Re: The Netscape / Microsoft / Future Quagmire
Fri, 18 Oct 1996 17:12:20 +0100 (BST)

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: The Netscape / Microsoft / Future Quagmire
To: (Scott E. Preece)
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 1996 17:12:20 +0100 (BST)
In-Reply-To: <> from "Scott E. Preece" at Oct 18, 96 10:18:24 am

Scott E. Preece wrote:
> It's a constant reminder that your choice has limited your access to
> some provider's data.

It's a constant reminder that I *MUST* use a platform that is Microsoft's
in order to access some providers' data.

> | \\ And people *will* switch when they start seeing a lot of pages
> | 
> | Provided they are willing to spare enormous resources to run something that
> | is as "mundane" as a web browser. Or at least should be mundane.
> ---
> I don't think browsers are or should be mundane - I'm inclined to think
> they should become our primary user interfaces, with a little more
> evolution.

Agreed - but we're not at that stage yet.

> | \\ I think it's a very useful mechanism for the continuing development of
> | \\ the Web.
> | 
> | Towards what end? Making the web a tool for delivering multi-media? That
> | will just make content that much harder for people to get to. An orthogonal
> | (or somewhat orthogonal) structural markup from presentation is a good idea
> | for exactly these reasons - that it would provide for a relatively simple
> | content representation while allowing the display to become arbitrarily
> | complex. If multi-media is part of your content, you would simply have to
> | mark it up to show precisely what it is, so that an automated search
> | mechanism would be able to locate it. And I'm not talking about the
> | simplistic text search engines that exist now.
> ---
> The Web is a major step forward in platform-independent integration of

But it IS *NOT* platform independent any more!  If a page claims to be
viewable only with MSIE, then I have to be running either Win95 or

> data and process.  It's not mature, yet, and some of its infrastructure
> may change radically over the next few years to improve efficiency and
> capability, but the directions are good.  Toward that end it's important
> that users keep upgrading so that there's a sufficient base to drive
> content providers and infrastructure developers to keep the maturation
> process going.

Yes, I agree with that last point.

> I absolutely agree about the need for better meta-data for non-textual
> information, though I'm not sure it belongs in HTML markup.  I'm still
> inclined to think meta-data should be handled in the infrastructure
> (bound to the data) rather than in the data, so you can cut out a level
> of indirection (e.g., getting meta-data directly from http rather than
> from HTML surrogates, when the data isn't naturally text-like).  This is
> an area where a lot is happening (e.g., OpenDoc, IIOP, ActiveX) and
> maturity is a long way off.

> Something else I expect, by the way, is browsers that maintain their
> currency automatically by fetching new components from their vendor's
> server as needed; this requires a shift to a much more modular
> architecture for browsers (to keep upgrade downloading cheap and fast),
> but I think it's sure to turn up in a year or so.

This is the solution adopted by the Network Computer.  However, I'd
guess that both IE3 and Netscape 3 (for all the claims they make about
being a having small browser) are far too large to fit into the memory
of a network computer (typically 4MB RAM, or 8MB on Intel based boxes)

But it wouldn't matter if such a thing were deployed anyway - until MS
& Netscape invented their own way of doing this.  An awful lot of
people believe that Microsoft is the be all and end all of computing
and are unwilling to comtemplate that there could possibly be anything
better, and that therefore anyone who doesn't follow Uncle Bill
unconditionally is some kind of weirdo.  Such is the power of American
marketing budgets ...  Netscape were beginning to eat into this, but
Microsoft have realised the danger and are busy trying to make it hard
for them to keep up.

Will the Network Computer succeed?  It depends on Microsoft.  What's
the betting we'll get some new "essential" features for the web which
are hard for NCs to achieve?  eg.  extremely memory intensive and
require a lot of RAM to work anything like quickly enough - and that
the only such machines capable of running it will have a minimum spec
of PPro 200 with Windows97 or Windows TNG or whatever the successor to
WinNT 4 is going to be called.

As for currency maintenance now, my web browser forms part of a
commercial Internet suite, and one of the things that happens when
users connect to the Internet (it is currently a product specialised
for dialup users in the UK), is that new versions of the software are
checked for and the user is asked to confirm that the upgrade should be
performed and given the go-ahead, it is upgraded automatically.
So that's not new, and happens today.  I suspect that even some Wintel
based software may be capable of it too - it's not hard.

> The Web is much to young for anyone to be saying "I've found my browser,
> I'm going to stick to it, and I don't want to know what I'm missing."

But it _is_ at the stage of "I can't read these pages because Microsoft
& Netscape have decided that my platform is not worthy of their
support" and they are pushing their very latest extensions to content
providers to ensure that their product is the #1 browser on the net
by having no competition by forcing the competition out of business.
It's called a monopoly, and it's what Microsoft has at the moment.

Stewart Brodie, Electronics & Computer Science, Southampton University.