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Dave Whitinger -- The Battle That Could Lose Us The War

Nov 05, 1999, 01:46 (193 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dave Whitinger)

By Dave Whitinger, dave@wmkt.com (Temporary E-Mail account)

Linux is quickly becoming the operating system of the future, thanks in part to the advanced type of development that we refer to as Free Software, or Open Source, as well as the rock-solid features that are present in Linux. It is the ultimate server platform.

Linux is also enjoying success as a desktop workstation. My wife, Trish, makes the perfect example of the typical desktop user.

When we became married in August of 1996, she was a complete computer illiterate, having never even used a Windows or Unix machine. I presented her with a choice:

  1. I will give her a Windows computer, but will offer nothing in the way of technical support or training assistance.
  2. I will give her a Linux box, and will give her complete technical support and training assistance.

A New Hope

Not knowing the difference anyway, she chose the latter, and found herself extremely happy with a rock-solid desktop.

She enjoys her Red Hat Linux 6.1 workstation. Coupled with the K Desktop Environment and various applications that I have installed for her, she's ready to go. She has her TkRat E-Mail program, Netscape Navigator, notepad text editor, licq, games, the Gimp, and a variety of other nice applications, all accessed via a friendly interface.

Finding friends in mailing lists and on-line web-based chat groups, she was happy as a clam. She would fire up her Netscape Navigator and hit any web site she wanted, and was constantly bragging to her friends about this great computer operating system that she had the privilege of using.

The Empire Strikes Back

...Until the day that Netscape Navigator, her web browser, her window to the outside world, the major purpose for using the computer, simply disappeared from her desktop while she was browsing.

Trish turned to me, confusion spread across her face, and opined, "Dave, my Netscape has simply vanished from my screen. Perhaps you have telneted in and did a kill -9 on it?"

Dave responds, "Absolutely not! Why would I do that? Let's examine the problem more closely, that the answer to this perplexing issue will reveal itself."

Upon further investigation, it turns out that Netscape apparantly did not "like" the Java code that was being incorporated into one of the websites that Trish frequents. My solution: Turn off Java.

A very important and critical issue is realized here. At this point, Trish's computer is not as powerful as all of her friends' Windows computers. If they can access certain Java-enabled pages that she cannot, she is being left out, all because she chose to use Linux.

Fade to 2 or 3 weeks later.

Trish: "Dave, this website is telling me that I cannot use their services."

Dave: "What's the URL?"

Examining the website, it turns out that it is using some special kind of plugin that is only available for Windows or Macintosh platforms. I explained to Trish that she simply will not be able to access the services on this website, until they decide to make this plugin available for Linux. A short and polite note to the webmaster later, there was nothing we could do, and the issue was closed, and Trish's computer became even less valuable to her.

Fade to 2 or 3 more weeks later.

Trish: "Dave, this website is telling me that I am using an unsupported web browser, and cannot view the pages within."

Dave: "Okay, this is starting to make me angry. The web was initially created as a completely open environment where multimedia can be viewed, regardless of your platform. It's a platform independant medium, yet here are people making platform dependant websites."

Trish: "That's great that you feel that way, but I just want to access this coupon website! All my friends say they are getting great deals, and I'm missing out! Oh, and now my netscape just froze again! Argh, (killall -9 netscape ; rm ~/.netscape/lock) again. I want a Windows computer like all my friends have."

I hung my head in shame, realizing that if she is going to be able to take full advantage of the web, she will need a Windows computer. Trish, who has used nothing but Linux for over 3 years, and is completely happy with her computer, now feels the need to switch to Windows so that she can get the same web-browsing features as her friends.

Does this sound like a big deal to you, gentle reader? If it does, than I have accomplished my mission. If it does not, read on:

In 1994, I hated Netscape Communications, Inc. The way they were embracing and extending the HTML standards was starting to become very disturbing for me. The more websites that I found that said that it uses Netscape Extensions, the more angry I became.

Then Netscape released Navigator for Linux, and everybody loved them again. They were our saviour, completing the picture of a perfect desktop for Linux users. We were all Linux users, browsing any site we wished, enjoying the satisfaction of having a great web browser for our desktop.

Then Microsoft created Internet Explorer. Then Microsoft won the "Browser War". Then webmasters began using some of the "advanced" features of Internet Explorer, shutting out Netscape users.

Problem yet? Still not convinced? Okay, let's fast forward 1 year:

Microsoft owns 99% of the web browser market share, and they control the HTTP protocol. They start adding a huge variety of features to their "Internet Information Server", their competitor to Apache, to offer advanced features to Internet Explorer clients. At this point, sites being served by Apache become useless. Then Linux becomes obsolete as a web server platform. Then Microsoft wins the war, and we're right back to square one, and proprietary technology wins again.

Return of the Jedi

On April 1st, 1998, Netscape Communications, Inc. made one final redeeming move. They released the source code to Netscape Navigator, freeing it to the Free Software community to do with as they chose.

1 and a half years later, this browser is still nowhere near completion. There is a band of rebels working feverishly on the code, trying to bring it to a usable state as quickly as possible. Plagued with problems and set-backs, Mozilla continues forward, currently at "Milestone 10". Will we see a completely usable web browser for Linux in time to save us from seeing a new monopoly for Microsoft be created?

Attention: This is the battle that could cost us the war. If we come together and push all of our might toward a Free Web Browser for Linux, we have a good chance of winning this battle. If we fail, we will lose the war. This is the issue that Microsoft wants us to overlook.

I am making a personal committment to get involved with the Mozilla project. It is the project with the most potential to become this Free Web Browser that we so desperately need. Netscape is NOT going to save us this time. Netscape has failed us, and it's time to take matters into our own hands.

If we fail, we will lose the war.

Add that to your .signature:

If we fail, we will lose the war.

And repeat it every morning to yourself:

If we fail, we will lose the war.

When you are looking over Mozilla, finding items that could use your contribution, remember:

If we fail, we will lose the war.

The truth of the matter, friends and esteemed members of the community:

If we fail, we will lose the war.