Netscape Had Options
Tuesday, October 28, 1997 by Dave Winer.
It's very early Tuesday morning. I'm thinking about the stock market. Will it crash today? I hope not!
I'm also thinking about web browsers and platforms and the Department of Justice and Microsoft.
In August 1995 I wrote a piece after meeting with Microsoft's lead developer for Internet Explorer. The report from that interview is here:
Microsoft clearly stated their intentions over two years ago. In an upcoming version of Windows, web browsing would be integrated into the OS.
That left Netscape one option, as I saw it in 1995, buy its own operating system and loyal user base, and build from there.
Netscape's stock was high, Apple's was low. They could have absorbed Apple, kept the good stuff, fixed the bugs, and created a wonderful Internet browsing and content development experience.
I kid you not, the opportunity to unseat Microsoft really was there a couple of years ago.
But Netscape pursued another strategy. What was it? I never understood how they could sit by and let the Mac OS wither, when it was their best shot at co-existing with high level Internet services integrated into Windows.
Look at the Bookmark Editor in Microsoft Internet Explorer -- it's one of the most awkward outliners I've ever seen. I can hear the Microsoft evangelists saying with glee -- write your own!
That's the idea of Windows 98. HTML rendering is ubiquitous. Every app can become a web browser. If there's some piece of MSIE you think you can do better, offer your own shell.
Is this a good thing? Yes it is.
I wouldn't go into direct competition with Microsoft. I wouldn't try to replace the primary web browser, at least not at this time. But I do site development software, and being able to preview a page as it will look in a web browser is an essential part of using my software. Of course it makes sense to build on the new HTML rendering features in Windows 98.
Maybe Microsoft will steal my ideas, so could anyone else, so you keep moving, gather users, earn their loyalty, and hope for the best. Risk is everywhere in business. You can't avoid it, you have to embrace it.
The Mac OS was much stronger two years ago. Since then, two billion dollars in Apple losses, a radical change in management and direction, and disappearing confidence among users and developers. There's probably still a good reason for Netscape to add emphasis to their Mac direction, but they'll find there are fewer people to work with in the Mac world now, two years later.
I want to make this point clearly -- Netscape had options. It was clear two years ago that Microsoft was going to deeply integrate HTML in the OS. You have to think like your competitor to be successful in a software world containing Microsoft. That's good! There was a way to zig to their zag. A win-win could have happened. You can't stand by while your competitor moves forward, you have to move too.
The Department of Justice is not acting in our interests by trying to undo thru government muscle what has already been settled in the market. Netscape has no right to access the Windows desktop unless Microsoft wants them to. It's Microsoft's product. Netscape had to earn that right thru the market.
To compete with Gates you have to be super-sharp. Users and developers must demand the same. The cause isn't lost. Web developers may not be universally anti-Microsoft, but there is a lot of energy that's pro-independence. If Netscape crafts an interesting position, they will have support. There must be a hill for Netscape to head for, where they can win and grow outside of the Windows desktop. It's time to think creatively.