Monday, October 2, 1995 by Dave Winer.
Do you like speedbumps?
I do. On the street, in front of my house, there's a huge one. As you approach the bump, slow down -- that's the point. If you don't, you and the contents of your car bounce around! It isn't painful, but it sure is uncomfortable. And I always worry that something's going to fall out of my car.
It's nice to have a speedbump in front of your house, especially if you're in the software business. Thanks to my speedbump, when the FedEx truck rolls down the street, you never know what's going to end up on the sidewalk!
The other day, I was going for a walk, passing the speedbump, and guess what was there? A nice little diskette. I turned it over. On the label it said Netscape 2.0a2.
The big new features in Netscape 2.0 are a plug-in architecture, frames, a built-in emailer, and a new bookmark editor. There are performance improvements -- support for client-side image maps and progressive JPEG. Text can be colored. It supports superscripts and subscripts. Pages can open new windows. And there's an interesting new command called Document Info.
The new bookmark editor is especially interesting to me because I've released my own outliner bookmark editor -- it's one of the things Clay Basket does. Previous versions of Netscape had a very limited and hard to use bookmark editor. That created the need for an elegant and powerful one. That's why I did Clay Basket. The new bookmark editor in Netscape 2.0 is nice. It's an outliner. You can expand and collapse submenus, you can drag a mark to a new location to move it to another submenu. It's what people need.
The built-in mailer is nice because your email can be styled like a web page! This is probably the biggest single immediate-value feature, and even though the mailer isn't as capable or rich as Eudora in its ability to store and manage text in mailboxes, styled text is a feature that everyone is going to want, and it's one that the Eudora folks are going to have a hard time implementing. And Netscape made their move -- buying Collabra ensures that the mailer is going to get very nice. It's good stuff. Eudora beware.
I haven't seen Netscape Gold yet, the version that allows you to edit web pages with WYSIWYG tools, but I assume those features are incorporated into the emailer, so if you were reading this message in Netscape's mailer, I could use bold and italics. How long have we been waiting for this? A very long time.
Many of the new features are there for web content authors. Expect to see pages with multicolored text. And because pages can now open links in new windows, Netscape is becoming a window-happy program like the Finder or the America OnLine client. I expect people will start complaining as content authors use this feature, so it's best to use it in moderation.
These features are there for web users and content authors. But there's a major new feature called plug-ins, still mostly invisible, that's there for commercial-level software developers, people who work in C or C++ and for companies like Sun, MacroMedia and Adobe. And littler guys like you and me. I guess that they're using this architecture to implement the new Frames feature.
A plug-in can draw text and graphics into the browser window and it can handle mouse clicks and keystrokes. Instead of opening a new window to display an animation, for example, now it can play right on the web page. It's an important feature for Adobe -- finally they can integrate PDF display right into the web. I bet PDF still doesn't take off as a web content standard, but it has a better shot now. It's important for Sun because this is the mechanism by which they can add the Java language to the web world. But it's open too -- other scripting languages can plug right into the architecture of the web as viewed thru web browsers.
I'm most interested in the connection this opens for developers who work with MacroMedia Director. Director has a full suite of developer tools, Java doesn't. Director has a vibrant developer community. PDF doesn't. You can make truly beautiful stuff happen with Director. So far we've only seen demos of what Java can do, and they're very uninteresting compared to what's going on in DirectorLand.
The tools issue is huge. So many languages have been promoted with no answer to the tools question, examples include Telescript, AppleScript and ScriptX. But the tools make the environment. It's nice that you have an interpreter, maybe even a great one. But how do I develop my scripts? I need a great editor, debugger, storage system, verb set, sample code and docs and a developer community. All of this is lacking for Java, but in great supply for a mature environment like Director.
The plug-ins issue is where Netscape and Microsoft diverge. Netscape may support OLE. Microsoft has a great developer tool in Visual Basic, with hundreds of thousands of developers and lots of tools. And Director will probably be plugged into Microsoft's web browser too. Microsoft has Blackbird. But Netscape will probably get Blackbird and Blackbird will probably get competition.
Life got more interesting! More puzzles to piece together. Netscape is creating their own flow. And they're having fun. They've dug some holes for developers to fill. And they have a neat answer to Microsoft's shot across the bow.
PS: SOHO stands for Small Office, Home Office.
PPS: General Magic did not invent the "cloud" concept. It was in use in the telecommunications industry, specifically with AT&T, for many years.
PPPS: I have more thinking to do about frames. Stay tuned.
PPPPS: Now that Netscape 2.0 is out, we won't be able to sell Clay Basket as the only solution for bookmark editing. Luckily, Clay already has lots of features that Netscape doesn't. And of course many more features are on the way.