June 6, 2001
5:14 AM   Subscribe

My God, how I've loathed them over the years for their heart-stopping mix of hubris, brilliance, clueless, utter lack of any discipline whatsoever and oh, the sheer arrogance, but after all these years, it's with a distinct sense of ennui that I read that Netscape is throwing in the towel.
posted by m.polo (53 comments total)
Uhm. I don't mean to speak ill of Netscape fans. I used to be one myself. But when Bill Gates lowered the cost of web browsers to "free" that was when Netscape stopped being in the web browser business. It just took them a few years to realize it.

Imagine four gas stations on adjacent corners of an intersection. So long as their prices are a few pennies apart per gallon, they'll all get about the same amount of business. However, if one of them drops their price down to fifty cents a gallon, they'll suddenly steal the business from the other three gas stations. If someone were to somehow make gasoline free for the entire world, well let's just say there'd be a few rich people and the immense sum of people they employ who would suddenly find themselves making no money at all.

It's called undercutting the competition. Bill Gates did it very well. One of the reasons why some people think he's the devil. He doesn't do business with many scruples or ethics..
posted by ZachsMind at 5:44 AM on June 6, 2001

Can't say I'm surprised. The only thing that does surprise me is that they actually bothered to release the steaming pile of crap they call Netscape 6 before calling it quits. If they had chucked it in 18 months ago, they might at least have salvaged some reputation.

I'm assuming this doesn't affect Mozilla.org's development efforts in the slightest?
posted by RylandDotNet at 5:58 AM on June 6, 2001

I read the article looking for something shocking, but it just looks like a product manager went on a press tour. What's the news in this story?
posted by davewiner at 6:00 AM on June 6, 2001

Zach, I'd agree with you, if Microsoft were themselves only in the "browser business." But there is surely a difference between the a simple choice -- Netscape vs. MSIE -- and the proliferation of a browser embedded in OS software that runs over 90% of the world's computers. It's not as simple undercutting the competition, which I think the anti-trust courts have shown.

I'm not saying I don't use Internet Explorer, which I do, because of its standards compliance. Netscape hasn't been able to keep up. But a couple years ago, there was still hope for Netscape, and the purists [who didn't want to see Microsoft dominate this facet of the Internet] were pulling for Navigator to come through in the long haul. This may not be shocking news, like how a concession speech after an election is always the lesser story, but there is still an element of interest. The favorite won the election, yes, but the second-best decided to quit politics altogether. Now that MSIE is the only browser out there, any sense of competition disappears. The system with no checks and balances grows unfettered. And this only clears the path for Microsoft to dominate in other venues.
posted by legibility at 6:18 AM on June 6, 2001

Now that MSIE is the only browser out there, any sense of competition disappears.

A lot of IE's market share is earned due to Netscape's crappy products. And besides, I read nothing in this article that actually states that Netscape is going to stop developing browsers. Did I miss something?
posted by ljromanoff at 6:20 AM on June 6, 2001

Microsoft was able to offer IE for free because they had a ton of other products to sell... IE was made the gateway to Microsoft on the web. All in all a brilliant strategy by Gates & Co.

Had Netscape branched out to offer other products, it may have been a different story.

I also think AOL gobbling them up and not giving them the budget and manpower necessary to reinvent themselves in a timely manner was a major factor.
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 6:26 AM on June 6, 2001


Netscape isnt so bad nowadays with their more recent versions, but those people who still have like Netscape 4 (or maybe it's 3) sheesh, it's like designing a whole other page just for them ...
posted by a11an at 6:43 AM on June 6, 2001

jwz said this this a little while ago on his site:

"There is no longer a company called Netscape. It ceased to exist in 1999, when AOL bought it. The Netscape 'brand' is still being used by AOL/Time-Warner, but there is no 'Netscape' any more. Just AOL/Time-Warner and the many names under which it does business. That's important to remember, because whatever nostalgia you might have for Netscape-the-company, it is no more."

Think of this as repurposing the brand.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 6:52 AM on June 6, 2001

It has not been comforting to watch the complete overthrow of what was once "the better browser" (3), to what is now a hodgepodge group of products with a painful legacy of quirks and bugs.

But a slightly more overt browser monopoly by MS can be quietly protested by everyone who designs web pages - if we avoid IE specific features and remain strict to W3C standards (such as not pseudo-CSS styling our scrollbars) -- then we are preparing for the day when one of the many alternate browsers figures out how to gain favoritism and popularity.
posted by tr3pleshot at 7:03 AM on June 6, 2001

Maybe this leaves room for Opera to be recognized?

And in a sentence or two, could someone please explain what Mozilla is to the non-tech community. It sounds like a browser; for Unix? Who's behind it? Thanks.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:05 AM on June 6, 2001

Agree with jwz & Big Fat Tycoon - Netscape passed away long ago (relatively speaking); funeral plans are now being prepared. Comment 1: MSIE is NOT the only game in town. There are still plenty of Netscape users, and I've recently dabbled in Opera, which seems to be a decent browser. I use MSIE most of the time, but occasionally switch to one of the other two just to see things in a slightly different light. Comment 2: "Ennui" is not how I felt; more like smelling a perfume that you recognize from your high-school prom date - pretty pictures float through your mind recalling the limitless possibilities associated with young romance. I was that way with Netscape way back in 94/95 - whenever I think of the *real* Netscape (certainly not this 6.0 crap), I get a bit wistful, even nostalgic, and start to wonder whatever happened to the old girl...wishing that she married a decent guy, but never quite accepting the fact that she married someone (AOL/TW) who never understood her the way I did on that enchanted prom night.
Feh. In the long run, we're all dead, right?
posted by davidmsc at 7:06 AM on June 6, 2001

I think it was outrageous for AOL to be able to buy Netscape in the first place.

And how does this effect the MS Antitrust case, officially or unofficially
posted by ParisParamus at 7:10 AM on June 6, 2001

I'll miss Netscape. I converted to IE mid-last year, but Netscape was my first time. It held my hand, and helped me become a WWW man. I'll always be thankful for that.
posted by Pinwiz at 7:13 AM on June 6, 2001

So, they're turning Netscape into Pathfinder 2.0?.
posted by waxpancake at 7:20 AM on June 6, 2001

Mozilla was intended to be a browser; now, it appears to be a Swiss Army chainsaw. At some point, Netscape decided to release a big chunk of their browser code as an Open Source project, so that hobbyists could work on improving it. Early on, it looked like the project was going to produce the compact, cross-platform, standards-compliant browser. IMHO, creeping featurism took over, at the expense of the principle of a simple, stable web browser.
posted by harmful at 7:22 AM on June 6, 2001

The nostalgia that people have for Netscape (particularly the techie segment) is worth a ton and something that other AOL/T-W properties are lacking, yet they throw it to the dogs.

If a new version of Netscape came out that got it right then I think this segment would embrace it. AOL could then use these warm fuzzies as an inroad against MS in the server market and other areas.
posted by Mick at 7:26 AM on June 6, 2001

At some point, Netscape decided to release a big chunk of their browser code as an Open Source project, so that hobbyists could work on improving it.

When I read that, the first thing which came to mind was Superman being rocketed away from Kryptonite before it planet exploded. Thanks.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:31 AM on June 6, 2001

Netscape sucked after version 3. MS would have won the 'war' at version 4, even if they didn't give IE away. Of course, if they hadn't done that, then maybe Netscape would have had the $$$ to fix the codebase. And don't get me started on the arrogance and incompliance (sp?) of Netscape before version 4.

However, the fact that Mozilla.org had to throw away the codebase (assuming that was done for code quality, not because it was more 'fun' that way) indicates that NN just sucked internally. They had this coming; if it wasn't MS, it would have been SpyGlass, or someone else.

BTW, the article doesnt say they're throwing in the browser towel, but that they will focus on the netscape.com portal (Pathfinder redux). Although in my mind there is no way for them to do that without focusing on the 80% of the browser market that's IE users. I.e. Netscape Navigator, RIP.
posted by costas at 7:34 AM on June 6, 2001

ParisParamus: Mozilla is a new browser developed primarily by the folks at AOL/Netscape (although it is source-available). It contains very little (no?) code from the Netscape 4.x series. Basically it's a ground-up rewrite of Netscape. Moz and Netscape 6 are the same thing, just with dfferent labeling. Mozilla is the browser for the geeks who don't mind upgrading it every day; Netscape 6 is *supposedly* the browser for the masses. It's available on all major platforms but only really works well, in my experience, on various Unices and Windows.

The Gecko HTML display engine that Mozilla/Netscape 6 uses is a thing of beauty; unfortunately the browser built around it is a clunky, bloated, overfeatured piece of crap. If they had stopped with Gecko and licensed that out two years ago, we'd all be in a better place right now.
posted by darukaru at 7:34 AM on June 6, 2001

Paris Paramus, "Mozilla" was one of the more blatant cases of a privately-run company attempting to exploit the open-source movement. About the time Netscape realized that it was no longer able to make money selling Navigator, someone had the bright idea that if they were to release their source as a semblance of "open source", then thousands of programmers would flock to the cause and write code for Netscape for free. In actual practice, there was damned little "flocking" for a long time, and most of the work done on Mozilla for the first year was done by Netscape employees. Eventually a reasonable group of people got involved in it but it was never really huge, and it turned out that the existing code was in many regards such a mess that large parts of it had to be rewritten. An effort expected to take a year ended up taking more than three, and it isn't done yet. At a certain point, Netscape took a snapshot of the Mozilla code, did a bit of refining of it, and released it as Netscape 6. It was, sad to say, "not ready for primetime" and largely iced any chances Netscape had for a comeback in the browser market. The Mozilla effort has continued since then and from what I hear it continues to make progress, though it has some bells-and-whistles of questionable value, but it's built on a foundation of sand since it still requires a lot of money to be spent by Netscape itself. If Netscape ever really pulls the plug on the Mozilla program by canning or reassigning all its people and shutting down its servers, the Mozilla process will probably continue but at a reduced rate.

Mozilla has fans, some quite enthusiastic (and some rabid) but it doesn't represent a threat to Internet Explorer. The "open source" process either did or did not work, depending on what you wanted it to accomplish. It did result in a major program. But it took an enormous amount of time, and in a commercial world, timing is everything. The window for it to really make a difference closed a long time ago, and it's not done yet.

Jamie Zawinski was one of the people at Netscape who originally worked on the browser, and who was involved in the Mozilla project. In 1999, he quit, and wrote this about his disillusionment with it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:39 AM on June 6, 2001

When I read that, the first thing which came to mind was Superman being rocketed away from Kryptonite before it planet exploded.

There was a fairly entertaining documentary on PBS called Code Rush a while back that covered Netscape around the time they were gearing up to release the code (jwz was in full effect in those days). From watching it, I'd say your description is pretty accurate.

Mozilla has gotten very nice in the past few months; the most recent milestone build (0.9) is really quite useable. (Konqueror, in comparison, I don't care for much at all.)

It's definitely not a lightweight browser -- and it's just as well, since I'm not sure they could improve on Opera in that arena. But the scope of the project is sort of awe-inspiring, especially when you consider how suicidal Netscape must have been to embark on it. In short, Mozilla is not a web browser -- it's a cross-platform development platform, intended for developing all manner of weird applications which can make use of its components (including a rendering engine which becomes quite speedy when separated from all of it's extra baggage). The weird things that Mozilla has done (and taken flak for), such as recreating GUI widgets from scratch, make more sense when looked at this way -- it's a lesson learned from Java that you can't rely on third-parties to make cross-platform GUI elements look and behave in a consistent fashion.
posted by tingley at 7:48 AM on June 6, 2001

And how does this effect the MS Antitrust case, officially or unofficially.

I've often felt with that the whole browser thing was almost a red herring in that case -- sure, there were some sketchy things going on with browser bundling, but a lot of people seemed to get the impression that the case was ultimately about Netscape v. Microsoft. Which it wasn't, really; the browser thing was merely a recent (and unusually high-profile) example of a systematic business practice.

This has worked to their benefit. People see the browser issue as a false alarm, because Netscape continued to suck at 4.x while IE actually made serious improvements to their software. But the pattern hasn't changed -- MS has simply moved on to bigger fish, like digital media.

Supposedly there were rumors a couple days back that MS wanted to buy AT Broadband (though I never saw the articles that claimed this). That would be interesting. It's quite possible that it would result in antitrust violations of simply epic proportions. (And that would be too bad, as I'd be on the receiving end of said violations.)
posted by tingley at 8:02 AM on June 6, 2001

Re: the death of Krypton

But I saw mozilla.org as a chance to jettison an escape pod -- to give the code we had all worked so hard on a chance to live on beyond the death of Netscape, and chance to continue to have some relevance to the world.
--jwz, nomo zilla

So you had it right on the nail, Paris.
posted by darukaru at 8:38 AM on June 6, 2001

What people keep forgetting is that Netscape set an early standard for devloping for numerous operating systems. Netscape, for the most part, was OS-agnostic. The quality of the software varied from OS to OS, but it was available for many operating systems on a regular release schedule.

Enter Microsoft. Microsoft, because of its monoply on the OS market, will likely never develop a version of Internet Explorer for Linux or any of the various Unix OS's still being used. For them to do so would be to acknowledge that there are other OS's being used in the world other than Microosft's own. Microsoft's business strategy has always been one of locking end users and corporations into a proprietary solution. A solution where your choices of technologies and operating systems is very small. Not surprisingly, this is the opposite of Netscape's vision, where choice of an OS was a very important factor.

I dread the day when we have two Internets. One that is completely Microsoft-centric, only works on Microsoft operating systems with Microsoft technology; and a second Internet that complies to the open standards and technologies that made the Internet what it is today.
posted by camworld at 8:54 AM on June 6, 2001

No one ever calls me Paramus : ( Do you all hate New Jersey? : )
posted by ParisParamus at 9:02 AM on June 6, 2001

The only people who have nostalgia for Netscape are an ever-decreasing developer base. For the rest of us who have to build 4, 6, 8 versions of sites and applications for the web because of NN, I imagine we're all dancing in the streets that finally - finally! - it might all be closer to being over.

I am not on the side of memories or companies - I just want to build one, standards-compliant site and be done with it. Netscape was never interested in that approach and thus are undeserving of my nostalgia, pity and enthusiasm.
posted by gsh at 9:12 AM on June 6, 2001

jwz's latest thoughts:

I don't really understand why they bought Netscape at all. Maybe it was simply to prevent the Netcenter portal (the monstrosity that the Netscape home page had become) from competing with AOL. They certainly didn't buy Netscape for the browser, especially given AOL's recent announcement that they're standardizing on Internet Explorer. In 1998, I wrote, ``it's hard to imagine that [AOL] would spend $4 billion dollars on Netscape just to throw away the client.'' But that would appear to be exactly what they have done.

And no, Mozilla is a piece of crap.
posted by holgate at 9:18 AM on June 6, 2001

Microsoft is not to get the credit or blame for making the Web browser free. While Netscape nominally expected money for their browser, I know very few people who actually paid for it. As a Wired article of the time put it (the quote may not be exact), "It's free for evaluation, and people seem to 'evaluate' it a lot." Their strategy was always to make the big money from their server software. A Web browser is not, after all, rocket science.

Nor was Microsoft alone in providing features that worked only between their browsers and their servers. Netscape pioneered this practice. If you go to a Web site that uses a Netscape server using Netscape, the "Location" label next to the URL turns into a "NetSite" label. That is, the browser recognizes the server and promotes the idea that you're not really at a "net site" unless it runs a Netscape server. How Microsoftian is that? I'm sure it was only the beginning.
posted by kindall at 9:20 AM on June 6, 2001

Um, Cam - I hate to point it out, but MS has been making IE versions for Unix OS's since at leat IE 4. Here's a page as proof that even IE 5 for Solaris & HP-UX is being supported.

When I was working at MSNBC, we had to assure that the site looked good on IE in many different OS's
posted by kokogiak at 9:42 AM on June 6, 2001

I'm not a 100% fan of Mozilla -- it is bigger than it needed to be, it has taken too long (though 3Q '01 is the latest target for a 1.0 release). But they have built a standards-compliant browser and really shouldn't be made the scapegoat for prior Netscape mis-steps. Mozilla has nothing in common with Netscape 4.x and should be judged as a separate product. Netscape 6 was Mozilla 0.6 with some customization, but they've already reached Mozilla 0.9, and it's a very stable beta that could easily be someone's primary browser.

Here's the rub, for obvious rubes :) like Steven: Internet Explorer may be the bomb in the Windows world, but Windows isn't quite everywhere. If you're on most brands of Unix, for example, there simply isn't an IE release for you. So Mozilla is going to be tied closely to the Linux world for some time to come, open-source bona fides notwithstanding. Don't forget that there are also many people who refuse to use Microsoft products or be hog-tied to their development decisions. These people will also form a niche market for Mozilla.

The original dreams of an army of open-source coders may have fallen by the wayside, but Mozilla has made excellent and respectful use of its alpha and beta test customers, which is really a much more manageable way to run things. I don't think that a project as big as Mozilla can really be run with an army of coders -- the mythical man-month and all. Linux is bigger, but it's really a suite of multiple open-source projects in parallel, with the kernel simply being one of them (and a very tightly controlled one, for that matter).

It's crazy, it's quixotic, it's buried below the corporate PR radar, but I think somehow Mozilla is going to work. Go ahead, download it, give it a whirl. (Have a note, 0.8.1 is slightly more stable than 0.9, which incorporated some heavily rewritten sections, although obviously it will also have a higher number of minor bugs in terms of rendering or expected behavior.)
posted by dhartung at 9:50 AM on June 6, 2001

Microsoft, because of its monoply on the OS market, will likely never develop a version of Internet Explorer for Linux or any of the various Unix OS's still being used. For them to do so would be to acknowledge that there are other OS's being used in the world other than Microosft's own.

While this thread is ostensibly about Netscape, let's not let our Winphobia carry us away, kids. I'm sure the the news that Microsoft wouldn't recognize an OS other than their own would come as a huge surprise to the Cupertino posse, who have included Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook Express on every Macintosh shipped in the past three years, as well as to the MBU guys who grossed something like a bazillion dollars in sales on Microsoft Office 2001 so far...
posted by m.polo at 10:15 AM on June 6, 2001

I have been very pleased with Mozilla .8.1 and .9.0 (9.1 should be out with in days). I find most of the Web, the older stuff and the new standards based sites, render properly. Moz. usually renders more quickly than IE. Yes it is larger than the dream world lightweight browser it was originally intended, but .9.0 is the best browser I have used on Linux. On my NT box at work it is the only browser the the newest Quicktime plug-in works with properly (mostly a feature of centrally controled MS services on my NT box that us developers must suffer with).
posted by vanderwal at 10:26 AM on June 6, 2001

The material point is, of course, that Joe and Jane Average Internet User are a) completely clueless about Mozilla and b) would have a damn hard time downloading it even if they did know and could be convinced to care.

And here we arrive at the real problem with this: Mozilla is a navel-gazing developer's wet dream, and is thus completely removed from the reality of how and why people use the web.
posted by gsh at 10:32 AM on June 6, 2001

I think we need a limitation on jwz quotes in one thread.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 10:36 AM on June 6, 2001

About the time Netscape realized that it was no longer able to make money selling Navigator, someone had the bright idea that if they were to release their source as a semblance of "open source", then thousands of programmers would flock to the cause and write code for Netscape for free.

Yep. The someone was ESR, Steven.

Oh, ghod, I *hope* Moz1.0 is clean. Cause I *will* *not* set users up to use IE. Period. End of report.

NN does what *I* tell it to.

IE does what *MS* tells it to.

I know which, as an IT guy, is the approach I'm interested in.
posted by baylink at 10:40 AM on June 6, 2001

I had no idea there were versions of IE for Unix available. I suppose Microsoft doesn't make it a point to remind journalists when they talk about IE. An interesting thing to watch for is how well Microsoft's web services (based on .Net, Passport, and Hailstorm) will work with versions of IE that are on non-MS OS's like Solaris and OS X. Microsoft has not announced yet if these web services will even work with non-MS browsers. If you look at Hotmail as an example, it's likely Microsoft will support legacy and non-MS browsers in some form, but considering the complexity of the web services they want to offer, it's probably a safe bet they will work only with IE. We'll see.
posted by camworld at 10:49 AM on June 6, 2001

This kind of sheds new light on the latest MSFT/AOL/IE/XP talks...
posted by fooljay at 10:49 AM on June 6, 2001

Baylink, you think that the MS Administration Kit is inferior to the NN4 Mission Control abomination? And if you think NN does what you tell it to do and IE doesn't, I defy you to write a standards-compliant page and then repeat that assertion.

I'm an IT guy, too: Take another look.
posted by anildash at 10:54 AM on June 6, 2001

So, this means no NN 6.02? Or 6.1? Seems like the Mozilla will continue releases, but as long as Netscape gives up on releases I imagine all our Nav users will stick with the latest...
posted by daver at 11:35 AM on June 6, 2001

Microsoft unofficially has created versions of Internet Explorer for Linux. It was basically a quick port of their Sun version. It was never released, and based on Microsoft's recent policy statements about Linux I doubt that it ever will be. And based on what I've heard said about the Unix version of IE that's probably a good thing.

I hope that the Mozilla project is able to survive this. It's something that is needed, I've slowly come about in my opinion of the concept of Mozilla as a platform. I think that that is probably the best use for the code, and it a needed function. But as a browser Mozilla and its derivatives have been largely a failure. It's got a following from the developer crowd, but statistically it's an almost insignificant audience. Luckily though the web design industry seems to have found religion just as the browser wars have come to a close. So while developers may be targeting IE browsers, they'll be targeting them with standards.

I used to get all worked up over this. Now I'm just glad it's nearing the endgame.
posted by captaincursor at 12:04 PM on June 6, 2001

God, I'm depressed.

Once upon a time, the web was going to be cool.

posted by Mars Saxman at 12:53 PM on June 6, 2001

Mars: God, I'm depressed. Once upon a time, the web was going to be cool.

It still is - and always will be. Don't despair.
posted by davidmsc at 1:09 PM on June 6, 2001

>>I think it was outrageous for AOL to be able to buy Netscape in the first place.

That's nothing compared to how outrageous it was for AOL to be able to buy Time Warner.
posted by chuq at 1:39 PM on June 6, 2001

posted by milov at 1:58 PM on June 6, 2001

I had no idea there were versions of IE for Unix available. I suppose Microsoft doesn't make it a point to remind journalists when they talk about IE.

As captaincursor hinted, the releases of IE for UNIX (ie Solaris and HP/UX) are more proof of concept than product; massive installs (basically, ports of lots of Win32 libraries) requiring the kind of security permissions that no sysadmin in his/her right mind would allow on a production system.

It's a bit galling, given that I came to the web solely because no-one in college ever used the X-terminals that ran Mosaic... and kindall's right: during the browser wars, the amount of releases meant most people were using Netscape "free for evaluation purposes". As for Mozilla: I simply don't want to have to upgrade my PC in order to get a fast browser.
posted by holgate at 2:23 PM on June 6, 2001

On Netscape 4:

and it turned out that the existing code was in many regards such a mess that large parts of it had to be rewritten.

But that didn't mean that they needed to trash their code base and rewrite everything (including dialogs and pull down menus sheesh!). What they ended up rewriting were the bits that didn't matter. Netscape 4.0 sure had memory leaks but the best way to proceed would have been to fix the leaks and fix the HTML rendering. Instead they started again and wrote Mozilla, big mistake.

It's important to remember that Netscape played a big part in losing the browser war and blaming Microsoft is missing the fundamental point. Nestcape abandoned the browser when it diversified into other products (very early on) and neglected its flagship product. Instead of fixing bugs they bloated it with features.

Microsoft won the browser war by making a browser which was just as good as Netscape's. Then they made one that was better. Netscape failed to keep up in the quality stakes.

It's the original Netscape browser's inability to support standards that is losing it the support it once had from the web page design community. This support base was loyal, it's been forced to give up out of frustration with Netscape's products.

And yes unfortunately, Mozilla is a piece of crap. The only worthy competitor left is Opera.
posted by lagado at 5:30 PM on June 6, 2001

I'm excited about the new embedded toolbars! You go AOL/TimeWarner! Givin' the people what they want.

Anybody ever checked out the desktops and browser settings on their mother's computer? You'd think she'd have bought her house for it's beautiful view overlooking clutter.
posted by crasspastor at 5:47 PM on June 6, 2001

lagado, are you a programmer? i'm one, and i've worked on some programs that i've let get too messy and needed a complete rewrite. in theory, it might seem reasonable to simply "fix" your problems, but sometimes the architecture you set your program in does not make that easy. i won't say that they (NS) couldn't have worked within the already-written framework, but i will say you cannot judge until you've thoroughly reviewed the code for yourself.
posted by moz at 6:44 PM on June 6, 2001

Actually, I am a programmer, moz.

I agree I am making that call without reviewing the actual source bit I stand by what I said as a general principle.

If you have a product in the market, you don't have the luxury of writing all of it again from scratch. What you end up delivering cannot be as good as the mature product you are throwing away.

It's a natural impulse for programmers to want to throw away code that they can't be bothered to learn or understand. Everyone wants to start from a clean slate. It's an impulse that needs to be resisted in most cases.

I'm also certain that the Netscape 4.0 code wasn't that bad. Compounding the problem was the totally bizarre decisions that they made in terms of rewriting features that were already being providing by the operating system (e.g. menus and dialogs). Inexplicable and the result? Execrable.

I think this article makes the point more eloquently.
posted by lagado at 12:22 AM on June 7, 2001

i've worked on some programs that i've let get too messy and needed a complete rewrite.

I can understand where you are coming from but I'm hazarding a guess that your program wasn't quite as complex and have nearly as much riding on it as Netscape did in this case.
posted by lagado at 12:56 AM on June 7, 2001

Whenever people bring up the browser wars like this, I can't help but see it this way: I think Bill Gates is like Hank Reardon. [several unnecessary paragraphs of exposition deleted. you're welcome. unfortunately if you haven't read the book you may not be able to follow my reasoning?]

Bill Gates is the Devil to many, but to distill all the bullshit into something that makes sense, he was simply functioning as a man of rational self-interest. When a quarterback is trying to get his pigskin to a touchdown, he doesn't concern himself with how his success might make the other team feel.

"Why is it immoral for you to desire, but moral for others to do so? Why is it immoral to produce a value and keep it, but moral to give it away? And if it is not moral for you to keep a value, why is it moral for others to accept it? If you are selfless and virtuous when you give it, are they not selfish and vicious when they take it?"

When a businessman is successful in outdoing the competition, his stopping to feel sorry for those destroyed in the process would be like Lot's Wife turning into a pillar of salt. Don't look back. Don't show guilt or remorse or uncertainty. The competitor will smell that like sharks smell blood. I don't know if it was right or wrong for MS to do what it did, but its goals were clear. Survival at any cost. It managed to get many other companies to pay that cost for them.

However, when attempting to use Ayn Rand's novel as a metaphorical comparison to the Browser Wars, I can't help but wonder where I go wrong. Bill Gates didn't invent the browser like Hank Reardon invented the blue metal. Gates "acquired" it. Some say early MSIE was practically a blatant ripoff of Netscape, when you looked at the code. Many argue that Windows 95 was too much like Macs were almost a decade earlier. He didn't invent the wheel, but instead rode on other people's wheels and raked in benefits which belonged to someone else.

So is Gates less like Reardon and more like Daphne Taggart's brother? Or maybe the metaphor breaks down? Because John Gault never surfaced in our reality? Perhaps Ayn Rand was, in the final analysis, nothing more than a hopeless idealist?
posted by ZachsMind at 1:17 AM on June 7, 2001

On the bright side, the platform spec for most web projects will shrink as IE's market share approaches 100%. What clients will want to invest in cross-platform testing when 98% of their target audience uses WinXP/IE?
posted by magcarl at 7:02 AM on June 7, 2001

Compounding the problem was the totally bizarre decisions that they made in terms of rewriting features that were already being providing by the operating system (e.g. menus and dialogs)

The Mozillaites' justification for this basically boils down to 'If we hadn't done this, we wouldn't have been able to target any platform but Windows.'

It's a shame they didn't realize that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. What they should have done was to get a Windows port out first, and try to rebuild marketshare. They could have targeted the Mac and *nix later, once the Death of Netscape was no longer imminent.

Unfortunately this wouldn't have sat well with the Slashdot crowd (always remember! 'I hate Microsoft' is not a business plan), so we have the nightmare which is XUL today.
posted by darukaru at 8:25 AM on June 7, 2001

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