Buzz Archive: July 2003

Getting it

Quoted in a recent ZDnet article:

“[Now that Microsoft has announced the end of standalone versions of Internet Explorer,] people will think, ‘are the applications I'm writing for the browser browser-agnostic, or are they IE applications—which makes them Windows applications?’ If I want an application to run on a Linux desktop or Macintosh desktop, maybe the way to do that is to ensure it runs on Mozilla, Safari and the other main browsers.” —Michael Silver, Gartner Group research vice president

“The bottom line is that consumer-facing Web sites have been remiss in supporting the latest standards, and unresponsive to the needs of many users. It's time to reassess that approach, and Microsoft's decision is a good spur to doing just that.” —James Governor, RedMonk principal analyst


Some men you just can't reach

Bucking the trend towards browser-neutral, standards-based web development,'s new music site,, requires Internet Explorer for Windows.

Browser-specific development. How quaint. Did I miss the time-warp back to 1995?

Sorting it Out

A few of articles to help put the AOL announcement into perspective:

C|Net has a summary of the AOL and Mozilla Foundation announcements. The story contains a couple of factual glitches. First, the AOL-Microsoft settlement didn't guarantee AOL would use IE; it guaranteed that AOL could use IE royalty-free for the next seven years. AOL and everyone else can do so already; the settlement just guarantees Microsoft won't start charging AOL royalties until 2010 at least. Second, the Mozilla project didn't switch their focus from the monolithic suite to Firebird (née Phoenix) to achieve platform-independence or better support for Web standards. Both have been project goals from the first. The switch was aimed at simplifying and speeding development.

The Register adds some historical perspective, and a few not-entirely-undeserved barbs at the Mozilla project.

Wired takes a much more upbeat view in their article. A word of caution regarding the OneStat browser statistics cited in the article: Those figures represent browser usage observed by OneStat's clients, not a statistically valid sample of the entire Web audience. Individual sites often see very different browser usage patterns than those reported by OneStat.

Also worth a look is Peter-Paul Koch's Browser Wars II. Koch gets a couple things wrong, though. He says Microsoft may have no choice but to discontinue upgrades for the standalone IE/Win: its Trident rendering engine may be so heavily patched that further improvements are impossible. Maybe, but Microsoft has an outstanding alternative in the form of the Tasman engine that powers IE Mac and is already being moved to other platforms. Second, Koch says IE Mac is dead. It isn't. The free version of IE Mac is dead. A new version of the- browser-formerly-known-as-IE-Mac is available (for a monthly fee) as MSN for Macintosh.

Finally, Ralph Mellor posited that Mozilla's ties to AOL Time Warner may have been a bad thing. He makes an interesting point, but he's forgetting one thing: the Netscape brand. Browsers aren't typically chosen by people who care about things like independence and technical superiority. Browsers are chosen by end users. As Geoffrey Moore points out in Crossing the Chasm, end users don't understand tech and don't want to. They choose technology based on what they think is safe. Well-known brands appear safe because so many other people are using them. Aside from IE, the only browser brand with any recognition outside Web developer circles is Netscape. With the Netscape browser dead people—including some Web developers—may conclude there is no viable alternative to IE. Worse, many may decide that Web standards are synonymous with 'works in IE/Win'.

It's up to us (and you) to ensure that doesn't happen.

Eulogizing Netscape

Though Mozilla lives on, the Netscape-branded browser is well and truly dead (or 'in maintenance mode', as the PR wonks call it).

Eulogies and opinions are popping up around the Web. Already weighing in are standards and design maven Jeffrey Zeldman, CSS Guru and Netscape evangelist Eric Meyer, tech industry pundit Dan Gillmor, Netscape developer Daniel Glazman, Web designers Douglas Bowman and Bryan Bell, dozens of ex-Netscape employees and others. The MetaFilter and Slashdot communities are talking it over, too.

Dead How?

At this point news is still sketchy, but the bottom line is that AOL is dismantling Netscape and laying off or “redeploying” the Netscape engineers who were working on Mozilla. Coordination of Mozilla development will continue through the Mozilla Foundation...

R.I.P. Netscape

1994 - 2003

Eric talks standards, Dave browses for bugs

"The criticism that CSS websites have looked plain is really well deserved but the reason that CSS driven sites have looked plain to date is that the people who have created those sites have not been visual artists they haven't have strong graphic design skills and I totally include myself in that category."

So says Eric (middle name CSS) Meyer in an interview with Radio NZ's Digital Life (transcript available here). It's another one of those useful documents to file away and recall when you find a client or manager asking "Why should I bother with web standards", and it covers the myth of ugly CSS sites (citing CSS Zen Garden as an example that this is not necessarily true) and the realities of commercial sites moving across to standards (ESPN example quoted).

Elsewhere in the world of standards, Dave Hyatt writes in Surfin Safari: "If there's a bug that we didn't fix that you've been clamoring for in every beta, feel free to mention it in your lists. I will read all trackbacks and look for the most popular requests." This is an interesting way of tracking what users find most frustrating — after all, not all users will go to the trouble of entering something in Bugzilla. Given how closely Dave is associated with the development of the Safari browser, this is a very open approach to addressing what the public feels is most important.

But let's just stop to think about this for a minute — how many Safari users are there? Sure, a lot of people swear by that browser, but compare this with the number of IE/Windows users worldwide and it pales into insignificance. Yet, despite the smaller user base and the smaller development team, Safari is addressing bugs that, so far, Microsoft seems reticent to with its browser. We would like to remind Microsoft — and the industry as a whole — that this is important to us, and if Dave and his team can come up with the goods, we would expect Microsoft to be able to do the same.

Hitting the Target

The following, published within an advice column in several Gannett papers, was recently brought to our attention:

“...90 percent of Web surfers use Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Web developers often optimize their sites to work best with it. Using Netscape may not prevent you from seeing a page, but it may prevent you from seeing it the way developers intended.”

A concerned developer thoughtfully wrote his local paper with a reply to that advice that points to Web standards:

“...Web developers have chosen to target the design of their Web site for Internet Explorer rather than complying with accepted Web standards, which browsers such as Netscape do a great job of adhering to.”

While it’s necessary to ensure that a site works exactly as intended in the browser with the greatest market share, the focus of the WaSP’s recent work is on helping developers to do so while also complying with standards so that all Web users can get full use from the sites they visit.

If you’re interested in better learning how to build standards-compliant sites and demonstrating to others how to do the same, this site’s Learn section will provide you with some valuable starting points for the improvement of your skills.