Tricky Browser Guys
Friday, January 31, 1997 by Dave Winer.
I'm back from skiing! My typing fingers don't work as well, but I see more clearly and that's good.
I came back with an item high on my to-do list -- to fix an unacceptable situation in the browser world, or at least expose it. An avenue that both Netscape and Microsoft are blocking. No one in the press is focused on this blockage; I hope to change that...
I've been asking the browser guys for a simple hook into their apps, a new external link that would probably take 20 minutes to implement. I've asked Netscape for it repeatedly, for almost two years, and for almost a year with the Microsoft folks. No action.
Maybe they don't understand what I'm asking for? OK, here's what I want. A message I can send to the browser that will get it to return the source text of the page currently displayed in their frontmost window. It's sitting in memory. They've got to have the text somewhere, or to be able to quickly return it from their cache.
Maybe they don't understand why I want this? It's so that we can build systems that use their web browsers as the initial interface. So we can encode data in the web pages that allow us to build higher level systems. Yes, I know we can do a plug-in to do this, but there are already too many plug-ins, and it's too self-centered of them to require it. Of course they want the code to run in their world. But we live in a larger world, I believe.
I've been there with Apple, learned the lesson, and don't want to depend on either browser manufacturer. I trust them to look after their interests. I don't trust them to look after mine.
Standards bodies and the narrow competition between Netscape and Microsoft make progress happen very very slowly. If neither company is willing to open their browser, then neither company has to. How quickly the web world has become just like the old software world. Slow slow slow say the browser guys. Why, say I?
There's a solution -- do a custom browser for every data type that could conceivably be stored in a file on the net, and don't bother trying to make it work with current web browser software. Maybe that's what will happen.
I don't like the fact that neither Netscape or Microsoft has been willing to provide this hook. It makes me not trust either of them. They're blocking progress. Maybe that's their right, but people who are waiting for more cool stuff to happen in net software should know that neither of these companies are allowing an important avenue to be explored.
I don't know why they don't do it. My theory is that they don't understand what we want it for, and probably, after reading this they still don't. So what? As computer scientists committed to being open (that's their claim), what's the problem? How long should we wait for 20 minutes worth of work?
Anyway, I'm not ascribing insidious motivations, but the net-effect is insidious. And that's all that counts as far as I'm concerned.
I want to go skiing more often. Getting out and on top of a mountain is a good way to eliminate distractions.