Tag Archives: Netscape

Netscape Diggs In and Elbows Out the Competition

AOL/Netscape has launched a beta of its new homepage that looks uncannily like Digg, a hugely popular site for techies to publish stuff and have their stories sorted by popularity. Actually it not only looks like Digg, two of the top three stories are Digg’s. AOL’s been smart tho: visit the source page and you can only do so within a big black sidebar that keeps you wedged inside the Netscape site. (You can’t resize it, but you can turn it off, but obviously by default. Meaning it will open with every external link you click on. Oh, and it’s really slow to load.)

Perhaps by coincidence, or by the efforts of a few Diggers, those two Digg stories are less than complimentary about AOL: The first, AOL Copies Digg (“Check out what this is based on”) and the second  Trying to cancel AOL (“Here’s a recording I did of a conversation between myself and AOL while trying to cancel an account I no longer needed. It was old, and I hadn’t used it in a REALLY long time, I just never got around to cancelling it. Enjoy!”)

A piece by Reuters says that this new site has “editors, which Netscape calls anchors,” who “can choose to highlight what they consider important stories.” This might be the top portion of the page, but I assume the anchors are not highlighting the two stories mentioned above. Or maybe they are, in some wild new form of self-flagellating transparency?

I won’t get into the journalistic implications of all this here. But there’s a telling comment by Netscape.com’s new general manager, dot-com news entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to the Reuters reporter: “We don’t have to do a level of journalism that you guys do,” he said, referring to traditional news organizations. “You guys take it 90 yards, we take it the next 10.”

The reporter didn’t pick up on this. But when sites like this basically suck content from other sites, from NYT to Digg to Reuters, to form the basis of their homepage, and then link to that content within a sidebar that squeezes the original website partly out of view and off the screen plaster, that 10 yards looks mighty cheap for the yardage you get. Whose content is it now? Who’s making money off whom? And who is the smartest person in the room?

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Flock and the Productive Web

This week’s column on WSJ.com (subscription only, I’m afraid) is about Flock, or about the things that Flock will help us do more easily, such as post to blogs, post to Flickr, turn boring bookmarks into a wealth of shared knowledge on del.icio.us, and generally make the browser a real platform for productivity:

One of the fun things about the Internet is that just when you think the game is over, somebody moves the goal posts, shoots the ref and says the rules have changed. At least that’s the way I see it with a new browser called Flock.

 You’re no doubt familiar with the Web browser wars of the mid-1990s. Microsoft’s Bill Gates came to realize the importance of the Internet late, but quickly got up to speed and crushed the poor old Netscape browser by offering Internet Explorer for free. The epilogue is that despite some upstart threats from a Scandinavian company called Opera and an open source free-for-all called Firefox, Internet Explorer still dominates the Web. In sporting parlance, it’s a bit like Microsoft has parked a big bus in front of the goal, so no one else can score.

 But I don’t think that’s the whole story. For the browser, you see, is emerging from a passive click-and-read experience to a place where you can get your work done and even share it with others.

Computer-On-a-Stick

Here, for those of you still lapping up the whole USB programs off your thumb-drive thing, is FingerGear’s Computer-On-a-Stick:

The Computer-On-a-Stick (COS) is a USB Flash Drive featuring its own ultra fast Onboard Operating System with a full suite of Microsoft Office-compatible applications.

According to Tom’s Hardware Guide, the drive is 256 MB and has programs taking up 192 MB, and retails for about $150. Software includes “a Debian-based Linux OS, a version of the open-source productivity suite OpenOffice as well as Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, an Instant messenger and a PDF viewer.” (Thanks, TechSpot News.)

A 512 MB version is coming soon, as is one with biometric fingerprint scanner.

A New Version Of Copernic’s Desktop Search Toolbar

Just in case you haven’t heard this elsewhere, Copernic has released a new version of their excellent Desktop Search toolbar that. among other things,

fully supports Mozilla Thunderbird, including indexing of Thunderbird emails, attachments, and contacts. Also announced was support for indexing Eudora emails and attachments and many exciting new features based on feedback from a wide variety of users.

More details here. I’ve always liked Copernic, and it’s good to see they’re really going for it in what is now a crowded marketplace. As their press release puts it,

once again, Copernic, a small business, is beating the big powerhouses – Google, Microsoft – to the punch with this newest version of CDS. There has been talk that Google has plans to announce support for Mozilla Thunderbird very soon, but this newest version of CDS makes Copernic the first vendor to support both Firefox and Thunderbird.

CDS works with Windows 98/Me/NT/2000/XP and Internet Explorer 5.0 or later. It’s probably churlish of me but I’d still like to see the interface make better use of empty space. When you’re searching thousands of documents the difference between seeing 20 matches and 30 is a sizeable one. But this is a minor quibble in a great program.

A Closer Look At The Microsoft Browser Message

Looking a bit more closely at this message on Microsoft’s new website, I can’t help wondering whether it’s not just a niggling little inconvenience but a conscious strategy.

Consider this: If one clicks on the link offering more help on supported browsers you get this message:

Note, the message reads: We are aware that some users are experiencing problems with Microsoft Office Online even when using supported browsers. If you are using a supported browser, you can still use many of the site features even though warning messages are displayed. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This Web site works best with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or later or Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later. If you are not using the latest versions of these browsers, some parts of Microsoft Office Online may not be accessible and some content may not appear. Additionally, without the latest browser version you may not be able to access premium content on Microsoft Office Online even if you have Microsoft Office 2003 installed on your computer.

To download the latest versions of the supported browsers, visit the Microsoft Internet Explorer home page or Netscape.com.

The Microsoft link in the last sentence takes you to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/default.mspx while the Netscape link takes you to http://www.netscape.com/ . In other words, the Microsoft link takes you straight to IE, the Netscape link takes you straight to, er, Netscape’s home page, which is actually a network, not a browser. Microsoft would argue they can’t be seen to be deep-linking, I guess. But it’s still a bit naff.

OK, forget that. But why include Netscape version 6? After all, hasn’t Netscape, for the past four years, been built on Mozilla code, which is what Firefox (and for that matter K-Meleon, among others) is built with? Why recommend only Netscape, and not Firefox? I know, I know, Microsoft is going to say that it hasn’t had time to test Firefox 1.0 because it’s only been out a couple of months. But if that’s the case, why say ‘Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later’? Have they tested everything ‘later’? (And if we’re going to get fussy, hasn’t it been called ‘Netscape’ or ‘Netscape browser’ since 2000? Wikipedia records it was last called Navigator in November 1998. That’s some time ago. In fact, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as Netscape Navigator 6.0, which might be the point that Microsoft is trying to make here. OK, now I’m getting petty too. I’ll stop.)

Still, some other serious points arise out of all this. Microsoft seem to be saying that a) Microsoft Office online won’t work for you if you don’t use IE 5.01 or Netscape ‘Navigator’, and b) neither will you be able to access use some of the premium features of Microsoft Office 2003. Apart from the obvious downer for Microsoft Office owners who might also be non-IE users, there’s another question: I haven’t been following all the anti-trust stuff closely, but haven’t we been here already? Or is Microsoft’s inclusion of ‘Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later’ just a clever (or not so clever) way of sidestepping the EC anti-trust suits? They know only half a dozen people use that browser, so the chances of folk prefering it to IE are remote, but they can also put their hand on their heart and say they haven’t broken any anti-trust laws because they offered the punters a choice. But is offering a browser that about 1% of users use a choice?

Hey, I’m sure I’m jumping to conclusions here, and missing out vital bits of information that would make all this guesswork way off and an innocent explanation just an email away. But even if one discards the ‘where is Firefox, with its (according to some) 20% market share’, what about Opera? Around for a good while, now, and while not up there with Firefox, it has, according to W3Schools, got nearly double the number of users as Netscape 7. (Firefox, according to the same statistics, has around 20%.) If you’re going to include a second browser for your users, Netscape doesn’t seem to make sense however way you slice it.

Of course, all this could just be a temporary state of affairs and the teething troubles of a new-look website, as implied by the first sentence in the above message. In which case, just forget what I’ve been saying.

Microsoft, The Petty Giant

Microsoft have a nice new look to their website, including a goalkeeper who looks like he doesn’t really know his job. But what is it with the error message, in bright red, that appears at the top of the browser on pages such as Office if you use Firefox 1.0?

Warning: You are viewing this page with an unsupported Web browser. This Web site works best with Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or later or Netscape Navigator 6.0 or later. Click here for more information on supported browsers.

Warning

How naff is that? Come on, Microsoft, get with the program and stop these petty little annoyances that might persuade some novices to drop Firefox in fear, but just put the rest of us in a bad mood, further entrenched in our obstinate refusal to kowtow before the IE god. My suggestion for Firefox’s equivalent to Microsoft’s Where do you want to go today?:

I’m not going to change back: Are you?

Interview With Firefox’s Ben Goodger

I was fortunate to be able to fire off some questions to Ben Goodger, Lead Engineer of Mozilla Firefox by email, for this week’s column on browsers in the Asian Wall Street Journal/WSJ.com (subscription only). Here’s a full transcript of the interview.

1) How different has it been, getting Firefox into shape, than if the operation were run as a commercial operation?

It’s been an enormous challenge for a huge number of people. Over the years, hundreds of engineers have contributed code, hundreds and thousands more testing and other types of materials, probably millions of man-hours spent. The major difference and biggest benefit to the Open Source process is that we get the benefit of those thousands of people for whom an internet of free and open standards is important. That community includes some of the brightest minds in the business, committed to improving security and user experience. Some important contributions from the volunteer effort include our visual identity (iconography, theme design, website etc), much of our distributed quality assurance effort (thousands of people download “nightly builds” and use them as their browser – a great way to find and report bugs as they occur), and our massive localization effort.

2) What is your response to people’s fear about something free: That it’s less secure, less likely to survive, less professional, less, well, proper?

The industry backing of the Mozilla Foundation by companies like Sun, IBM, Novell etc coupled with an increased awareness among the web development community (Hewlett Packard released guidelines on its web site recently advising its content authors to test their materials in Firefox) as well as accelerating adoption among users and organizations alike show that Firefox is more than a flash in the pan. The results are shown in the marketshare which continues to climb month over month, in our download statistics which if anything show an increase following the holiday period. We’re just getting started.

I’m aware people will be skeptical of something that’s free. Well, all I can say to that is: buying the CD from www.mozillastore.com is a great way to satisfy your urge to spend money and it also supports the Mozilla Foundation 🙂

3) It seems to me that innovation in software has been mainly in browsers, the past few years. Not just Firefox, but K-Meleon, Opera, iRider, Deepnet, Netcaptor, etc. Would you agree with that, and if so, why is this? And then, following on from that, do you think Microsoft have missed a significant opportunity by not really working on IE in the meantime?

I wouldn’t say that innovation has been mainly in browsers – a great number of new pieces of software that I couldn’t live without have risen in the past half decade, look at iTunes, Google, and next generation internet apps like Skype that make use of higher bandwidth connections. But you’re right, there have been significant developments in Web browsers in the past few years – specifically in the areas of making it easier to find and manage content (see Firefox’s Google bar, Find Toolbar, Tabbed Browsing and RSS integration – all ways in which we make it easier for people to get at stuff).

I think it’s very difficult to be in Microsoft’s position – they have a lot of customers who have written applications to work with their system and a precedent for not having changed their formula much, which makes movement in a particular direction a more involved proposition as they need to carefully determine the impact of their changes on the people who have written solutions specifically tailored to their system. I do think they will move however, it’s not a matter of if, but when. They see what’s going on, and they will react.

4) What of the role of plugins? It seems to me there’s been a fascinating movement of innovators just working on individual little features? How important has that been? How hard was it to make the software so people could do that? Is this the future of software?

This was one of the benefits of the architecture chosen by the original implementors of much of the UI architecture we use now, I have to single out Dave Hyatt and Chris Waterson here for mention – they among others back in the Netscape days had the foresight to see the value of an extensible system, one which after years of refinement has led us to where we are today.

Plugins are an important part of the ecosystem of Mozilla applications. They allow people to customize their software in nearly infinite ways, adding new innovations that we may not have thought of yet, or tailoring the experience to suit very specific audiences in ways that we cannot in the main line distribution. Plugins in web pages allow for a richer content experience. In short – these application extensions are part of the applications’ DNA which allow every user to have the software that makes sense for them.

5) Where do you see Firefox going? Will it continue to innovate? Will you continue to be a part of it?

We’re still working on our 2.0 plans, we have a lot of ideas, no final schedule yet. It will absolutely continue to be a beacon for Open Source Software innovation and usability. At this time, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, and the talented people I work with all feel the same.

6) Where do you see the browser going? Will it replace other programs, as it seems to be replacing the RSS reader?

We will integrate services as and when they make sense, not for any other reason. At all costs we must resist the urge to go down the path of unnecessary feature creep – that’s what we have developed our extension architecture for. As for other applications, some have moved to the web such as email and photo management, and we will obviously continue to be a portal to those.

7) You’re pretty young. How easy/hard has this been for you? Did you expect Firefox to make such a big splash?

The work I’ve done on this project is the most interesting/challenging I’ve done to date, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. By extending ourselves and setting the bar not just at the level of the competition but higher we make a statement not only in the quality of the software we create, but about the value of the Open Source model of software development. I think we expected Firefox to be more successful than the Mozilla Application Suite (currently in 1.7.x) that preceded it, but I don’t think we expected it to be quite this big. Every release for the past year things seemed to get exponentially bigger in terms of popularity and buzz. We’ve now had over 21 million downloads – that’s amazing for any piece of software.

Thanks, Ben, and good luck in your new job. (More by Ben and his new job here.)

Internet Explorer Euthanasia

Is Microsoft intentionally allowing Internet Explorer to die?

It’s not brand-spanking new as an idea, but that’s the suggestion (I’m guessing the URL; it’s not posted on the website yet) of Dana Blankenhorn, who writes a newsletter called A-Clue.com. In it he writes:

Microsoft is deliberately letting Internet Explorer lose the browser market to Mozilla’s Firefox. Microsoft won’t admit this publicly but it makes sense. The company hasn’t had a major upgrade to the program in years. It was relatively trivial for Mozilla, descended ultimately from Netscape, to match those features, even go slightly beyond them.

Blankenhorn says Microsoft is sick of fixing bugs for software that has no business model. Instead, he says, Microsoft is putting its money into applications like its Media Player. “There are business models that can be built around Media Player. You can sell content through that conduit. Until someone creates a business model around browser dominance Explorer is dead.”

An interesting view. No one is quite sure whether IE is actually dead or dominant. Lance Ulanoff says the former, John Dvorak the latter. In the forums one reader makes an interesting point: You can no longer download a full version of IE anymore from Microsoft’s website. This is presumably because of Microsoft’s decision a year ago not to issue further ‘standalone versions’ of IE after IE SP1.

Although things have changed a bit since then — security is now a priority, for example — I think this is probably where the truth lies. Microsoft may believe that developing a browser for its own sake is a waste of time, so long as you can control the other applications users work in. So if you’re using Microsoft Office, for example, better to keep the user inside one of those programs when they search the Internet by building the Research Pane, a window that has browser like features and functions but keeps the user inside a Microsoft product. If you do that, who needs a browser, or rather, who cares what the user does in a browser?

I’m guessing here, but if I was Microsoft, I wouldn’t care too much about numbers. Who needs to ensure everybody is using IE if all they’re doing is surfing for porn? Better to lock in the high-paying customers who might use online databases, for example, by keeping them in Office, or Outlook, or OneNote, or whatever. This is why I think you’re seeing more and more add-in toolbars for products like Outlook. The less people have to use a browser, the less steps they have to take to get information, and the more control you have over whether they go.

This may be one reason why Google is developing its own browser, if the rumours are true. Google relies on the browser more than any other company and presumably doesn’t want to find its business model made irrelevant for these in-program searches. Google needs eyeballs, and so needs to control the program and context of its users. Blankenhorn may well be right. The browser battle just may not be a battle Microsoft thinks is worth winning, because they see the war has moved elsewhere: to the in-program toolbar or research pane.

Is Firefox Really Gaining Ground?

Is there any truth to the buzz that Mozilla Firefox is gaining ground on Internet Explorer?

EWeek seems to think so, earlier this month quoting WebSideStory and OneStat.com as saying they have seen about a 1% drop in IE usage. The Ziff Davis logs appear to confirm this. But whichever figures you like of those, it still means IE accounts for between 94% and 95% of traffic.

Here are some figures of my own I’ve found: W3Schools indicates that Mozilla has been gaining steady ground since January 2003, from 4% of visitors then to 13.7% in July. (Some folk have pointed out that this statistic is not useful since the website is geared towards developers.) July also marks the first decline in both versions of IE (5 and 6). Individual sites report similar statistics: Information Research, an electronic journal, reports Mozilla visitors at about 9.3%. Then there’s the non-show of hands at BlogOn2004 last week, when no one (some say a few) put up their hands when Microsoft’s Channel 9 guys asked the audience how many of them used IE.

As eWeek concludes, this may be hundreds of thousands of users switching to Firefox or Opera or Safari, but it’s not going to budge Microsoft. It may, however, mean an opportunity for smaller browser makers. And it doesn’t mean an end to security problems, which will doubtless just shift to the more popular (and hence lucrative) usage: Hence the fears that by trying to make itself popular, Firefox may end up making itself vulnerable.

I hope, however, the rise of an alternative will force lazy or incompetent programmers to ensure their websites work on all browsers. It’s no longer acceptable for websites to look good, or just function, in IE. We should start drawing up a hall of shame of websites that do this. Sadly, in my experience, banks are the worst culprits. Ironic, really, given that it is mainly security flaws in IE that are sending people to new browsers.

The Gaping Browser Hole

Sometimes security holes can be subtle rather than complex. Sidney Low of Aliencamel points out the vulnerability discovered by Secunia, called the Multiple Browsers Frame Injection Vulnerability.

It’s a fancy term for a simple enough trick, where the bad guy hijacks a frame in a legitimate webpage (a frame is one portion of a webpage which has been divided into sections). The result is that the overall page is kosher — including, crucially, the URL — but that one of the frames contained inside is not. In that frame, of course, the bad guy could do anything he likes, and the user is none the wiser.

The only way a user can tell, I think, is by right clicking on the frame content and seeing what URL it is coming from, but who does that?

This vulnerability, actually, is a variation on a vulnerability Secunia reported had been fixed in earlier versions of IE, but then created again in a recent version. The bad news is that the vulnerability is not only an IE also present in Opera, Safari, Netscape and Mozilla. I couldn’t get it to work in Firefox, interestingly. There’s a test you can perform here.

As Sydney says: “This one is quite worrying because it doesn’t need to do any URL masking. It simply exploits the fact that framesets will do the URL masking for the phisher.”