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The Browser Wars are (almost) Over!

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their
own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today.
]

By Steve Savitzky

Like many hackers, no doubt, I’ve “wasted” most of the last
two days playing with Netscape 6: exploring its capabilities, its
(still somewhat sketchy) documentation, and its limitations. Yes,
it still crashes occasionally. Yes, a couple of important features
are missing (like a working bug report form!). No, I’m not ready to
start using it full time — yet!

But it’s true what they’re saying in the press: the
browser wars are over.
Netscape won.

There are four main reasons why IE is now in the position of a
cartoon character who has just walked off a cliff but hasn’t looked
down yet:

  1. It’s brandable. I’ve looked under the hood at
    the way the user interface is built, using XML. XUL is cool.
    Netscape can have as many themes as Enlightenment and Gnome put
    together. An ISP or a hardware vendor or a Linux distributor can
    take a perfectly normal Netscape and give it their own look and
    feel. You can put a button on your website that adds a panel to the
    sidebar (Netscape asks for permission first). Probably you’ll be
    able to do the same with complete `skins.’ The UI is just XML and
    images run through a stylesheet and rendered.

    At 5Mb, a copy of Netscape takes up less than 1% of a CD-ROM,
    and exactly none of the profit. If I want to make sure that my
    cool, browser-based advertising brochure and user’s manual are
    going to be displayed exactly the way my designers want,
    what am I going to ship with my product? That’s right, you’re going
    to be getting copies of Netscape with everything from BMW’s to
    toasters in a year or so.

  2. It’s hackable. It goes well beyond being able
    to change the look. You can get underneath it and write whole
    applications in Netscape. (OK, I don’t think anybody is
    going to write huge apps in Javascript, but just wait until the
    Python fans and the LISPers get their hooks in.) Think Emacs in
    mirrorshades.
  3. It’s standards compliant. Unlike Microsoft
    with their “embrace and extend” approach to standards, Netscape
    has made a determined effort to comply with all the relevant
    W3C standards, even at the expense
    of dropping some of the nonstandard tags they themselves
    introduced. What that means is that power will shift from the
    webmasters (who now say “70% of my customers are using IE, so
    that’s tough for you other insignificant worms”) to the users (who
    will be able to say “your crummy site doesn’t conform to the
    standards, and I can prove it, so now it’s your
    problem”).
  4. It’s embeddable. Netscape 6 is smaller than
    IE, though at upwards of 5MB it’s no flyweight. But it’s also
    free and portable to practically any OS. In case nobody
    noticed, Microsoft’s monopoly is on the desktop, not on the kitchen
    counter or in the hip pocket. In a couple of years the typical
    computer is going to be a portable, wireless internet access
    device, and its manufacturer is not going to be paying
    royalties for Windows and IE. At that point, it won’t matter much
    which browser is ahead on the PC.

What it all comes down to is that at maybe 70% of the browser
market, Microsoft’s share is not as invulnerable as they like to
think. Hardly! Microsoft has had two years during which Netscape
was basically in a holding pattern, and they still don’t
have total control. It will take a lot less time for them to lose
it.

Be sure to take a good look at the cliff fase on the way down,
Bill — it’s a once in a lifetime view!


Steve
Savitzky
has been working with computers since the early
1960’s, when men were men and transistors were germanium. His web
page Interesting Places
for Kids
was listed in the April 25, 1995 issue of PC Magazine as part of
A Guided
Tour of 100 Hot Sites
and was one of the first of its kind on
the web. He is currently the principal architect of the PIA, an open-source, web-based
document processing engine that incorporates a complete scripting
language with XML syntax. Previous projects have included two C++
application frameworks, a real-time kernel for the Zilog Z8000, and
software for the Zilog Z80 and Motorola 6800 microprocessors. A
strong proponent of open-source software, he has been
using Linux at home and at work since the early Slackware
distributions in 1993. His religious beliefs include
Emacs and ctwmg.