Foundational Products

Jun 25, 2021

Every so often, there's a foundational product. It creates opportunities to expand into new verticals and becomes the foundation for entirely new products. These kinds of products are rare and difficult to build, but they are game-changing when you do. Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) and Figma are two examples of foundational products.

For decades, Windows and Linux were competitors. One would have to go to great lengths to run an application from another (e.g., using Wine or Hyper-V). The "1998 Halloween memos" are a set of leaked documents from a Microsoft PM that Linux and open source was an existential threat to Microsoft (embrace, extend, extinguish). Now with WSL, the Linux kernel can run natively on Windows. Initially, Microsoft created WSL to run Android apps on Windows 10 mobile. It has evolved to become a developer tool and run Linux GUI applications and Android apps on the desktop. WSL is a foundational platform. It bridges the world of Linux and Windows operating systems. I think we'll see the possibilities explored in the next few years.

Then there are technology inflections. WebGL and asm.js powered Figma. See the seminal blog post by Evan Wallace, CTO of Figma, on Building a professional design tool on the web. Figma chose to forego the browser DOM and draw directly to the canvas from a custom rendering engine. Decisions like this limit possibilities. Developers have to reimplement basic functionality like right-click menus and scrolling. You can't use HTML or CSS to render within the canvas. But decisions like Figma's also open up entirely new possibilities. Richer experiences, faster rendering, and more. Now, Figma has the foundation to completely rethink how we've interacted with web applications because they chose a different (and correct, in my opinion) path.