Alternatives to the W3C

Tyler Baker tyler at
Fri Jan 21 01:27:48 GMT 2000

Lee Anne Phillips wrote:

> At Thursday 1/20/00 03:47 PM -0500, Tyler Baker wrote:
> >directly. A lot of people complain about why it has taken so long for
> >Netscape to include
> >XSL support, and all I can say to them is "you get what you pay for". One
> >browser or two
> >browsers or three browsers or four, it really does not matter because the
> >incentive to
> >innovate with web browsers is no more.
> "Free" browsers aren't guaranteed to last forever, any more than "free"
> razors or "free" salt pretzels in a bar. They're marketing "giveaways"
> designed to sell products. Given that Microsoft may or may not be here in a
> recognizable form in the fairly near future, it doesn't seem safe to count
> too many chickens based on continuing Microsoft dominance of the browser
> market either. IBM used to *own* the computing world, and it's now quite
> possible to spend months or years as a computer programmer without even
> hearing their name mentioned.

Very true. But I know of several restaurants who went down the tubes because their happy
hours were wayyyyy tooo extravagant and when they stopped giving out all the free stuff,
everyone got mad and stopped going to the restaurants altogether. Once you start giving
something away for free, you can basically never charge for it again as it has been
commoditized to such a low value.

> The most recent competitive strategy of giving away browsers was based on
> the fact that they have the potential to eliminate most or all of the
> operating system user interface and sell back ends based on their
> integration with back end products. Both Microsoft and Netscape used to
> charge for their browser products, remember? Netscape was targeting the
> Windows GUI as well as the NT Server market and Microsoft reacted with free
> and then "integrated" browsers built into the OS. There are still browser
> makers selling browsers (e.g. Opera) based on feature sets, even within
> standards and in the face of "free" competition.

Well I applaud the folks making the Opera browser, but any success they will ever have
will be severely limited because no average internet user will ever expect to pay for a
browser again, let alone any internet application. This culture of free stuff on the web
is what is destroying a lot of the internet companies out there as they find that once
they get their market share at an extraordinary cost, their users expect their services to
keep being free forever. ICQ before they were eventually bought out by AOL was constantly
trying to figure out a way to charge for ICQ, but the user revolt at the rumors were so
great that they found it impossible to even suggest charging a small monthly fee for the
service. And of course there are the web content sites whose entire income is based on
banner advertising. This well as everyone knows is quickly drying up as click-through
rates for banner ads are next to nothing these days, and many advertisers are pulling
banner ads from their marketing budgets altogether. It is no wonder the internet software
industry seems to have hit a point of stagnation, even though the user base of the
internet is growing exponentially.

> Have you looked at the future plans and developments documents at W3C
> lately? There really does seem to be a grand and powerful vision there and
> the various XML-related standards have the potential to supercede *much* of
> the proprietary stuff the browser makers have done in the past and will do
> in the near future. Whether anyone agrees or not, hand-held devices will be
> browsing the Web in great numbers in the near future. XML and related
> standards make that possible. Look at the history of radio, which is almost
> a non-issue nowadays except in portable devices. Not everyone has no life
> away from their 17 inch monitor and really wants to surf the Web like early
> radio listeners spent hours glued to their custom consoles by headphone cords.

Everyone knows the TV manufacturers make little or no money and often lose money on TV's
these days. The only reason they keep selling them is because making TV's helps keep a lot
of people employed as well as the fact that they are a gateway to selling other gadgets.

As for surfing the internet on cell-phones and other hand-held devices? Give me a break.
Maybe for checking a few sports scores or some stock quotes or a few text messages, but
browsing web sites? Perhaps when VR helmets and similiar technology becomes cheap enough
to manufacture at a profit for the web masses will we see people actively surfing the web
on something other than a notebook computer or PC.

> Standards don't mean that innovation stops any more than standardizing on
> using SAE (or metric) bolts, four rubber wheels, a gas pedal, and a
> steering wheel as the basis for an automobile means that we're all still
> driving Model T Fords. The Model T was made possible by standardization,
> and quickly surpassed custom-made cars within a few years. That doesn't
> mean that custom car makers are out of business; there are probably more
> custom car makers now than there ever were. But how many people do you know
> who own one?

Well, that was because Model T's were dirt cheap compared to everything else. The Model T
eventually almost drove Ford out of business because Henry Ford was too stubborn to try
and manufacture anything else.

> The problem with browsers has been that heretofore the browser makers have
> been inventing their own nuts and bolts, so the tool kits of every designer
> have had to include tools to deal with all of them at great expense. While
> this is typical of an immature industry, standardization quickly drives
> custom solutions to the edge of the marketplace rather than the center.

Standardization also somtimes is synonymous with stagnation. Once something is
standardized, by definition it is not supposed to change. I am not so sure standardizing
applications is a great idea. Yah it might benefit some people in the short term, but in
the long term you end up with applications like Navigator and IE that have no incentive to
improve. Does anyone ever remember to the term "internet years"? Whatever happened to that
concept? Did the computing world just totally burn out?

> If you look at the history of tools, *real* innovations and improvements in
> productivity have followed quickly on standardization. When SAE (and
> metric) nut and bolt sizes were agreed upon, socket sets and air wrenches
> followed because they were newly possible. Before that you had the choice
> of adjustable wrenches or custom wrenches designed for the particular item
> and that was it. A socket was too expensive to build when it only fit one
> nut and an air wrench needs sockets to be practical.

In some industries this is often the case. But comparing software to nuts and bolts is a
little too primitive a comparison I think. The software industry as everyone knows
operates by a different set of laws in rules in how it operates.

> Programming languages have the same history; the first were designed to fit
> one machine and one machine only. The current software industry owes
> everything to standard languages which hide the details of the machine and
> enable the designer to concentrate on function and real innovation, not how
> many registers are available and whether a conditional branch can be made
> within the limits of a near jump.

I completely agree. But web browsers are not akin to a programming language. Web browsers
are an application I feel even though their interface is somewhat defined by the content
coming from a web server. Many people may disagree but I really think that the web browser
had a lot more potential before certain mergers and acquisitions killed the corporate
culture over at Netscape.

> There are an enormous number of innovations that a browser maker can make
> *within* the parameters of standards processes that can make life easier
> and more fun for users, just like automobile manufacturers compete on the
> basis of style, power, image, economy, and the hundred other tangible and
> intangible benefits that the customer sees in choosing a BMW over a Lexus,
> or a Jeep Cherokee over a Hummer.

Of course. But what is the motivation to do so other than for the sheer public good. Why
should AOL care at all whether people use Netscape or not? Why should MS care whether
people use IE now that Netscape is a defunct company? Where is the motivation among
developers and companies to build a better browser?

> But one of the many things a user *doesn't* have to decide is whether their
> local auto mechanic has a wrench that will fit the spark plugs, whether
> they prefer a steering wheel or a tiller, and whether they're able to use
> the highways designed for Fords or Chevrolets.

Cars are not the same thing as software. But you illustrate my point exactly in that users
do have a clear choice between a Ford, Chevrolet, or something with a little more resale
value like a Honda or Toyota. In the software industry, users have the choice between two
stagnant browsers that will likely see few if any innovations in the years to come.


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