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Perhaps AOL isn't that bad.
March 11, 2002 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps AOL isn't that bad. I've never liked AOL, but this recent article makes me want to give the company a big hug. Finally, people are stepping up to the Microsoft juggernaut and deciding to use other means to deliever content and run their own machines. AOL is trying to cut costs by migrating from UNIX and Windows to a Linux environment on the server-side. On the client side, they will apparently be pushing the use of Mozilla instead of their previous default browser, Internet Explorer. This has the potential to impact the web enormously, as AOL's 30 million subscribers will soon be using Mozilla as their browser. Web designers will have to start sticking to w3c specs instead of using MSIE-specific coding, which will hopefully force Microsoft to follow the specs more closely. Begun this browser war has. (via /.)
posted by Hammerikaner (43 comments total)

 
Two thoughts:

1) Will AOL actually be pushing Mozilla, the open-source project, or Netscape 6.x, the overly bloated and feature-riddled version? (On a side note, I officially abandoned the latter for the former this weekend, and couldn't be happier.)

2) You're assuming that AOL's 30 million subscribers will immediately upgrade to the new browser simply because AOL is adopting it. Given the limited technical savvy of the average AOL user (read: my grandparents), I would postulate that far fewer existing users will upgrade if their current browser is working "well enough".
posted by Danelope at 9:04 AM on March 11, 2002


AOL vs. Microsoft is the coming war. MS/NBC and some close alliances with Fox versus the AOL/Time-Warner juggernaut. Don't kid yourself about this approach AOL is taking, it's simply to create an environment where they control the vertical and horizontal instead of the boys in Redmond. The battle lines are being drawn between these two superpowers. So, you pick. A company that while incredibly predatory has brought much in the way of enabling technology or the largest media conglomerate ever built disguised as a fluffy, user-friendly ISP.
posted by shagoth at 9:13 AM on March 11, 2002


...another AOL techie says, "It's still easier to optimize eveything when we finally control both the server and the client, and can make them work as smoothly together as possible."

Exactly what makes them different from Microsoft?
posted by internal at 9:14 AM on March 11, 2002


Why is AOL "not so bad" simply because they're trying to cut costs and not further the cause of an opposing pseudo-monopoly? They're doing this for selfish reasons, not for the good of the users or the Internet. See the Trillian saga for proof of this.
posted by Sinner at 9:14 AM on March 11, 2002


And when will AOL allow their customers to receive HTML-formatted email? Face it, AOL has the potential to be a much scarier monopolist than MS.

The whole AOL as savior from big bad Microsoft scenario reminds me of the Russian peasants who thought the advancing Nazi's were there to rescue them from the Bolsheviks. That is until they started killing them.
posted by nobody_knose at 9:14 AM on March 11, 2002


... Trilian saga, that is.
posted by Sinner at 9:15 AM on March 11, 2002


I will have to say, I used AOL for 2 years straight. And I hated it. I will find all the freaking content I wand myself. No need for my ISP to spoon feed me thankyou very much. It is annoying, often slow and I hate the browser they use. Which by ANY means is not IE. They didnt use IE back then atleast. My understanding is that AOL has their very own CRAPPY browser.

Secondly, I give credit to IE for any conformation to W3C specs, because Netscape 4 series has made my life MISERABLE as a web developer. And if I code for IE 5.5 and above, the code runs seamlessly on Netscape 6.1 and above, albeit with minor changes, UNLIKE Netscape 4 series and AOL which I never cared for anyways.
posted by adnanbwp at 9:20 AM on March 11, 2002


If we get an anti-Microsoft article everytime some company switches from Propeitary Unix systems to Linux this is going to start getting more boring then the 'Bush is dumb' stories which are at least funny (in a scary way!). Now if they were switching away from Microsoft Servers that might mean something.

All AOL tech people we spoke to denied that corporate dislike of Microsoft played any part in their preference for either Linux or Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine. They said their choices were made purely on what worked best in tests they had run; that their concern was not corporate politics but to make life easier and smoother -- and downloads faster -- for AOL members.

[sarcasm]Let me guess. They also said Ted Turner is a hell of a guy. I am completely surprised that they prefer AOL/Time Warner's Netscape over IE. Who would have guessed it. [/sarcasm]

This is article is 100% advocacy by a biased editor of OSDN (Robin Miller). It is 0% critical thinking. There isn't a mention of attempting to contact either Red Hat or AOL for an official comment and their isn't a single attributed quote.
posted by srboisvert at 9:20 AM on March 11, 2002


I think the change to Mozilla is referring to the internal browser within the AOL client. One can use either that or a browser of your choice for regular web sites. For private AOL content (ie keywords), you are using the client's browser. Some people use this for everything, and some people merely use AOL as a TCP/IP connection.

Also, I have a lot of knowledge of AOL's internals, especially on the network side, and the Linux statements are true. Since there was never any MS based big iron in their complexes, this is a shift away from other Unixes like Sun and HP rather than a shift away from MS. Thus, this is not a particularly interesting or provacative article.

internal: your computer doesn't run AOL as an O/S. For purposes of this discussion, AOL is an ISP. You can always use someone else if you don't like them.
posted by astrogirl at 9:25 AM on March 11, 2002


Geez, the open source crowd would sleep with the devil himself to promote their stuff. I guess the enemy of your enemy is your pal.
posted by skallas at 9:30 AM on March 11, 2002


And when will AOL allow their customers to receive HTML-formatted email? Face it, AOL has the potential to be a much scarier monopolist than MS.

Happy a few realize this. Soon, quite a few more probably will. AOL, while confused with "the internet" by a lot of it's novice users, is a proprietray WAN - and has always wanted complete control over the user experience. It doesn't give a damn about standards, or interconnectivity (the IM wars are a good example of this). Hardware and operating systems are now close to being commodified. The real battleground of the future is in the sorts of business that can be built on top of them. AOL is moving towards owning both content production, content delivery, and connectivity.

People that still want to say MS is the great satan, and that it's a good thing that AOL is doing battle with them are still fighting yesterday's battles, and don't seem to be understanding exactly what it is that AOL has quietly built in the last couple of years, and what it might be possible to do with this.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:44 AM on March 11, 2002


You're assuming that AOL's 30 million subscribers will immediately upgrade to the new browser simply because AOL is adopting it. Given the limited technical savvy of the average AOL user (read: my grandparents), I would postulate that far fewer existing users will upgrade if their current browser is working "well enough".

They will upgrade because AOL will force them. Especially with people who use new computers/upgrade their OS. If you attempt to use any other version of the AOL software besides the newest with Windows XP, you get a message when you log on alerting you that your "software is not compatible with your new operating system." You then can connect to the AOL service 3 more times. After the 3rd time, you are prevented from accessing the internet through AOL until you upgrade your software.

They also typically include multiple versions of their software on installation CDs, along with a program that chooses which version you get.
posted by tomorama at 10:08 AM on March 11, 2002


AOL can play dirty when it suits them. They've conned the UK government into giving them an absurd tax exemption and are fighting like tigers to keep it.

From the Sunday Times (registration required) ..

David Melville, Freeserve’s general counsel, said: “Our advisers were warned off acting for us because they’re acting for Warner Bros. That shows the power of the muscle that AOL is prepared to apply. We can’t compete with that. Why the government has allowed this to happen is a mystery to us.”


If you don't know what VAT is, trust me - you don't want to.
posted by grahamwell at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2002


shagoth's comments has me excited over high-tech wargames between ms and aol, with shadow browsers, secret assasins and all.
posted by lotsofno at 10:25 AM on March 11, 2002


the main point of the post, in my opinion (since i made the link) and which i would like to get your feedback on is the following. by pushing mozilla, AOL will be bringing many (if not all) of its subscribers along for the ride with mozilla. what this means is that there will be detractors from the microsoft monopoly and force them to make a better browser. no longer will they be able to have MSIE render the microsoft way (read: wrong way), but rather will have to conform to w3 specs.

this will have the effect of furthering standards and making the web a more easily accessible place for everyone. i'm not saying that an AOL monopoly is better than a microsoft monopoly. what i'm saying is that a duopoly or a oligarchy is better than a monopoly. there's nothing wrong with a little competition... it just keeps everyone on their toes, and that's what we need to drive innovaton on the web in an open, innovative way.
posted by Hammerikaner at 10:53 AM on March 11, 2002


People that still want to say MS is the great satan, and that it's a good thing that AOL is doing battle with them are still fighting yesterday's battles, and don't seem to be understanding exactly what it is that AOL has quietly built in the last couple of years, and what it might be possible to do with this.

I think I understand what's possible when you're dealing with these kind of stakes. And you know what? I'd rather two companies fight over it than one having a lock on it. Sure, a 10 party system might be a grand idea, but I'd rather have two options than just one.
posted by jragon at 10:54 AM on March 11, 2002


Jinx.
posted by jragon at 10:55 AM on March 11, 2002


shit. hey, but i got it in first!
posted by Hammerikaner at 10:56 AM on March 11, 2002


And when will AOL allow their customers to receive HTML-formatted email?

This is one of the few things AOL is doing right, in my opinion. If AOL allowed HTML-formatted e-mail, you'd see a lot more of it, which would suck.
posted by kindall at 11:02 AM on March 11, 2002


who uses html-formatted email anyway? advertisers, that's who.
posted by Hammerikaner at 11:03 AM on March 11, 2002


no longer will they be able to have MSIE render the microsoft way (read: wrong way), but rather will have to conform to w3 specs.

I'm not sure I know what you are talking about.

MSIE is actually very close to the w3c specs, seriously. Even from IE 4 thru 6 they kept getting closer and closer to standards. A major reason for this is that Microsoft played a primary role in developing the w3c specs.

IE 5/6 and NS 6 are FAR, FAR closer to each other standards wise, than either NS4/IE4 or NS3/IE3 were. NS4 was miles away from the standards (netscape lost the standards battle in the w3, good thing, because there specs were crap).

Yes, IE layers some prop. stuff on top of that (mostly activeX related), but I don't see anything wrong with that, a very useful addition for intranets and other fixed browser systems, and, with proper detection, can be used to add some neat extras for IE users (the cool form tools, etc).

One thing is for sure, another major browser out there in large numbers will nicely add to development/QA time on projects. (if you actually think you will ever be able to write to specs without testing on target platforms, you obviously haven't done a lot of hands on computer work of any sort). Thankfully, since they are sorta close on specs, it hopefully wont be too bad.
posted by malphigian at 11:07 AM on March 11, 2002


when i work on my own personal page, i test my css and html output in mozilla first before i ever bring it into msie. this is just a personal preference, but i also do it for a slight cross-platform test, since i do most of my browsing in IE.

one of the main issues that i have found in rendering differences is how mozilla and ie use padding in css. mozilla does it the "correct" way (although i find it funky) by *adding* padding onto the width/height of the element (for instance, if an element is 100% screen width, adding 10% padding all around it will have an element that is actually 120% wide). IE includes the padding *inside* the element and is, as far as i have been informed, the wrong way to do it (as per w3 specs).

because of this, when i use padding for my own page and others, i have to do a little work-around hack so that it displays exactly the same in IE and mozilla.

if microsoft were held more accountable to web standards (read: if mozilla becomes a more widely used browser because of AOL's support), then hopefully they will conform to w3 specs and not do things their own way (read: the wrong way).

oh, and i fully admit that netscape 4 is completely horrible in terms of spec adherence. and about developing time being lengthened, that would be a short-term side effect until microsoft is forced to conform to the same specs that mozilla follows to the letter.
posted by Hammerikaner at 11:30 AM on March 11, 2002


no longer will they be able to have MSIE render the microsoft way (read: wrong way), but rather will have to conform to w3 specs
Let's not forget that IE5/Mac was the first browser to be (mostly) standards compliant.
posted by riffola at 11:40 AM on March 11, 2002


Hammerikaner, if you use IE6/PC or IE5/Mac with a proper doctype, you will notice that it renders the CSS box model exactly like Opera 6 and Mozilla/N6.x
posted by riffola at 11:45 AM on March 11, 2002


Can we acknowledge that possibly, sometimes Microsoft is a good guy, and sometimes, AOL is a good guy? Not everything either does is even remotely wholly evil. This is such a tiresome meme, I got tired of it back before there was a web.

I doubt that AOL would push Mozilla as the front-end browser. Mozilla was never intended to be a consumer browser, anyway (Danelope and other OSS nerds take note). It is intended to be an open-source foundation on which vendors, including Netscape, will build consumer browsers. AOL might well do an entirely different consumerization of Mozilla to bundle into AOL version N.0 -- certainly it doesn't require a mail or newsgroup client, and why would they include anything but AIM for chat? I would find this interesting, but not revolutionary, if it occurred. As to whether AOL users would upgrade, of course they would. They'd plug in the next coaster that arrived and bingo, just because they're supposed to and it has a bigger number. This is, after all, the ease of use experience they seek (and there's nothing wrong with that, either). Heck, my dad, who fears changing anything on his computer, just upgraded his AOL to my surprise, for no apparent reason that I could discern.
posted by dhartung at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2002


who uses html-formatted email anyway? advertisers, that's who.

Actually, not entirely true. While advertisers are a good example, there are other uses. CNet uses HTML mail. I get my comics in my inbox via HTML mail. Other HTML applications are there which are not advertising.

Average-Joe uses HTML mail when he sends e-mails with colors, bold, italics, etc... to users who then can't read them because AOL won't use a standard in their mail-reader software.
posted by benjh at 11:53 AM on March 11, 2002


Hammerikaner:

I am detecting much hate coming from you. You say that Microsoft does not conform to the CSS specification, and the example you give is the 'padding-*' attribute. Well, if you would look at the w3c box model for elements in a document tree, you would see that IE correctly calculates padding. Padding is calculated from the border in, so if your element is 100px wide, and has padding-left and padding-right of 5px, then you have 90px of content space (assuming no border). The spacing you are talking about is margin, margin is calculated outside the *box*, so it would extend element size.

I'm not even saying that Mozilla is bad, in fact, a lot of the time, I run Mozilla 0.9.5 with Multizilla plugin. But to say that developers use MSIE specific tags? WHERE?? I don't even know any. Both Mozilla 0.9.x and IE 5.0 or greater render HTML and CSS very well, in fact most of the time, I test my code in IE, and review in Mozilla, and it works fine. I for one am glad I don't have to support Netscape 4.x browsers anymore.

This post sounds more like a /. troll than anything else.
posted by patrickje at 12:09 PM on March 11, 2002


The width element in CSS refers to the width of the content area, patrickje. Padding is added outside of that, border outside of that, and margin outside of that. In other words, you goofed : )
posted by Ptrin at 12:25 PM on March 11, 2002


People that still want to say MS is the great satan, and that it's a good thing that AOL is doing battle with them are still fighting yesterday's battles, and don't seem to be understanding exactly what it is that AOL has quietly built in the last couple of years, and what it might be possible to do with this.

I think I understand what's possible when you're dealing with these kind of stakes. And you know what? I'd rather two companies fight over it than one having a lock on it. Sure, a 10 party system might be a grand idea, but I'd rather have two options than just one.


But my point was that it is only in narrow terms - browser compliance and things like that, where there is any functional competition. The much bigger issue, and the battleground of the future ... well ... as an example, I live in New York City, and have Time Warner cable. A few nights ago our company's director of communications - our ad buyer - was over watching some special. She noted that she was positively sick of all the damn AOL commercials on TV - on almost every cable channel. wondered how they could afford to blanket the airwaves - it hadn't, until that night, occured to her that it is now AOL/TW ... i.e., Time Warner, who decides which networks are on their cable channel, and from whom one can now buy cable modem service, is owned by AOL the ISP ... and can (and damn well will) leverage that relationship in a thousand ways no one has even considered yet.

Do you get what it means to have a single company owning the single largest ISP in the world, a huge cable network, and all of the content of TW? Microsoft is minor - it is only relevant in the IT world - AOL/TW has the potential to be a much bigger problem. So what if AOL gives MS competition for standards in the arena of the browser - that is a free commodity, and is merely the shell inside of which content appears.

For those worried about a single company "controlling" something ... think about the fact that for a good number of people, the internet and their cable TV are the two primary sources of information - it doesn't disturb anyone that content production, and distribution across delivery channels are all now controlled by one company? You're worried about Microsoft for goodness sake? Who cares if it's Linus vs. XP, or Mozilla vs. IE? That's like caring who made the actual wires in the TV set, or the technology that takes the signal and turns it into a color picture. It is mere plumbing.

Already, AOL can blanket the TW network with TV ads far more cheaply than MSN, or Earthlink, or any competitor. How do you suppose any telecom, or cable, or tech news is going to get covered? How do you suppose (for instance) the lawsuit brought by AOL against MS will be spun ... if one of the participants is also a media giant? What sort of stories do you suppose will and will not appear?
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:30 PM on March 11, 2002


Ptrin,

OK, after reviewing this, I agree with you. But it becomes confusing when it talks about 'containing blocks'. For example the time when I use padding-* attributes most is in tables, when I am displaying something to offset the content. Now I know that each TD element needs to be 100px wide, and I want 3 px padding-left and 1px padding-top, should this make the TD 103px wide, or is the containing block of the TD cell 100px?

Maybe it's wrong, but I prefer how IE calculates padding, it makes the math easier, when I am figuring out what goes where.
posted by patrickje at 12:37 PM on March 11, 2002


You all seem to listen to Zeldman, so I'll quote him, on IE's box model (emphasis mine),
A box 300 pixels wide, with 20 pixels of inner padding on each side, is 340 pixels wide in CSS-compliant browsers (300 + 20 pixels on the left + 20 pixels on the right). That's because padding, even though it occurs on the INSIDE of the box, is added to the overall width per the CSS-1 spec.
...
Many web designers who wrestle with CSS have asked why IE and Netscape 6 handle DIVs differently. The answer is, on the Macintosh platform, they don't. IE5/Mac and Netscape 6 (like Opera 5) get the CSS box model right. IE5/Win gets it wrong. In Windows, IE and Netscape differ because Netscape gets the box model right. IE6, I can only dream, will get it right as well.
[Editor: Since this article was initially written and designed, the IE6 beta has been released to the public. It does indeed get the CSS box model right.

--source
posted by holloway at 12:41 PM on March 11, 2002


Midas:

I agree totally...

AOL/Time warner's revenue 2002: 38.2 Billion USD
Microsoft's revenue 2002. 28.8 Billion USD

If you think Microsoft is evil (which I don't, Microsoft is soft bunnies in my heart), then AOL/Time Warner should be the devil, who do you think is bankrolling the RIAA, DCMA, SSSCA, and raising CD prices to $18 while paying artists $0.35 per CD (see Toni Braxton's record contract).

If AOL/Time Warner has it's way, everything you see, read, watch, listen to will be owned/copyrighted by AOL/TW and leased to you for a fee to use for a while.
posted by patrickje at 12:45 PM on March 11, 2002


"MSIE is actually very close to the w3c specs, seriously. "

I agree. And the new features they implement which do deviate from the W3c specs, are generally innovative stuffs that they are trialing/experimenting with, with the full approval of the W3c.

How anyone could use AOL after enduring his or her hideous, invasive advertising is beyond me. I remember a story in Salon a few years ago "Friends don't let friends use AOL" by someone who would recommend AOL to friends who weren't familiar with computers or the internet, intending it to be an introductory thing, but noticed that they rarely weaned off it. AOL as training wheels, the kind of training wheels you never let go of.

I have quite a lot of magazine AOL CDs. Just not quite enough to build a lamp stand. Yet.
posted by lucien at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2002


Geez folks, AOL has been able to read HTML formatted e-mail since Version 6.0 and some limited amount of HTML formatting all the way from Version 4.0.

It may take some "tweaks" to get very complex stuff to work but in general its not a problem for AOL users to receive and read properly formatted HTML e-mails.
posted by dhacker at 1:26 PM on March 11, 2002


But to say that developers use MSIE specific tags? WHERE??

document.all
most use this to detect if your browser can handle javascript (like rollovers & DHTML, etc), but it renders most javascript useless in a standards-compliant browser. document.all is an IE-ism. if(document.all) fails in mozilla, opera, etc.

event.returnValue=false;
another IE-ism, used all over the place to validate form input. i love going to websites and breaking their forms/databases by using mozilla to submit blank fields.
posted by afx114 at 3:04 PM on March 11, 2002


document.all is old school...I would think most people would use document.getElementById, and event.returnValue...never seen it. I mean bad code exists everywhere. The post makes it seem as though IE forces users to use these extensions, when in fact if developers pay attention to the w3c spec, they should be able to develop code that works on most browsers.

I mean this post could have easily been written to say.
Web designers will finally have to start sticking to w3c specs instead of using Netscape specific coding

Where Netscape specific is document.layers and the evil that layers entail.

And please Opera?? That browser's JavaScript engine sucks. At least I can get my Javascript working in both IE and Mozilla.

"i love going to websites and breaking their forms/databases by using mozilla to submit blank fields."....ah to be 12 again....
posted by patrickje at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2002


Besides, that's JavaScript, not HTML.
posted by kindall at 3:59 PM on March 11, 2002


I mean bad code exists everywhere.
...and it's often not noticed due to the overwhelming popularity of IE. The point is that there may now be a reason to check sites in other browsers due to their [god forgive me] market penetration.
posted by holloway at 4:01 PM on March 11, 2002


"Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!"
posted by inpHilltr8r at 5:31 PM on March 11, 2002


AOL Time Warner is, as they say in the biz, eating its own dogfood, to not particularly good effect:


A couple of weeks ago Warner Music Group migrated to Netscape 6.2, but from the comments I've heard from Warner Music Group staff, nobody is particularly happy. IT staffers are so ticked off that they are wearing 'I hate Netscape' T-shirts.

See this column and this followup
posted by agaffin at 5:34 PM on March 11, 2002


This is very good news.

Since Netscape dropped the ball way back in version 4.0, MS has been mostly unchallenged. Even though admittedly their browser product has been pretty good, the only way to stop inevitable "embracing and extending" is by having credible competition.
posted by lagado at 7:26 PM on March 11, 2002


AOL? Does anyone actually use AOL browser? Their ISP access works fine, for a cheap, modem connection. Why people assume that using AOL ISP means using their crapola browser, when IE works just fine through an AOL connection...I dunno!
posted by HTuttle at 9:25 PM on March 11, 2002


AOL? Does anyone actually use AOL browser?

Yes. All the anecdotal evidence I know of is that most people who use AOL use the built-in browser if they use any browser at all. Many of them don't even seem to use that; they just stick to AOL's own content (and its partners').

I also have a friend who just got hired as a project manager at AOL/Netscape, to work on Mozilla. I've been joking with her about how the project will never be finished, but it sounds like they're pretty serious about it now. I guess this might explain why.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:28 PM on March 11, 2002


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