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Dave Whitinger — The Battle That Could Lose Us The War

By Dave Whitinger, [email protected] (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.