News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus Mail Starting 11/21/97

From: nils@carasoft.se (Nils Weinander);
Sent at Mon, 24 Nov 1997 10:53:38 +0100;
One of Two column

I just read you One of Two column. I can see your point on the Microsoft-DOJ issue, but I would like to add that it's really a "damned if they do, damned if they don't" situation.

If the DOJ wins, Microsoft's freedom is somewhat curtailed as you wrote. Then again, by its very strength, market dominance and business methods, Microsoft are already dampening innovation. Developers are hesitant today to spend time, effort and money on big projects because they know that if the product beomes a hit, Microsoft will likely buy a second-rate competitor product, develop it to professional standard and then use every means available to force you off the market.

Look what's happening with RealAudio/RealVideo server software.

As a summary, I want to say that I am not a dedicated Microsoft basher, but I do wish that they didn't feel the need to own every nook and cranny of the software market. As an independent software developer I don't want to wake up the news flash that Microsoft has decided to give away a product that competes with the one I make my living selling.

The problem here is, whose freedom of innovation needs most protection?

From: jsproul@picasso.cslab.wesleyan.edu (Jason Y. Sproul);
Sent at Sun, 23 Nov 1997 06:35:10 -0700;
Re:One of Two

Although I don't always find myself agreeing with you on the issue of Microsoft, in the case of the DOJ action I do. I develop primarily for "application platforms" such as Adobe After Effects, Discreet Logic/Denim Software Illuminaire, and Avid Media Composer, all of which are available on MacOS and Windows NT. I'm used to the multiple-tier platform paradigm.

If Netscape is so concerned about a Microsoft monopoly on system-level HTTP and HTML rendering services, why don't they provide their engine freely as a shared library (DLL) just as Microsoft is doing? Then developers would have a competitive choice of APIs and rendering engines. Perhaps they don't know how much work it will take to separate their engine from the application UI, or know it would be infeasible. Perhaps they're afraid it will hurt their profitability. In any case, there is a perfectly acceptable competitive solution that doesn't require the DOJ to get involved.

From: Greg_Kucharo@netpower.com> (Greg Kucharo);
Sent at Sat, 22 Nov 1997 16:49:37 -0700;
Other Platforms

John Worthington is right. It's truly amazing how Sun and Netscape complain about being locked out of Windows, yet they have more or less ignored the other platforms in favor of Windows. Netscape doesn't even support thier version of Navigator for Linux. The MacOS versions still come out weeks after the Windows versions of Netscape products. I'm not even sure if the FastTrack server runs on MacOS. Of course the Java VM implementations are still lame for MacOS. I've heard John Gilmore of Sun speak disdainfully of Macintoshes; "get a real computer" he says. Sun obviously thinks that PCs and Macs are still "toy" computers. Netscape thinks the way to profitability is through the intranet not the internet. Only Microsoft and Apple seem to know how to deal with the desktop computer user.

Even more ridiculous is that Mosaic started out on MacOS. Marc Andressen is a Mac user. If you combine the Unix and Mac and other alternative platforms together, that is a substantial market of users. Netscape has insisted that once they have Navigator running as a pure Java application it won't matter what platform you are on. Somehow I have trouble believing them. They seem to be walking a tightrope between the corporate space and the average user space. At some point in the very near future, these groups are going to seriously diverge and this will tear browsers and Java and all the rest of current thinking about internet technologies apart for good.

From: hopmann@holonet.net (Alex Hopmann);
Sent at Sat, 22 Nov 1997 17:43:41 -0800;
Re:One of Two

Regarding Woz's observation that "the basic design of a good OS could easily permit outsiders to implement their own viewers.", I would like to point out that the Microsoft Internet Explorer implemention of an HTML viewer on Windows using ActiveX is exactely that. There is nothing preventing other people from implementing alternative viewers for Windows.

One of the key points that many others in this thread don't seem to get is that to make it easy for developers to build on top of an OS technology, it becomes important to make it universaly available. Especially with something fairly large with a browser, it would become a big problem if every customer (of a given independent developer) needed to also install the product. Web browsers are just following the same curve of other technologies, from QuickTime, to TCP stacks (OpenTransport/WinSock), all of which started out as an add-on and eventually became a core OS feature.

One more point responding to another message- To suggest that you could include an HTML rendering engine without providing default access to it would be like suggesting that QuickTime shouldn't include the "Movie Player" app, or that no OS should include a music CD player application.

From: steve@woz.org (Steve Wozniak);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 13:49:00 -0700;
Re:One of Two

Dave, I think that HTML rendering as a part of the OS would be of benefit to all of us and you, especially, feel it. But I would like to suggest that the basic design of a good OS could easily permit outsiders to implement their own viewers. In that case, I truly believe that you would be more satisfied.

Think back to Open Doc.

From: mwest@scruznet.com (Mike West);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 13:53:25 -0700;
Re:One of Two

I like your column, read it for your personal slant, and especially like it when you get very personal, music preferences, things you do on trips, vacations, all that real world stuff.

But sometimes you get into substantive discussions where you see things from your business point of view as a developer. That's normal. But less appealing to me because your influence is wide and you speak with a very authoritative voice about somethings that seem beyond your expertise.

With regard to today's column, I think you are falling for a little MSFT bushwa. DoJ is suing for trade practices. To my knowledge they don't care if html is generated, but only that the IE browser is bundled, i.e., to get OS you must buy browser.

This forecloses on free choice, and MSFT knows this and does this deliberately to deflect NSCP browser purchases or more properly to prevent NSCP from building network infrastructure in intranets and extranets where they, MSFT, want to continue to dominate. Nothing will prevent MSFT moving forward while still genning html and allowing freedom of browser choice. You must know how MSFT uses fairly repugnant tactics to strong-arm not only bundlers but also developers. If you don't yet, you will. Nobody says Bill Gates has to be a good guy to be successful, but he has at least to play within the rules and so far he is not doing that.

Perhaps you remember the PDA conference at Moscone a few years back just after MSFT woke up to the Internet. The same day they announced 1) Java licensing and 2) the big AOL deal, they also announced the eventual desktop integration of their browser with this specific caveat [and I noted it because it seemed so un-MSFT]. Cornelius actually said, we will be OPEN... If you want to un-hook the IE browser and insert the NSCP browser, fine, we will make the API OPEN and publish it freely. Have they forgotten that? Has everyone forgotten that?

As to whether a browser is an OS, I disagree. It is a runtime, tho, for display and interfaces to data and executables.

From: tesler@pobox.com (Larry Tesler);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 13:52:09 -0700;
Re:One of Two

Suppose an OS had an HTML rendering API that any developer could call, and that any developer could implement. The API would include such procedures as "render this HTML string in that window" and "what version of HTML do you support?" and "do you support the tag?" and "use this proc of mine to render the <foo> tag".

Then suppose that the OS supplier provided a default implementation of that API. You'd have what you seek as a developer, and more. Yet, if that OS vendor had an OS monopoly, it could not bundle a full browser--an application program--free with its OS.

This is not a novel idea, just a point.

From: cbergstresser@netvalueinc.com (Chris Bergstresser);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 16:23:31 -0500;
Java and Microsoft

I think you're not seeing the Sun vs. Microsoft dispute over Java in the right light. There are two different movements which are going on, one anti-Microsoft and the other pro-Java, and because the two are frequently conflated and proponents of one are often proponents of the other, it's easy to confuse them. Sun's and Microsoft's marketing divisions and CEO's do nothing to help clear up this confusion.

Let's start with the anti-Microsoft movement. I don't see much to identify with in this movement at all. I think Microsoft is like any other big company, and the monopoly they have is due to market forces -- developing the best products for the market and outcompeting their competitors. I like a lot of their products, dislike some of their products, and have no opinion on the rest. I think Microsoft has mismanaged their developer relations, to allow such a feeling of ill-will against them to develop in the market, even if it is undeserved. I think the Justice Department probe and the Nader conference are misconceived in general. I *am* disturbed by the reports that Microsoft may have enforced illegal clauses in their contracts -- I hope that the probe reveals whether these charges are true or not, and that Microsoft is either vindicated or prosecuted as a result of this.

On the other hand, I am firmly in the pro-Java camp. Java is a very well-designed language. I personally find that my productivity is higher -- Java simple prevents a lot of simple bugs from making it through a compile, and is further designed so that bugs that do turn up very quickly in the runtime testing. Even more important, Java makes it very easy to manipulate very difficult concepts like multithreading and exceptions. The libraries which ship with Java are simple and powerful -- in a single line of code I can do a network lookup, establish a socket connection to a port, and get a stream back from the connection. And all this is done in a secure, portable manner.

There are other languages which offer different combinations of these features, certainly. Other languages offer more advanced features. But Java offers a very attractive mix of them, and has penetrated the market to a significant degree. I have faith that there will be support for Java applications from a wide variety of vendors -- and this is a very compelling reason to use Java.

One of your concerns over Java is Sun's control of it. I agree that Sun's motivations in developing Java are hardly altruistic. But where I think you're wrong is in what Sun's control will ultimately mean for Java. Sun has realized that, if they are to compete with Microsoft, they have to prove to the industry that Java will be open. Becoming a PAS submitter is the first step for this. Sun convinced the vast majority of the voting countries that Java was open, and that Sun was acting in good faith. The only restriction on developing a competing implementation of Java currently is that it pass a test suite, and as Sun has stated publicly, since this suite doesn't currently exist there are no restrictions. Sun has also stated that this requirement will be dropped once Java is submitted as an official standard -- conformance to the standard will be all that's required. Proof of their intent can be taken by looking at some companies in Japan who have already developed JVM's without a license from Sun -- no legal action has been taken, and Sun is even helping them develop and promote their product. Sun's source code is copyrighted, and I'm annoyed that I can't look at it and then develop a "clean room" implementation, but that's understandable. It's also much more open than Microsoft, which will not release the specifications for Windows to even allow the potential for 3rd party developers.

Microsoft's actions towards Java I find more troubling. I'm not concerned that they feel platform-specific Java is better than platform-independence (for speed and access to the native API). What bothers me is that even though they have claimed they developers want this access, they didn't feel secure enough in their claim to actually let the market prove them right -- they stacked the deck. Microsoft made an implementation which forces you to use their methods. I would like to use J++, but because of Microsoft's changes, I cannot. It would have been easy for Microsoft to make all the changes they did in separate classes and retain full compatibility -- instead they decided to implement their advances while crippling Sun's advances. It's possible that a court will decide this is legal for Microsoft to do, in which case I will be disappointed not in Microsoft for exercising their legal right but in Sun for not having a better contract. Even if this happens, someone else will develop an alternate JVM for Windows which will be compatible.

Java is still immature. I see very promising developments on the horizon for it, and I think Sun realizes that it has no chance of success if the market senses they are trying to control Java to the exclusion of everyone else. I hope Microsoft brings their JVM into compliance, and starts trying to develop the best extensions to Java, proprietary or not, that they can. As it is, I find Microsoft's actions understandable, but sad. I still think Java is too strong for them to subvert.

I am a member of the JOS project (http://www.jos.org). We're trying to develop a free OS in Java. We're trying to contact Sun to get some information about licensing and development of our OS -- what they feel we need to be a "clean room" implementation, what access we can have to their JavaOS driver specification, and other details. Once we do, I'm sure I'll have a much better idea whether Sun really intends to be open or not.

From: jeff@futurepress.com (Jeff Watkins);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 97 09:41:16 -0800;
Re:One of Two

The issue isn't whether Microsoft may ship an HTML control with Windows, but whether they may ship an entire APPLICATION with Windows.

Frankly, I'm all in favour of having a built-in HTML control. I'd even assert that Netscape ought to use it. Then when I design content for Windows, I'll only have to worry about one HTML control. And when I design Windows applications (the bread and butter of my consulting career), I'll have a great HTML control to use. Heaven!

But Microsoft is trying to tie IE with Windows in the hope of putting Netscape out of business. If Microsoft succeeds, how long do you think we'll have cross platform support? How long do you think Microsoft will adhere to standards rather than foisting a proprietary solution on their captive audience?

Don't make the mistake of missing the TWO issues in this battle. Issue one is whether to bundle an HTML control. And issue two is whether to bundle an Application named Internet Explorer. So far, as I understand it, the DOJ has only forbidden issue two.

An analogy is: Microsoft ships a minimal word processor with Windows, Wordpad. This in no way really competes with Word or WordPerfect. It never has. Shipping a minimal web-browser with Windows wouldn't be a problem. But last time I checked IE wasn't a MINIMAL web-browser.

From: brent@cortex.net (Brent Halliburton);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 09:23:52 -0700;
Re:One of Two

I think what Netscape and the other would-be vendors have encountered is that there is virtually nothing they can do to offer "different, perhaps more generous" deals. I am at a loss for what they could do. Give it away free? Microsoft does that. More tightly integrate it with the OS, or other products people use every day? Microsoft does that. (read: The Office Suite) Or what about the more extreme: Offer them money? Microsoft would offer more. Offer bundling arrrangements? Microsoft would offer more. Joint marketing? Microsoft would offer better. Free training? Microsoft has the network in place and does a lot of that already. Add features that developers want? Microsoft is the company that is big enough to do that while pursuing their own agenda. Look at the problems Netscape has had scaling to meet developer demand.

Microsoft is in a strategic position of owning the platform, while having more money than everyone else combined. As long as Microsoft remains humble and focused, rather than becoming aloof, they have everything they need to win at their disposal.

All the other companies can push is their cross-platform approach. Not a big selling point once Microsoft has convinced developers that they shouldn't care about other platforms.

From: tony_jacobs@ced.utah.edu (Tony Jacobs);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 09:58:30 -0700;
Re:One of Two

I think what the DOJ is trying to do boils down to this, the are trying to prevent Microsoft from requiring users to use Explorer AND from requiring vendors to bundle Explorer. Maybe vendors would like to make some other browser the default and they should be allowed to. Users should be allowed to use a different browser without being required to change OS's.

If Microsoft wants to build Explorer into the system then they should have to do it in a way which doesn't exclude other browsers from working. In other words, they can't write their system to specifically exclude other browsers from running. They also can't wr

You know, if Microsoft were including some code in their OS which looks for competitors applications and then refused to run them the world would be at Microsofts throat!!!! But yet, if Microsoft wants to build their browser into the OS in such a way that causes all other to break or not work then it's OK???? DOESN'T COMPUTE!!!! They are the same.

If Microsoft want to boldly go where no one else has gone before then they need to be sure everyone isn't forced to go there with them. If they choose to go there fine, if they don't then all previous modes of transportation should not be deleted or voided.

From: jesse@jesseberst.com (Jesse Berst);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 09:27:07 -0700;
Re:One of Two

Nonsense Dave.

It's not about innovation. Keep innovating Microsoft.

It's not about integration. Keep integrating anything and everything.

It's about intimidation. Stop abusing your monopoly power, Microsoft. Stop forcing companies to ship your "integrated innovations" on pain of economic death (and that's the result if Microsoft withholds Windows from a hardware manufacturer). Stop forcing ISPs to withhold the fact that customers have a choice in browsers. Stop requiring partners to notify you in writing before they can complain to the government. Those things are intimidation, clear and simple.

You swallowed their line, Dave. Their absurd argument that the government wants to restrict innovation. Their ridiculous idea that other companies merely need to develop better products. Microsoft blocks those products from getting to market.

Microsoft is using its monopoly position to stifle innovation and restrict the customer's choice.

More choice is good. Less choice is bad.

From: johnw@clickover.com (John Worthington);
Sent at Fri, 21 Nov 1997 09:23:02 -0700;
Re:One of Two

Its kind of ironic that the best platform for running Java is NT. We keep looking for great solutions out of Sun, etc. Unfortunately the language competition is the hottest on NT/95. You have Symantec, Borland, Microsoft, etc. all trying to get the best performance so developers with buy their products. This isn't true in the Unix space at all. As for Apple, that's a longer sadder story.

If Sun really wants Java to succeed, they need to insure that it runs fast on platforms other than NT. And I mean really fast, not some lame lying about optimized benchmarks fast.

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