HIGH STAKES, NO PRISONERS by Charles H. Ferguson


A Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars
Email this review


The inside story of a software company capitalizing on the rapid and ever-accelerating growth of the Internet. The author (who co-wrote Computer Wars, 1993, with Charles Morris) clearly—and gratefully—benefited from the monetary success of the company and product he founded, Vermeer Technologies and FrontPage, respectively. FrontPage was one of the first software programs for producing Web pages. Despite the short time involved in this story—only four years pass from initial idea to the company’s acquisition by Microsoft—there were numerous obstacles to overcome. These included grappling with product conception, finding and managing relationships with partners and employees, and stumbling through the intricate maneuvers employed by venture capitalists. Although these elements are common denominators in most business histories, here the author has done more than merely provide a chronology: He details the methodology and processes so well that this book could be used as a primer for entrepreneurs. This practical value is enhanced by the entertainingly frank descriptions of companies and company leaders who interacted with Ferguson. Not one to mince words or shy away from anyone, he provides skewering assessments, taking as his favorite targets Netscape and Microsoft. The former is seen as a company of “amateurs” with an “intellectual vacuum” at the top; the latter as a predatory giant. This criticism, however, is always presented in descriptive perspective and never without objective praise in balance. Vermeer and its founder are not omitted as subjects of this honesty; mistakes, errors in judgment, fits of temper, and clashes of personality mark the path from inception to product launch, providing valuable insight about the rocky path to success. The sole major criticism of this tome: It’s too long. Instead of ending on an obvious high note, once the company has been sold, Ferguson adds two superfluous chapters of lengthy commentary on the faults of Netscape and Microsoft. Still, a refreshingly candid story about hard work and competition. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8129-3143-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999