HTMLScript History and How Miva got their name


A friend of a friend has been doing research on early web scripting languages and ended up coming to me for a history of the predecessor to Miva Script which was called HTMLScript.  As you will soon learn, HTMLScript had a predecessor too.

You can see one of the first HTMLScript home pages on the Internet Way Way Back Machine  here.   That was in December of 1996.  I got the idea for the tagline, “The  Document is the Application” from Sun Microsystems because their tagline was “The Network is The Computer” or something like that.  Derek Finley created the “Blades In Motion” logo which evolved greatly over the years and was not retired until sometime in the mid 2000’s.

This post is dedicated to my late friend Dave Haldy.  Current Miva people, please note that there would be no Miva today without the spark that Dave Haldy helped me ignite.

Creating the Code

The origins of what is now Miva Script (owned and maintained by Miva Merchant, Inc.) began in 1993, when David Haldy and I built the first version of HTMLScript in the perl programming language, which was called LEHTML (Logic Enhanced HTML).  It was used with the first version of the NCSA Web Server that supported CGI (Common Gateway Interface).  I wrote a wrapper for it in the C programming language that let it start off as a root process and then downgrade itself immediately to the ownership and permissions of the owner of the script file.  This made it suitable for use with my hosting service that was called Volant Turnpike.  I later sold Volant Turnpike to Dave Haldy.   Perl allowed self executing code so LEHTML did not have its own expression analyzer and just parsed the expression into Perl syntax and then passed it into Perl.  The users of Volant Turnpike really liked LEHTML, so a friend named Ron Ahern and myself wrote an expression analyzer and re-implemented the LEHTML syntax using the C programming language. I then called the end result HTMLScript and registered the name with the USPTO.  Also, I created a company called HTMLScript Corporation which had myself, Troy McCasland and Derek Finley as the founders.

HTMLScript did not have the concept of a “WHILE” or “FOR” loop.  This was because servers did not have much processing power back then, and even one program that “ran away” was enough to bring the whole server down.  So, I did not implement a loop, which made it impossible for an HTMLScript server process to run away.  Additionally, I implemented the “macro” in the first version of HTMLScript so that it would allow self-executing code.  The macro was powerful, but it eventually had some security issues that had to be fixed when Ivo Truxa discovered ways to exploit it.

HTMLScript’s Big Break

A friend of mine, named Wally Owen, took over the main development of HTMLScript while Troy McCasland, Derek Finley and I focused on sales, marketing and support.   Technical support consisted of a list server and myself at the time.   Wally and I created more syntax and built-in functions based on user feedback.  Jeff Huber was a power user and eventually took over most of the user support.   The first big break for HTMLScript was when CyberSource (now owned by Visa) licensed a copy to build the Netscape Software Store and had us make a version that worked with the Netscape native API for their proprietary web server.  The Netscape server was a mess and started springing memory leaks galore when their servers started getting a lot of traffic.  I hired Jon Burchmore to take over the development of HTMLScript and fix all of the memory leaks caused by the Netscape server API.

The next big breaks for HTMLScript were ValueWeb and SimpleNet.  The first shopping cart written in HTMLScript was called Big Boys Toys and was a sample script written by me.  We realized that we were selling the wrong thing as many people began modifying and using the free Big Boys Toys  script to sell stuff on their web sites.  There was far more money in e-commerce then in the scripting language. The next shopping cart was called KoolKat and was written by a developer named Roque Napoli.  ValueWeb was the first major hosting company that used KoolKat, so I can say that Valueweb and Troy essentially invented the concept of a hosted e-commerce account.   Oh yea — when I say Valueweb, I really mean a Valueweb exec by the name of John Enright that saw how an e-commerce account could change things.   I developed the bundle license agreement based on a technique that I learned from my time at Imspace Systems.   Derek and I developed some marketing tools around the bundle concept and then Troy went to every single hosting company he could find and pitched it really well.

Creating Miva Script and Miva Merchant

In 1997, Jon Burchmore re-wrote HTMLScript with syntax that he and I developed with the help of some people from SoftQuad, using the emerging XML standard.   Jon then wrote the replacement for KoolKat, which became Miva Merchant.   Amazingly, the new end-product also supported the old HTMLScript syntax. Once we had Miva Merchant, the company had amazingly fast growth.

Where did the name ‘Miva’ come from?

1997 was also the year that  the name was changed from HTMLScript to Miva Script and Miva for the company name. It was on October 14th, 1997.  Then shortly thereafter Miva Merchant followed suit for the name of the product.

Derek and I had a lot of marketing trouble with the name HTMLScript because it was hard to pronounce for somebody that did not know what HTML was.   Some people were actually trying to pronounce HTML as if it had a hidden vowel.  So, we set out to develop a new name.  My friend, Boris Slawik, was on his way into town from Germany, and I picked him up at the airport.  Whenever he came into town, we would always stop at the Star Book store so he could get some English language books.  Derek suggested that I get some foreign language dictionaries so we could randomly look at words to give us ideas for a new name.

In the foreign language section of the bookstore, there was a book called “How to Read and Write Egyptian Hieroglyphics.” The very first word that they taught in the book was the word for “cat” which was a milk basin followed by a quail. The milk basin is pronounced “Mee” and the quail is pronounced “Waa” which combined is how you say cat.  I thought this was clever, as we had called KoolKat “an electronic (cat)alog.”  I showed it to Boris, and he could not pronounce the “Waa” sound and instead kept on pronouncing it as “Va.”  Then and there, the name Miva was born.  I drove home as fast as I could, registered the domain and immediately filed the trademark.

As you some of you may know, I sold Miva Corporation to a mid-cap public company called FindWhat in late 2003.  Subsequently, they liked the brand so much that they renamed themselves to Miva.  Then, a few years later some people led by my former VP Sales and friend, Rick Wilson, bought the original Miva technologies and customer base from them and started Miva Merchant, Inc. which is still a major player in the e-commerce space today.

It is hard to believe that HTMLScript started 20 years ago.  It was the second scripting language that I created.   The first was Distributed Processing Language (DPL) in the 80’s, but that is a different story…

Posted in Computer Industry
4 comments on “HTMLScript History and How Miva got their name
  1. Daniel Keane says:

    Great article. Thanks for setting this straight. I had always thought that Miva got its name from its extensions .mv and compiled .mvc which I mistakenly thought was for module-view-controller. If I ever get a cat, I’m going to name it Miva!

  2. Wow – 20 years… I started using HTMLScript in 1997, And became the first (I think) outsourced KoolKat support sometime in 98 or 99. I helped users from all over – they even gave me root access! – from my home part time. It was a great gig, and I got paid for it to!. I also developed the first payment module using a tie in with a checking account. I think I called it “AutoCheck”. Now – I guess I am just one of the old timers. But Joe – this really was a great thing you created – it has provided a good number of folks with good incomes over the years – and now I know the rest of the story too (there were always many questions and rumors about the word Miva).

  3. Jeff Collins says:

    I was the first Tech Support Engineer hired by the original Miva Corp., I was employee number 8. Jeff Huber was by boss / supervisor. I started answering the Support phone lines on a second line at my home before moving down to the offices. When people would call Support and ask for Jeff, I would ask them if they wanted Jeff Number 1 or Jeff Number 2, I was Jeff Number 2.

  4. Hello, Joe. Nice to read the story – just as I remember it myself from those days – when we all met in NYC in Nov 1996 and I showed you my “web widgets” programs – written in htmlscript – when you guys told me about Miva and the new dBIII database file support. Been using htmlscript/miva ever since. Even ran ATT Worldnet’s Customer Satisfaction Survey system using Miva ported to Oracle for seven years… until they pulled the plug on Customer Sat and we all found new projects to focus on. For me, that was restoring antique printing presses, which has turned into an interesting and fun niche market itself… One foot in the 19th century, another in the 21st…

    – Alan Runfeldt htmlscript/miva programming since 1995.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: