understood a lot about Thanksgiving and about this country. And this year, his comments were poignant.

In Thanksgiving week, 1994, newly empowered Republicans in Congress made plans to crack down on immigrants and the poor. Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, noting the plans to limit food stamps and other feeding programs, said: "Not since the Great Depression has the possibility of millions of children lining up at soup kitchens been so real."

Which America are we? That is the question at this Thanksgiving.

Are we the land of hope and sympathy? The land of amazing opportunity for immigrants, and amazing benefits from them? Or are we a land of meanness, of cold certainty that the unfortunate deserve their fate? Will we say, like Ebenezer Scrooge before his transformation, Are there no work houses?








LA TIMES: Software for Rent Might Yet Microsoft Sweat

Summary: A tiny "dot-com" start-up recently launched what could ultimately
emerge as a true alternative for mainstream computing: free
office-productivity software and the low-cost rental of other apps. It could
prove more worrisome to MS than its legal problems.

Software for Rent Might Yet Make Microsoft Sweat

by Charles Piller
Los Angeles Times




<> MS,
Ericsson Team Up to Bring Information Anytime, Anywhere, to Carriers and


<> About Ericsson

Microsoft often says that its hold on the fast-changing world of
computer software faces powerful new threats every day. It's tempting to
laugh off that refrain as a diversionary tactic in Microsoft's antitrust
wars. But a tiny "dot-com" start-up recently launched what could ultimately
emerge as a true alternative for mainstream computing: free
office-productivity software and the low-cost rental of other applications.
That model could eventually prove more worrisome to Microsoft than its legal


Understand first that this is still a conceptual threat; for not even the
Justice Department will unseat Bill Gates as software's emperor any time
soon. But, based in Baltimore, offers a provocative Web-based
replacement for Windows and Microsoft Office as the central software tools
for most PC users.



MyWebOS strongly resembles the Windows desktop and comes equipped with a
range of free productivity and communication applications, such as a
calendar, contact manager, e-mail client and Web browser, as well as a
file-navigation program modeled on Windows Explorer.


Because these new software programs and files reside on MyWebOS server
computers rather than on individual PCs, users can access them from any PC
via an Internet connection.


The new company hopes to make its money as a host platform for a wide range
of other software tools created by independent developers. Users would rent
rather than buy those applications.


Most of these tools already are free on a range of Web sites, so why would
anyone want to use a separate operating system inside a browser? One reason
would be MyWeb's HyperOffice, an accompanying suite of free business
applications: word processor, spreadsheet, database manager and a tool for
creating business presentations. MyWebOS will also offer 20 megabytes of
free storage space--enough for many typical users' business files.


MyWebOS is still in "beta" testing, and its test version of the product
falls far short of its ultimate goal. Only the word processor portion of its
HyperOffice suite is up and running. The other products are scheduled to
debut early next year, when the service will formally debut.


Yet the company's goal is clear. "We want to turn the software market into
something like the utility market," said Chief Executive Shervin


By utility, he's thinking of an electrical power utility.


Pishevar proposes to meter the use of, say, tax software at 50 cents an
hour. Most people use such programs no more than 20 hours a year, but pay
$50 or more for the latest version every winter. Under his plan, a consumer
would save $40 per year.


Or perhaps your business relies on an expensive customized program, but your
field offices use the program only occasionally. Does it make more sense to
buy each office a copy for $10,000 a pop, or to rent it at $100 an hour for
one hour every month?


In addition to earning commissions from software rentals, MyWebOS plans to
become an "infomediary"--combining the collective buying power of its users
into one block to command discounts on goods and services, and taking a cut
in the process. Pishevar thinks this will provide sufficient revenue; no
banner ads will clutter the screen, making MyWebOS sufficiently businesslike
to run a business on.


That model resembles an emerging software distribution model from companies
referred to as application service providers, or ASPs. Typically, ASPs
structure pricing on a monthly or annual basis per user for corporate
accounts, though individual plans are now available. For example, Fountain
Valley-based offers Microsoft Office and other applications
for $9.95 and up a month, plus storage and access fees.


The MyWebOS pay-per-use plan democratizes the ASP model, making software
rental accessible to anyone at a much lower price.


Pishevar positions MyWebOS as no threat to Microsoft (and even says he'd
love to offer Microsoft Office as a rental option). But Microsoft should
hate this product for several reasons.


First, MyWebOS would provide a self-contained environment, complete with
software developer guidelines and incentives, something like the way
Microsoft woos developers to the Windows platform. Users with modest
computing needs--and that's most people--could do all their computing within
MyWebOS rather than living inside Microsoft's Windows, Office and Internet
Explorer browser environments.


Second, if successful, the MyWebOS model would go a long way toward turning
business productivity applications into commodities, just like Microsoft did
to the Web browser by giving it away. (Microsoft antagonist Sun Microsystems
is abetting this process by giving away its own office suite, Star Office.)


"People have been getting ripped off with the incredibly high [profit]
margins for boxed software," said Pishevar. "Why should a person pay $400
for an application that they might only use 10 times?"


If consumers and small businesses agree with his logic, many will stop
paying for Microsoft Office (which can cost about $300 bought off the
shelf.) And PC vendors--already feeling more independent as Microsoft
operates in the antitrust spotlight--might start wondering why they should
pay Microsoft for a copy of Office to bundle in every new PC in an era of
ferocious price competition.


Finally, if Pishevar is right, and similar companies could turn
software from a product into a service, undermining Microsoft's ability to
push Office into every PC in the world. Meanwhile, WebOS could seize a big
part of the Web toll-taker function that industry observers have long seen
as Microsoft's hidden agenda.


"This is one of the most important trends we're viewing now," said Rob
Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group, based in Norwell, Mass.
Microsoft has already been hinting that it might respond with its own
pay-per-use service, even though that would cannibalize Office sales.


To be sure, MyWebOS is far from ready to foment a software revolution. First
it has to approach the reliability and performance of Windows and Office
(though it won't need to match the bloated features on Microsoft's package)
and perfect an enticing billing scheme for application rental.


But the MyWebOS concept is compelling. And several other start-ups--such as and beginning to offer similar models for
changing the way people obtain and use basic software programs.


Collectively they're a hopeful sign, as Microsoft likes to say, that the Web
is making it hard for anyone to hold a lock on the world of software.






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