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Astounding Comments From the WSP

by CHRIS NELSON | The following is an open letter to the WSP:

This letter is in response to your article, "For the Good of the Web: An Open Letter to Netscape"", linked to from your front page by the words "slams Netscape".

Since I don't know the author of the article I'm responding to, and since "The WaSP" is essentially a pseudonym for the WSP leadership, I will hereafter do my best to refer to the author of the piece as either "The WaSP" or "the WSP".

"The WaSP" states, "How can standards advocates continue to point to your example while criticizing other browser makers? How can we demand that Microsoft 'do what Netscape is doing,' when, from a business perspective, 'what Netscape is doing' is bleeding market share while failing to ship product?"

This is an interesting twist of logic, but conflating your "business perspective" on Netscape's time-to-market with your goal of standards compliance, while being the only way you can support your assertions, is faulty reasoning. Unfortunately, it's the foundation for your entire piece.

The WSP's goal is promoting standards compliance, and cajoling browser makers into supporting standards, no? Where in your mission does it talk about "time-to-market" issues? Is that something we should just assume? Since the developers have started on their new code base you've been advocating Netscape's "plans" over their "products". What has changed? I assume you have just lost patience. Is it your stated role to lose patience with sincere efforts? What kind of message does that send to the browser development community? A message far worse than Netscape's lagging efforts, I fear.

Somehow you still believe that the reason for Microsoft's inability to make IE standards compliant has something to do with a lack of competition. I've read their posts in your mailing list. I know better. You do, too.

Standards have had nothing to do with Netscape's declining market share, and if you can show one statistic that says otherwise, I'd love to see it. The reason for Netscape's declining share is nothing more than Microsoft's monopoly control over the browser marketplace. I would venture that half of the "86%" of users who are using IE now have never even seen Netscape's browser. Remember, in the past two years, more and more people have come on the 'Net -- what's that percentage? half of the current Internet users? -- and the first and only application they use is IE. Even if some have made the effort to switch to Netscape, the fact remains that the integration of the IE browser into the Operating System has played more of a role in the decline in Netscape's market share than any "standards compliance" issue. To deny that is to take a myopic view of the browser wars.

The writer goes on to say, "Frankly, if we had known you could not deliver a stable, usable, standards-compliant browser in under two years, we would not have asked you to try."

Are we amazed yet? This is the same WSP that takes the credit for putting Netscape on its current course. This is the same WSP that actually has a few members (emphasis on "few") taking part in the development of Mozilla. This is the same WSP that could see every step of the progress of the browser from the opening of its source code.

It gets better. "But wasn't it your job to know whether or not you could pull this off before you pledged to do it? Estimating software delivery dates is notoriously tricky, we admit but two whole years?"

Let's be clear. The WSP themselves has obviously underestimated the time required to produce a high quality, standards-compliant browser *suite* from scratch. (Why would Netscape produce just a Web browser and hope to compete? I'd love it if someone explained that logic to me.) The WSP underestimated what it would take to produce a browser that could run on any of the major platforms, with a limited number of developers. (Would a browser for just Windows have sufficed? Or just Mac and Windows? Are you planning on dictating the platforms Netscape should develop for, for expediency's sake?) You also didn't consider that Netscape would need true internationalization to be effective. You assumed too much. Now Netscape is paying the price for your assumptions. Shame on you, WSP.

The writer goes on, "Why are you taking forever to deliver a usable browser?"

Two years is forever in computer years, according to the piece. What has Microsoft delivered in those two years, I wonder? They reached version 4 and have coasted ever since, because they know the market is a lock. Oh, they've added plenty of proprietary features, but their CSS and DOM support is still as sketchy as in V4.

"And why," the anonymous writer continues, "if you are a company that believes in web standards, do you keep Navigator 4 on the market?"

What are they going to put in its place? A ham sandwich? There is still a significant percentage of users out there using Communicator (I'm one of them). I like bug fixes that fix security issues in the browser. That's what Netscape's point releases accomplish.

That said, the following might sound contradictory: The reason I use Communicator? Security. I cannot subject my system to running IE and Outlook. I have important data that I'm not willing to lose, and IE and Outlook are too much of a security risk. Standards be damned, if Microsoft continues to make a browser so wedded to the operating system that it puts the whole system at risk, I won't use it. There are others out in the ether who feel likewise. We should be able to have a browser that we can trust in the interim between the 4.x releases and the 6 release. To ask us to switch to Microsoft's insecure system is unrealistic. And what about Netscape's Linux users? You didn't seem to account for them.

"If you genuinely realized it would take two years to replace Netscape 4, we wish you would have told us. No market, let alone the Internet, can stand still that long. We would have told you as much."

Apparently the WSP would have told Netscape to give up. What else would you have suggested? Pushing out a non-compliant browser suite that's buggy? Turning back time and creating a product that follows your goals precisely - goals that obviously go beyond mere standards compliance?

Then, "The WaSP" rolls out a veiled threat. "...if it takes you another six months to pull this off, the world's first fully standards-compliant browser could be playing to an empty house. And the message such a failure would send is: 'Don't support standards if you want to stay in business.' If you send the world that message, you will have harmed the cause you meant to help."

Astounding. Netscape, for all its efforts to make a standards compliant browser, is now harming the cause more than it helps. The herculean effort that these developers have put into this product is now all in vain, and the WSP has turned on the countdown clock to Netscape's demise.

"Those who look more closely will realize that software development issues, not W3C standards, are to blame for the endless delays. But who looks closely in this environment? On the web, people click, scan, and go somewhere else. The perception that standards are somehow to blame is enough to cause harm."

The same people who click, scan, and go somewhere else... how exactly will they get the impression that "standards" are to blame? This mass of anonymous users that you have fashioned doesn't seem to have the wits to grasp that.

Finally, the clincher. "For the good of the web, it is time to withdraw Navigator 4 from the market, whether Netscape 6 is ready or not," says "The WaSP".

When IE supports CSS and the DOM, then Netscape should chuck NN4. Not one second before. Microsoft is just as much to blame for the standards problems the WSP is facing (and you know it), and to expect Netscape to cut their one tie to their customer base is wrongheaded and arrogant. And to ask them to do so based on the faulty logic and assumptions expressed in your piece!!!

"If you fail now, the web will essentially belong to a single company."

Don't you know, WSP? It already does. And let's make this very clear: Microsoft is wholly to blame for the possibility of a single company dominating the browser industry and the standards process. From turning the browser into a revenue-less commodity, to bundling the browser with every Windows OS shipped, Microsoft has turn after turn made competition and progress near impossible. And they have done it in the name of "customer benefit" -- the same line they've been feeding you in your mailing list as the reason why IE is not standards compliant. Do you really think that Netscape producing a standards compliant browser would make one iota of difference in the market? Even according to your piece, the masses don't know standards compliance from a hole in the ground.

Until Microsoft is forced to unbundle IE from the Operating System, and computer makers are allowed to bundle Netscape as they see fit, the desktop browser market will only get more lopsided. Even after Netscape 6 is released. Want to place a wager?

"And for once, nobody will be able to blame them for 'competing unfairly.'" Apparently because Microsoft will have no competition.

What is the impetus behind this diatribe? I suspect that the WSP has been getting criticism recently for chastising Microsoft and not Netscape. Was this piece written to even the balance a bit? It is so lacking in evenhandedness and logic that one assumes that you (the WSP) are attempting to cover up your impotence in affecting change in the browser market by placing the full onus for the problem on Netscape. The only real success story that the WSP has claimed is Netscape's shift towards a new browser and standards compliance. One would think you'd be unwilling to dismantle -- to deconstruct -- such a victory with your management opinions about time-to-market.

The WSP has taken exactly the wrong attitude. Instead of heaping scorn on Netscape (and, by association, the Mozilla effort), you should be supporting -- nay, advocating -- the standards compliance that Mozilla and Netscape 6 will bring to the market. You should be advocating for Mozilla's standards goals that you so quickly took credit for a year and a half ago.

You should be encouraging the work of the many developers who are fighting an uphill battle against a monopolist. You should be encouraging the WSP members who are putting a serious effort into the Netscape and Mozilla product.

The WSP so easily turned its back on Netscape and the Mozilla effort. Do you know what your goals really are?

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