When Microsoft Loses
Wednesday, February 24, 1999 by Dave Winer.
First a brief note of thanks to Apple Australia. They're syndicating a bunch of popular news sites, Slashdot, Reuters, The Australian, MacWEEK, News.com, and (drumroll please) Scripting News!
What an honor. Greetings to Apple Australia! How do you say it? G'day!
It looks like they're reading the HTML version of Scripting News, not the XML version. I wonder how often they're refreshing? It would be great to hear from the webmaster at Apple Australia.
And here's a chance to evangelize. If you run a news site as a public or internal resource, you are welcome to add our flow to yours, exactly as Apple has. Give us credit, link back to our site, but let us insert our ideas into your home page. We have fun here and explore stimulating new technology and other kinds of stuff, including politics, the courts, and software.
Yesterday, in Blue Mountain Arts, I carried the Microsoft party line on their three-week withdrawal of MSIE 5.0b2/Win. Now, ignoring the Blue Mountain connection, because as a developer it's mostly irrelevant to me, here's my view.
Last fall Microsoft went on a press tour to pump up MSIE 5. I took a look, the surface-level features seemed useful but not essential. I chose to switch to this browser for the simple reason that it understands XML. When you open a file or web page that's formatted in XML, they show it in an outline where you can see it roughly as the author wrote it. I chose it for this reason alone, in my daily web work I come across a fair number of XML files. I need to read them. MSIE 5 is the best choice for that.
Later, we were able to use other XML smarts in MSIE 5 to hook it directly to our server thru XML-RPC. This has revolutionized our use of the browser. We're exploring territory that no one else is. I like that! As a developer this is what turns me on. I may be alone in a discovery. But, can I depend on Microsoft? I used to think so, at some level, talking with their developer exec, Tod Nielsen, I thought I understood what they would and wouldn't do.
Look, I'm not an idiot. I know Microsoft could upload the bits so Shinpaugh and others could get their MSIE 5 beta. Let me explain why we need this level of safety, and why it's irresponsible of Microsoft, if they want developers to trust them, to delete the safety net.
Last Friday I trashed my copy of MSIE 5 by downloading and installing Netscape Communicator 4.5. Something went wrong, Netscape renamed my NT Administrator account and de-installed MSIE. They made themselves the default browser and emailer without asking. They turned on the Smart Navigation feature, which is a sniffer, sending my net travels back to their database. I think Netscape 4.5 is a virus, the worst kind!
Anyway, after installing Netscape, MSIE wouldn't run. My desktop reverted to its initial (awful) Active Desktop view. My bookmarks were scattered over the desktop, which had turned black and hurt my eyes. All of a sudden my computer didn't work! It was jarring. If you use a computer I believe you can imagine what this is like.
I had to reinstall MSIE from a CD because Netscape crashed on the Microsoft download site. Then I used the old browser to suck down the latest 5.0 beta and installed it. All of a sudden things started working again. One day later I had everything restored to normal and my workflow continued. The whole process is documented on my website.
The moral of the story is that the net doesn't work if I can't get fresh copies of the software I use. It's especially important when applications like Netscape 4.5 are out there. It's irresponsible of Microsoft to not keep the beta in distribution *and* be in compliance with the court order.
Microsoft lost a court case. Now, if I were a betting man, I'd bet that they're going to lose a lot more. How rough is the ride going to be for developers? This experience is a clue.
In the bigger picture, I think Reback et al got more from Microsoft than they could have hoped for. Why should they back down? Is Microsoft self-destructing? I think Reback would be wise to kick back and wait and see.