Re: The Netscape / Microsoft / Future Quagmire

[I've removed the long list of people in the Cc: header and reverted to
just replying direct to Chris and www-html]

Chris Wilson wrote:

[with an odd style of quotation - everything was displayed as if it were a
quote from a previous message]

> > (Stewart Brodie) wrote:
> >>It's a constant reminder that I *MUST* use a platform that is Microsoft's
> >>in order to access some providers' data.
> >
> >I'm not sure why everyone keeps using the word "MUST".  The boilerplate text
> >we're talking about here is "this content BEST viewed by BrowserX."  This
> >does not imply that it is impossible to view the content with any other
> >browser, just that the presentation may not be as the designer intended, and

Yes, it does not absolutely imply impossible, but frequently makes it so.

> >some features or sections of data may not be presented properly.  In some
> >cases, it is impossible to get to the data at all (e.g., a ShockWave
> >presentation that is not mirrored in text) - in general, I consider those to
> >be very poor uses of the Web.

Pages which require frames, are one very good example of pages that cannot
otherwise be navigated without looking at the HTML source and picking out
the URLs of the frames.

> >My own personal pages have text on them that says, "<These pages> will look
> >sane in all browsers, and good in any that support Cascading Stylesheets, but
> >without stylesheet support you're missing a lot of the effect.  Obviously, I
> >authored these pages to look their best in Internet Explorer."  And it's

CSS is different.  It was not a sole invention of Microsoft.  You need not
have mentioned that they were authored to look best in IE, but given your
employer makes that browser, that is understandable!

> >>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
> >>WinNT.
> >
> >Or the Apple Macintosh (come on, we've had a Mac browser out in the public
> >for months and months now), or shortly a few varieties of UNIX/X Windows.

As there's no RISC OS version and never likely to be one unless MS
decide to develop a version for ARM based Network Computers, that
doesn't matter to me, although I can run it on my co-processor in a
window in my desktop environment.  I find both IE & NN virtually
unusable due to the lack of speed on the 486 processor I have.  I've
tried allocating 16MB to the PC but it doesn't make that much

> >And again, there is not that much content that should only be viewable in one
> >particular browser.  There are such pages out there, and in general I avoid
> >them unless their content is extremely compelling and their reason for
> >limiting their site is a real reason.  The situation I find most annoying is
> >when document authors actually refuse access to users of a particular browser
> >for absolutely no reason.  This is purely a personal problem IMO, regardless
> >of whose browser is the target.  Note that I do not limit access to my pages
> >in any way to Netscape Navigator users, even though I would obviously prefer
> >that people use Microsoft Internet Explorer, for personal reasons as well as
> >for a better presentation of my pages (until, if ever, Netscape decides to
> >support CSS).

I agree that that sort of deliberate messing up on your non-users is
petty - after all, they may become a user of your product if you can
convince them otherwise, but not being able to read your page you can't
make the argument!

> >A version of Internet Explorer ships as part of Windows CE, the palmtop
> >"companion" OS Microsoft has been developing (hardware will be shipping by
> >Christmas, from what I hear), so that's not true for IE.  And didn't Netscape
> >spin out Navio for the purpose of developing a smaller-footprint version of
> >Navigator for embedded hardware applications?

What features are missing in these cut down products?  If no features are
missing, can we look forward to desktop versions of NN and IE with much
smaller footprints?

> >In addition, a significant feature of Microsoft's Authenticode technology is

With a name like that, I presume it requires some level of
authentication to validate things, yes?  Will this Authenticode
technology have to be crippled for the benefit of the US Government?

> >to allow upgrade downloading.  A large part of the work that went into
> >Internet Explorer 3.0 was the modularization and accessible interfaces
> >(through ActiveX) of the browser.

Where is the ActiveX specification available for download if I want to
allow my users to view embedded ActiveX controls on my browser?  Do I have
to run a Microsoft OS for this to work?  Do I have to run a platform for
which Microsoft have developed an ActiveX implementation?

> >Hmm, well, I don't think anyone here thinks Microsoft is the "be all and end
> >all of computing" - that would be a very closed-minded viewpoint.  If we

Indeed.  And I agree it would be folly for Microsoft itself to believe
that.  I was talking about the users.

> >thought that way, why would we ever invest in other companies or buy
> >technology?  However, it cannot be denied that Microsoft is the world leader
> >in personal computer software.  Regardless of your impressions or opinions of
> >how we got to that position, do you really feel that Microsoft creates NO
> >innovative software, nor software that is better than the competition?

Of course not.  You can't produce that amount of software and not do so.
However, it now depends what you count as innovative.  Is Windows 95
innovative?  From some viewpoints it will be seen to be, from others it
won't - my first impressions of Win95 and NT4 were that it was starting to
look more and more like the GUI on my Acorn machine.  

I can't comment on the relative merits of Microsoft vs. Other Products
in the applications area, as, like the majority of others I would
suspect, I haven't seen MS versions of applications up against the
opposition - the battle is often won in marketing IMHO - because one
can't afford to buy all of the systems.

> >Oh, and I don't "follow Uncle Bill unconditionally" - nor do most of the

Good.  Again I was primarily thinking of the users rather than the people
inside his organisation.

> >Microsoft employees I know.  I have a great respect for Bill Gates, but I
> >don't think he has the only good ideas in the company, nor is he infallible.

He is undoubtedly a fantastic driving force behind the company and
certainly a man who has taken the fullest advantage from his
opportunities.  As the top dog in his company though, he tends to be the
target of the criticism (and the praise).

> >Microsoft is a collection of smart people, both those who develop the
> >software and those who market it.

I think it is definitely in the marketing area that Microsoft wins most of
its battles.  I don't think it's so clear cut in the software stakes

> >>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.
> >
> >Hmm, why are you assuming it will be Microsoft's fault when those features
> >come out?  We didn't invent VRML, or ShockWave, or frames, or any number of
> >other features that add to the code bloat.  Certainly, we've done a few, and
> >have clearly championed a few (e.g., CSS stylesheets, my personal area) -
> >some of which will not allow access to the content without that feature being
> >present (e.g., ActiveX controls), and some which will (e.g., CSS
> >stylesheets).

ActiveX is a big problem at the moment.  I know that Microsoft have
committed to making it an externally moderated thing, but has that
actually happened yet?  I hear all this trumpet blowing about Open
Systems (primarily from Netscape, it has to be said) although I find
very little information on Netscape's own web site that reminds me
of my interpretation of what an open system is.

My personal view is that standards are not open unless I can download
the documentation from somewhere and sit and write an independent
implementation for my own platform that is fully compatible with the
original implementation.  Of course with that view, all you
have to do is make the system so large that it is infeasible for me to
build one, at which point source code distribution becomes an issue.

> >>It's called a monopoly, and it's what Microsoft has at the moment.
> >In Web software?

Not yet.  Netscape is currently a major player in Web software currently,
but it must be Microsoft's intention to replace Netscape as the #1 Web
company ... why else would it be in the market, if not to be the biggest
and most financially successful?

[I moved this down from the top in case people felt this was just becoming
a Microsoft bashing just for the hell of it type of thread, which I don't
want it to be]

> As much as I dislike wasting time arguing with obvious Microsoft-haters,

I wonder if Microsoft have ever considered *why* some people hate
them?  I am constantly dismayed at the inability of the company which
styles itself as the only desktop platform worth using, to produce
stable software.  Around my office there is a mixture of Win 3.1
(hardware can't take 95 or higher), Win95 and WinNT 4.  These people
spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for reboots.  WinNT 4 is a
*lot* better than previous attempts, and has the makings of a usable
machine - I've only had it die twice on me last week.

In all probability, and I in no way speak for my university or
department, we would change over completely to Windows environments if
they were more reliable due to the initially cheap cost of the
hardware.  Most of the new user machines are x86 based, and have Linux
installed on them instead.

Stewart Brodie, Electronics & Computer Science, Southampton University.

Received on Saturday, 19 October 1996 09:33:45 UTC