A lot has been written recently which purports that people just don’t seem to understand what it takes to make Mozilla into the best, and that we all just need to pipe down about the problems in both the currently-shipping Netscape browser offering and in the development cycle for Mozilla. (Some of this seems to stem from my postings and comments on this issue over the past week.)

There are a few major problems with the line of thinking that’s driving the current Mozilla/Netscape/AOL defenders:

  1. Netscape, whether or not they want to say so, should feel like they have at least an iota of responsibility for fixing the major showstopping bugs in their currently-shipping product. Here, I am referring to pages with up-to-spec CSS just plain crashing their browser; the fact that a developer contacted them to ask them to help, and their response was that they were too busy on ther next version to fix this, is just abhorrent.

    Imagine if Microsoft Word had a bug where opening up a document saved in a prior format just crashed the application. Now imagine if, when contacted, they said that they wouldn’t bother fixing it, because Office 2001 is currently in development, is a new code base, and people can just wait for that. I guarantee that you’d read about the ensuing fracas on major computer news sites, Slashdot, and possibly even on Scripting News — because it’s Microsoft that’s involved. The fact that Netscape is the company here that’s making a totally stupid decision is what is making people defend them. They’ve got a good thing going, I guess. (I imagine, though, that the real reason that nobody cares about this is because Dori’s right — Netscape is irrelevant, and thus, nobody is even bothering to lift a finger.)

  2. While the Mozilla group claims that things are moving so slowly because, for once, they’re trying to do it right, what they in fact are doing is adding more bloat, features, and doo-dads to the application that don’t matter, and methinks this is what’s taking so long. Sure, it will be a browser. It will also be a mail client, a news reader, an instant messaging client, a voice-over-IP client, a client for news, travel, and financial data, a portal, and possibly will make your bed for you. The scariest quote from the above-quoted PC World article:

    Netscape says it will more heavily leverage AOL properties, including shopping sites, from within the browser. Netcenter services are also being more tightly woven into the browser, along with many “modular” add-ons that will let users tailor the browser’s appearance.

  3. Netscape’s gotta take the bad (or what they see as the bad) with the good. By choosing to make the Mozilla development process a public one, they have opened themselves up to public criticism of that process. And given both that their current browser is terrible and that the product of the Mozilla development process doesn’t look to be anything like what I want to use in my daily browsing life (and, so far as I can tell, this amalgam of tools lumped into one app isn’t what most web users want to use either), I feel like web developers are getting shafted. Thus, criticism.
  4. No matter what they use to justify their current timetable of development and lack of willingness to fix their current browser, or what my or anyone else’s opinions are about their strategy, Netscape surely should realize that their continued path can only lead to irrelevance. StatMarket’s one-year trend graph of Microsoft vs. Netscape is pretty telling — as Netscape dawdles, Microsoft wins. (Note that I’m not particularly pro-Microsoft on this issue except for the fact that Microsoft’s browser is clearly a better one. If BrowserCorp or WebCompany or HTML’R’Us had a browser that did CSS and was quick and didn’t crash and was free, then that graph would probably look a bit different, and I’d feel a bit different.) We can all argue and argue and argue on this, but in a year, I’m willing to bet that even with Mozilla on the scene, that graph won’t look too different, and as a developer, I’ll still be developing sites predominantly for MSIE.

So, in the final analysis, it’s interesting to me that the people who put forth the lament that people just don’t understand what it takes to make a better browser clearly believe that this whine will change reality, and that people will take a step back and stop switching away from Netscape and to other browsers. People probably feel bad for their plight, but this doesn’t appear to be a strong enough reason for them to stop fleeing Netscape’s product.

(And as a postscript meant specifically for mozilla.editthispage.com: I’m running Mozilla on three different platforms, but I’m not seeing anything groundbreaking, and I’m not tempted to switch. Oh, and your comments regarding AOL’s blocking of AIM interconnections demonstrate a fundamentally flawed understanding of AOL’s own statements, releases, and actions earlier this year; your snide remark about the BetaNews user comments smacks mostly of the “I can’t defend someone so I’ll insult their attackers” mentality.)

[late note: I posted a followup to this diatribe at this location in the discussion group.]


Just to let you know, I filed a bug on your sidebar, as I saw that you said it didn’t work, and I tried it in mozilla and saw the same thing. http://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=21516

• Posted by: Jason Kersey on Dec 11, 1999, 7:47 PM

Cool — I was going to do the same, but I saw that for the most part, the CSS table stuff has been “mass moved” to the M14. (At least I assume that that’s what has happened; I don’t exactly know how to read the Bugzilla pages perfectly yet.)

The search that I did for the bugs was this (how about THAT for a long URL!). One of the bugs, bug 2436, is where I got the CSS2 table test page from, and at the end of this bug (and all HTML Tables CSS bugs), there’s a “mass move to m14” comment.

• Posted by: Jason Levine on Dec 11, 1999, 8:42 PM


Many seem to believe that I don’t know the difference between Mozilla and Netscape. So let me make my understanding of the two entities, and the derivations of my arguments, clear, and if I am wrong about anything in the Mozilla vs. Netscape distinction, please correct me.

Netscape is a company. They are responsible for all prior versions of the Navigator/Communicator browser/suite, and they were recently bought by AOL. (So I guess a more accurate, up-to-date version of the first sentence would be that Netscape is a wholly-owned subsidiary rather than a company.)

Mozilla is a group of people within Netscape. They were formed before the AOL purchase of Netscape, and they mostly serve as a clearinghouse for the open-source browser/application which bears their name. According to mission statement, they are not coders; instead, “most of the code that goes into the distribution will be written elsewhere, both within the Netscape Client Engineering group, and, increasingly, out there on the net, at other companies and other development organizations.”

So, from this basis of understanding, I still believe: that Netscape as a company should feel responsible for fixing crashing bugs in their old (current) browser; that Netscape had to approve the making of Mozilla into an open-source, public effort (a contention supported by the news articles at the time), and as such, must accept the public criticism of the process; and that both the-people-that-are-Mozilla and the-company-that-is-Netscape should be worried about the alpha/beta/release timetable working against them.

One thing that Jason Kersey pointed out that changes one of my statements is that Mozilla, the product, does not contain the instant messaging client or the licensing-motivated stuff; from his list, though, it still does contain a mail client, news reader, HTML editor, and chat client, and it’s this stuff that I wish they weren’t spinning their wheels on. As Dave Winer and I agreed on, we need more browsers out there right now, and the fact that a possibly useful one is being held up by this flotsam and jetsam is sad.

Oh, and I thought of a good analogy/extension to my argument in a cab on the way home tonight. Imagine the following scenario: Microsoft is split up tomorrow in some fashion. The next day, a huge security or stability bug is found in Windows 98, or Windows NT 4. When approached about it, they say that they’re under a lot of stress from being split up, and besides, the next version of Windows will be out in February, so just quit your complaining and wait for that.

Would you buy their excuse? No, because it’s not legitimate. You’d feel bad for their predicament, or at least many people would; right after you wiped your eyes, though, you’d start thinking about what other operating system to put on your machine. Same thing with browsers, in this case, and Netscape/Mozilla isn’t on the winning end.

Lastly, I frequently return to a good treatise on what Mozilla was supposed to be, and what it turned out to be — Jamie Zawinski’s parting words upon resigning from Netscape/AOL. It offers an insider’s view of what happened to Netscape, both prior to and after the AOL acquisition, and what has happened to Mozilla throughout that time. Great reading.

• Posted by: Jason Levine on Dec 11, 1999, 9:48 PM
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