News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus Mail Starting 4/6/98

From: pbruno@gartner.com (paul bruno);
Sent at Tue, 7 Apr 1998 11:43:20 -0400;
Value of free source

Hey Dave! Here's a bit of a ramble...

Rain, sun... Is it true that Microsoft has gotten so big it's even making Seattle weather the standard in Silicon Valley? :-D

Re: "Free source code available" was way down the list. Why? My guess: most people have no use for free source code, even if they have the skills. People are busy busy busy. They want to double-click and get going.

Free source: DNS (not "Digital Nervous System"), TCP/IP, Sendmail, Perl... tools I can't live without as a web site developer. Tools I rely on. I benefit from their freedom, yet never go near the source myself. It's a separate issue from what kind of software I'll buy.

The thing about something like Perl is, I know that if there's going to be a feature change, it'll be something the community wants, not something being foisted upon me so I'll pay for the upgrade. And I know it's been tested by lots of us. And I don't have to pay to be a beta tester. That's why I like free!

I look at Word and think back to the good old days when a word processor wouldn't take forever to load, and I see the future of these browsers (heck, the present).

Sometimes you don't need a Swiss Army Knife, you need a screwdriver. Have you seen the HBO movie about the Army's development of the Bradley Personnel Carrier? (As long as you're building it, I need a scout... hey, could you put a bigger gun on it? ...need room for the ammo now, so let's not carry so many people... and can't weigh it down with good armor...) A personnel carrier meant for 11 ends up carrying 6, and not safely. Institutionalized feature bloat (as a result of no competition?).

Navigator being free means we might now get a browser we really want, without the bloat and without having to be a pawn in a corporate game (wishful thinking maybe). User communities are great for forcing software to stick to standards, so I'm hoping we won't have the nasty browser wars of the past year (forcing us to do things like different web sites for different browsers, for example).

Anyway, for a somewhat similar reason, I like Frontier because it's free, and because it's user-community driven, and I don't really care if I don't see the source. (I can get some free time I'll be putting up my Frontier-designed website sometime soon...)

From: todd@polygon.net (Todd Blanchard);
Sent at Tue, 07 Apr 1998 09:17:55 -0600;
Re:Oh Netscape!

I have to take issue with this: "Java was never a good bet for Netscape."

While I'm not much of a fan of client side Java myself - most people have 28.8 connections and thats just not enough for client side Java (or XWindows protocal or much else either) - server side Java is continuing to grow and client side can make sense in a controlled higher bandwidth environment like a corporate intranet.

Apart from that though, I think a key reason that Java didn't work out for Netscape is simply that Netscape's Java implementation was never very good. In fact I would characterize it as poor. Poor enough as to be more of a hinderance to the adoption of Netscape than a help. This is an area where Microsoft clearly did out develop Netscape. While I don't really like MSIE nearly as well as Navigator for browsing, MSIE has a much better Java in it than Navigator ever did.

Netscape's server side Java support hasn't been too good either but you can work around that with a cgi stub to a third party servlet runner. It would be nice if they'd fix that.

From: john@digitalmx.com (John Springer);
Sent at Tue, 7 Apr 1998 06:16:40 -0700;
Re:Oh Netscape!

The independence of the web developer community is what Netscape was founded on. It's a dramatic tragedy that the owners of the company never connected with this simple idea

What a beautiful essay you've written!

I think Netscape made more people happy with their silly Blink tag than Javascript or Java. I find Javascript barely comprehensible and Java not at all. (I can do Perl just fine thank you, so I'm not a complete idiot.)

But what Netscape gave us in the beginning was an easy, accessible way to build something useful. I think Javascript pushed the limits of easy and never mind Java. These are tools for professional programmers with project plans and budgets, not the rest of us, which is who the web was originally built by and for. I've built several commercial sites that run just fine without a lick of Java-anything. And I'm sure I'm not the only one whose heart sinks when I look at the status bar in Navigator and see "Starting Java...". I know I'm in for an unpleasant experience.

I think Netscape's new position could bring back some of that spirit, because there are programmers out there who understand and will do the right thing because now they can. That will hopefully result in more easy-to-use features in Netscape. Unfortunately, MS can prevent them from being useful, because the browser world is about 45% each and hardly anyone would produce a site that only works for one of them.


From: vanevery@walking-productions.com (Shawn Van Every);
Sent at Tue, 7 Apr 1998 06:16:53 -0700;
Re:Oh Netscape!

I think you are wrong about Netscape. I think that you have in the past expressed much interest in 'openness', freedom, and expression. Although Netscape's reasoning at the top level may not be on that vain, the opportunity for all this is presented as it has never been before.

When an opportunity comes along to change the whole system comes along, no one has the excuse to pass up contemplating what they really would like to be different/better, if not actually doing something about it.

I thought that you would be a champion of this move, push it into the spotlight more than it is.. What are your ideas? How can this help Frontier? Can we look forward to a Frontier 'hookup' with a future Navigator?

Let's be positive, this is opportunity!

From: benjamin@icubed.com (Benjamin Ragheb);
Sent at Mon, 6 Apr 1998 16:46:49 -0700;
Re:"Oh Netscape!: Survey Results"

If a product has "Free source code available," then it becomes possible to add "Features you can't get anywhere else."

From: jra@baylink.com;
Sent at Mon, 06 Apr 1998 19:01:06 -0400;
Re:"Oh, Netscape!"

Eric Kidd put it better than I think I could have, without devoting 2 hours to the writing... but I have to agree with his fundamental point: Netscape has done a Good Thing, even if they did it for all the wrong reasons.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there will be versions of Mozilla running cleanly and tightly -- even more so than, say, Communicator 4 does on it's prime platform, Win95 -- on every viable operating system/platform, within the year.

Honestly, I don't think the major ones will take as long as the end of the month. It's been proven again and again in the Linux world. The Ping-o'-death bug that cropped up last year? The time-to-fix-release for the current production Linux kernel was four hours.

There are commercial OS's out there that didn't get fixes for weeks, and some of them probably still don't have fixes.

This is the environment into which Netscape has tossed Mozilla. It' an incubator, loaded with people about whom Eric touched the central point: they CARE. That's why it'll get done right.

Personally, I think there's an excellent opportunity for Frontier here. Can't add menus to the browser because Win95 doesn't have anything like Menu Sharing? Add it on.

I suspect we'll see some exceptionally clever extensions to the semantics of the Plugin interface.

Jurgen touches on the essential (for me) analogy: it's like the fact that so much of Frontier is available for modification. Frankly, as a designer, this has always scared me a bit: programmers should not try to be language designers, unless they actually know how to do it; most don't. But, given the choice of guidelines to tell people what modifications to avoid, and how to get there instead, or locking down the program so nothing can be changed, I'll take the former -- and my chances.

Keep on truckin'

From: brianm@rain.com (Brian Mulvaney);
Sent at Mon, 6 Apr 1998 14:57:25 -0700;
Re:Oh Netscape!

This is one of the best pieces you've written in quite awhile.

Maybe you just happened to hit me on a reflective day. I'm off site at a splendid mountain resort (has a wonderful fireplace by the way) a few hours before a meeting of our division's brain trust to plan our future.

The reminder about marketing being a conversation couldn't be more timely. One of the themes of the meeting is on becoming a customer "obsessed" business. During this meeting plenty of energy will be expended making sure our "messaging" is right. We are especially worried about messaging right now because we aren't sure what business we are in. Ironically, we have neglected to open a conversation with our users (and there are many of them) to discuss what business they think we are, or should be, in.

From: jeff@FuturePress.com (Jeff Watkins);
Sent at Mon, 6 Apr 1998 14:23:56 -0700;
Re:Oh Netscape!

Our bacon will be saved by the creativity of thousands of C++ programmers. But these people don't make websites. Oooops.

But some of us C++ programmers DO make websites. Some of us design UIs for a living and don't want to write the guts of web-browsers, but would like to fix a few of the problems with the Navigator application.

I can't imagine fixing Netscape. They seem adrift without anyone's hand on the wheel. They're far too busy getting their panties into a wad worrying about Microsoft to COMPETE with Microsoft.

I can imagine fixing some of the UI bugs in Navigator. And I certainly can imagine someone with a better head for the internals fixing the Document Object Model and some of the rendering bugs.

It might be appropriate to write off Netscape, but not Navigator. I think Navigator will have a life of its own for some time to come. Hopefully it won't be a pathetic reanimated zombie stumbling around looking for brains.

From: fredb@compuserve.com (Fred Ballard);
Sent at Mon, 6 Apr 1998 10:23:28 -0800;
Re:Software Choices Survey

I voted in your survey. Thanks for the opportunity!

But I often find surveys confining. My comments follow.

low price: I won't buy products that seem inappropriately high-priced. I really don't think software to be used only personally by an individual should cost more than about $40 and preferably be free.

high price: High prices anger me. I intellectually understand how the appeal "you get what you pay for" works, but I also understand it's just what you'd expect to hear from a marketing person.

free source code available: This is very important and source-code-available products could lead to a revolution in software use.

runs on a specific operating system/platform: Living in the real world, it's got to be something like my number two consideration. If it doesn't run on a platform I have readily available to me, I probably won't obtain the product. It's a rare product that would lead me to buy, install, maintain, and use an operating system/platform so that I can run a new product. It's so rare, this hasn't happened yet for me.

features you can't get anywhere else: Like operating system/platform, this is a given for me. That's why I'm buying the product in the first place: I need to do what the product offers, but again, it wasn't my first choice in your survey.

quality of support: I sometimes live to regret not considering this more, but I really hope to never use, and very rarely do use, customer support.

size of the company selling the product: I hate to say it, but it is comforting for me to buy Microsoft products knowing the size of the company. I can make many assumptions about about certain aspects of the quality of product, documentation, fit with their other products, etc. Unfortunately in Microsoft's case, I can also make assumptions about certain other things, such as frustration with certain features ("not completely implemented" in Microsoft's own words) or inability to cope directly with software errors (only being able to fix errors by waiting for and buying a new release, or having to obtain things like service packs in the hope they'll fix my problem). But then again, Microsoft's size allows it to maintain things like its huge, informative Web site and its knowledge base.

lots of other people use the product successfully: This was my vote. For me, it's the surest way to know that a product will do what I want it to do. People voting with their money or effort or both is very reassuring to me. Usually, it means they like the product. It means there's a user community. It means the product will be around for awhile. It means the product's producer will have the resources to improve the product.

it comes from a company or individual who you want to support: It brings me great pleasure to support a company or individual who I like and I hate to support ones that I don't, but sometimes it's not always possible to get what I need without buying from a company I'd otherwise just as soon not support.

easy to learn, use or install: If it's not easy to learn, use, and install, it's very rare for lots of people to be using it successfully and therefore won't make my primary criteria.

elegance, depth, inherent power: If there was some way to tell a product had these characteristics and it met my needs, I'd buy it based on this every time. But it's usually very hard to tell if a product has these until you get it and use it. If a product has these things, I hope lots of people are using it successfully, but sadly, it's often not the case. It seems very hard to get a wide audience to appreciate these things.

From: eric.kidd@pobox.com (Eric M. Kidd);
Sent at Mon, 6 Apr 1998 14:11:44 -0400 (EDT);
Re:Oh Netscape!

As a web developer, I'm really enthusiastic about Netscape's decision to open up their product. I don't have enough time to work on it seriously, but that's not the point. Lots of other people *do* have sound, commercial reasons to improve Navigator.

A coalition of XML experts, for example, has taken responsibility for supporting XML and stylesheets in Navigator 5.0. Because they care about this stuff, they'll get it right and make sure Navigator speaks XML fluently and correctly. Netscape benefits. You and I benefit, because we can start building XML websites. The XML community itself benefits, because they know XML and have powerful tools to sell on the server side.

People and companies write open source software for practical reasons. RedHat and Caldera make a bundle selling Linux, and expect to make back every cent they contribute to developing it. The webmasters at HotWired helped develop Apache because they needed it internally and none of the other options looked practical. Larry Wall wrote Perl to get his job done. Now he works for O'Reiley,where he writes both open-source and proprietary Perl tools.

A very tiny percentage of the world's web developers will ever contribute to Netscape Navigator. Those that do will write code for practical reasons--they'd like to bring an innovation to the web, or they need an existing technology to work correctly.

I have a question for you, Dave: How badly do you want vector graphics on the web? Assume that they work correctly, and are correctly supported on all major platforms, not just Windows. No messy plug-ins are required. Could you make Frontier the premier environment for develpoing and managing these graphics?

Maybe you don't want vector graphics badly enough to pay a programmer to implement them for Netscape 5.0. Lots of other people, though, have a vested interest in browsers which work better, and some of them *will* dedicate an engineer to work on Navigator with full expectations of repayment down the line.

By opening up their product, Netscape has given lots of companies around the world a monetary incentive to improve and promote Navigator. Most importantly, they've brought an opportunity for innovation back to the web.

Nobody *really* understands the implications of these business models yet, although some people are already getting rich off them. Two things are clear, however: big things are happening, and it would be good to understand what's going on. Nothing's new about that in the computer industry. =)

From: budpro@aol.com (Joshua Boyd);
Sent at Mon, 06 Apr 1998 12:55:37 -0400;
Netscape Source

Netscape doesn't think that most people want the source to navigator (if they do think that then I'd be really worried about them). Netscape wants to immediate publisity it provides, and the long term free R&D. 15 hours after the source was released a group in Australia had put SSL back in (SSL was taken out due to US crypto laws).

There are also reports of XML having been added to Netscape which should particularly interest you. I don't know if it can communicate XML upstream (like you demonstated with betty) and I don't have a URL for that.

The point isn't that everyone will want to download the source and modify it. After all, most linux users don't modify their kernal themselves. The point is that the people that want to add new features can. Of course, I don't personally plan on using any versions of Navigator except for the Netscape one.


From: jurgen@setbc.org (jurgen);
Sent at Mon, 6 Apr 1998 09:29:32 -0700;
Re: Oh Netscape!

"Features you can't get anywhere else" was by far the number one choice. "Free source code available" was way down the list. Why? My guess: most people have no use for free source code, even if they have the skills. People are busy busy busy. They want to double-click and get going.

I think what might have been an interesting additional question to ask would have been "Are you a software application developer?" My bet is that the developers would have ranked the free source code much higher than non-developers. I'm not a developer (Frontier is about as programmey as I get :-) ) so the source code would mean nothing to me.

At a certain level, Frontier's source code is free. Naturally, I can't go into the deep stuff- the kernel, debugger, etc, but I can look at (and change) some of the niftier scripts. Steal parts and use them in my own scripts. I can take things you or others have written and replace them in my copy with scripts that echo "Needle nardle noo" into the msg window. Anything!

Being a UserTalk developer, this free source code is really handy for me. I can modify much of what Frontier does and tweak it to my own liking. Naturally, C++ programming and something as enormous as Communicator 5 is a weee bit more complicated, but I know many programmers who've downloaded the code and are eager to fix things and add new features.

I really hope that some great Mac programmers (and for that matter, OS/2, Amiga, PalmPilot, Newton, BeOS and Nokia cellphone programmers) take that code and develop something that really shines on their platform. Peter Lewis' Communicator? Yes please! Perhaps a lean and mean version that is developed specifically to be a helper app for Frontier, like NetEvents? Make my day!

"Features you can't get anywhere else" are frequently developed by people who aren't as concerned with feature-matching the competition- namely, 3rd party developers. Everyone's been given the same stuff to start with. I'm excited to see what's going to happen in the coming months!

This page was last built on Tuesday, April 7, 1998 at 6:13:07 PM, with Frontier version 5.0.1. Mail to: dave@scripting.com. © copyright 1997-98 UserLand Software.