Weekend Discussion: Is Netscape Doing the Right Thing?

Friday May 12th, 2000

Netscape recently released its plans for the PR2 branch. then released their tree plans for the next few months, and then followed up this evening with a more detailed position on tree management. The one thing that is clear is that Netscape is working on an accelerated schedule. has yet to release a beta, and Netscape is currently working towards a second beta. Feature freeze for Netscape is coming much earlier than for Mozilla. This means that Netscape's feature list will probably be truncated somewhat (although the developers are trying mightily to get the remaining features in), and it also means that there might be changes to Mozilla before its release that impact its compatibility with Netscape's final release. Netscape has promised standards compliance, but there is also the serious question as to how bug-free that standards compliance will be by final release.

Is Netscape doing the right thing by pushing ahead and trying to get a release into the public's hands? Or will they just end up alienating Mozilla developers and website developers by rushing a product to market? Is it even fair to consider it "rushing"?

#1 I think.......

by Hendy99

Friday May 12th, 2000 9:52 PM

....that at least the bugs with standards compliancy should be stomped out, even if the additional features don't get added.

#2 Is Netscape doing the right thing?

by Tanyel

Friday May 12th, 2000 10:05 PM


#3 General response...

by jesusX

Friday May 12th, 2000 10:36 PM

Well, as are most important things in life, I don't think this is black and white, right and wrong.

At it's root, Mozilla started as a commercial product that was in trouble. Netscape took a huge risk, and opened it up. They were the only contributor at that point, and are still the major contributor. It's STILL a commercial product, as is obvious by the license. By making as much as they have public, that's good. By keeping back as much as they still are, and will continue to do, is bad. Especiually since it's still a FREE product. What point is there to open up 95% of a product, but keep the other 5% secret when you're going to give away the final product anyway?

I think Netscape is excellent in their support, but I think that they have litte concern for where the entire Mozilla project (and supporting community) goes and where it's ultimate destiny lies. That's disturbing.

#4 It's done when it's done.

by hubick

Friday May 12th, 2000 10:52 PM

Commercial reality aside I would rather see an "it's done when it's done" attitude.

I think the primary goal should be to get the code modularized so that the pieces can be developed on individual release schedules. I think you will agree the number one task for this is getting stable API's for the various components. The first versions of these API's should be laying the proper architectural groundwork for full standards support, independantly of whether or not it actually get's implemented.

Once you ship the first version and the whole world starts building on it, I'm scared it will become an increasingly complex process to change it in any fundamental ways. I would like to see full DOM 2/3, XSL, and SVG support be easily added later without having to rip the whole tree down.

#5 It all depends...

by Gerv

Saturday May 13th, 2000 1:29 AM

(as I seem to remember Mike Shaver saying, but it could have been someone else) on how easy it is to upgrade the code in the field.

There's currently a pref, on by default, marked "automatically install new and updates software". If _this_ works correctly and is bug-free, a few problems with other bits don't matter so much, because the problems can be fixed later. NS 6 will be the first major application to get field-upgrading *right*.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that browser versions stick around for far longer than you would like. The feature set of NS 6 release 1 will affect web development in a fundamental way for the next five years. If things don't work, and the on-the-fly upgrading doesn't hit enough people, they will not get used - even if future versions support it.


#7 Re: It all depends...

by Ben_Goodger

Saturday May 13th, 2000 4:35 AM

"NS 6 will be the first major application to get field-upgrading *right*."

Ever use Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 or Windows Update? ;)

#6 More Thoughts

by Tanyel

Saturday May 13th, 2000 2:41 AM

Anybody who would choose Netscape based on how fast it is released has probably already abandoned Netscape. If they continue to rush then Netscape 6 will be worthless trash like M15. They should probably wait until it is ready and has all of the extra software before releasing it.

#36 Re: More Thoughts

by dash2

Tuesday July 18th, 2000 3:33 PM

look, it is all very well saying "such and such people have abandoned Netscape." If Netscape don't release a new product soon Microsoft will dominate completely, all web pages will be written for IE and will break Mozilla. Then what will the true believers do? Refuse to browse the web on principle? Netscape are a commercial company, they have to act to stay alive. Open source hobbyists do not.

#8 Netscape NOW

by Kovu

Saturday May 13th, 2000 5:21 AM

I see why they're rushing, and I think Netscape is absolutely right to do so. Take their partnership with Gateway for example -- probably a big part of the accelerated schedule is that Gateway has products coming out later this year (Web tablets, etc.) that they and AOL have said will use Netscape 6. This means that the products are all waiting on a finished Netscape 6, including AOL TV, etc., and if these companies want to have any sort of Christmas revenues from these new products, they need to get them out and they need Netscape to do it. When you look at it this way, you start to realize just how much is waiting on Netscape 6 to be done. It's hard to tell Gateway or any of the other companies "Oh we're sorry, we have a few little bugs yet left to quash so you can forget those Christmas revenues, you'll have to wait till next year to put out this horde of new Web products because we just can't stand that bug!" They won't wait, they'll use another product instead if they have to: IE.

How much of a crime it is to rush the browser depends on just how "broken" the release is. Take the buggy standards: which bugs are we talking about? How easy will it be to fix later? Will anyone even notice the bugs? Take for example the fact that Mozilla supports "key" CSS2 features. That doesn't mean that it supports all features, but it supports those that are crucial and the rest can be dealt with later (I assume) without too much hassle. Are the bugs in Netscape 6's standards compliance going to wind up causing broken pages later or will they be smoothed over such that developers never even notice? Are they such that anyone except will care? I don't know the answer to this and I don't think anyone will until we see final.

As far as keeping compatibility with Mozilla, you have to look at Mozilla as an ongoing, never-ending project. It's always going to keep changing in ways we can't foresee now. I think it's possible Mozilla will never see a "final" version, not seriously. Even once they finally "feature freeze" Mozilla, it's just going to keep going and start changing again. It's a dynamic project, it's literally like a river flowing by and outside developers who are using it -- like Netscape -- will just dip in from time to time and use what's there at the time. Netscape unlike Mozilla HAS to get something out to start turning the tide of the Web towards standards and away from proprietary crap like IE. Even with a minor bug or two, Netscape 6's standards beat the tar out of any competing product and make life A LOT easier for Web developers. If the bugs don't matter that much (again, I'm not sure which bugs they are or how important they are) then condemning Netscape for rushing to finish Netscape 6 is like pitching a fit when a friend who owes you $100 gives you $99.75 and promises to give you a quarter later. You may want that quarter NOW, but in the end it's just a quarter (again, this assumes that these bugs cause minimal damage, if any, to Web developers). just keeps saying "oh but wait! We need to add this, too!" That's fine for Mozilla, and it's the way the project should be as a dynamic open source effort, but this doesn't work for Netscape or the industry at large. Look how long it took to recover from Necko! If we keep in mind M9 was supposed to be feature freeze LAST SUMMER, we start to see exactly how nasty this gets.

Also remember that the desktop browser battle is not what's in question here, not really. The larger battle is Internet devices, and it's NOW that Web pads, set tops, etc. are going to start coming out (AOL TV is supposed to be out in June!) and they NEED browsers. If it's not Netscape it will HAVE to be IE. These products will have hopefully dynamically updating browsers (such as Gerv mentions above) and will thus fluidly update themselves without the user having to even notice. I hope this is the case, at least. We will of course see desktop conversions as well, but hopefully the larger part of those who use Netscape 6 won't mind upgrading later to Netscape 7 (which will be fixed, presumably), especially when you consider that upgrading is a process MUCH, MUCH easier than upgrading current browsers where you have to download a nearly 20 MB file EVERY TIME you want to upgrade a stinking point release.

Bottom line: It's not just Netscape or AOL that needs Netscape 6 to be done ASAP, it's the whole industry. Mozilla's not going to have any effect at all on the industry if we stall any longer, no matter HOW good the product is. Companies need a product to put on Web devices and if it's not Netscape then we will start to see IE appearing on these devices and THAT would be FAR more damaging to the standards effort than a couple minor bugs in Netscape 6's implementation.

Having said all that, Netscape needs to handle the situation by making sure that future versions of Mozilla are not "broken" with Netscape 6. They HAVE to minimize the impact of branching early such that any potential damage to compatibility with Mozilla is minimal or non-existent. As long as they do this, I think their branching for PR2 and the accelerated schedule not only makes sense but is absolutely necessary to the entire industry.

#10 Re: Netscape NOW

by thales

Saturday May 13th, 2000 7:59 AM

I agree, If Netscape dosen't get a new browser out soon, It won't matter if one is released at all. I usally hear estimates of about 80% market for IE, and climbing. Every day more web pages are designed to use IE's bastardized version of HTML. Many of these pages look like crap in a standards compliant browser. The bundling of IE with Windows is only part of the reason for Netscape's decline. A big part of the problem is it's been years since 4.x came out and it's falling behind IE in quality. Netscape is on it's way to becoming a niche product, mainly on platforms that IE dosen't support. If this trend isn't reversed soon Web designers will look at Netscape 6 and Mozilla 1 like they look at Netscape 1. Who cares what the page looks like in that browser, Nobody uses it. The only sites that will use standard HTML will be the ones that cater to Open source projects. The only standard that will matter is whatever MS marketing decides to do with IE.

#9 i like cheese

by megaloB

Saturday May 13th, 2000 5:25 AM

I think we will end up seeing Mozilla 1.0 and Netscape 6.5 at the same time if Netscape wants to jump the gun and take market share back. So what Netscape's doing might be good if they come up with a final 6.0 that is a mozilla beta. In other words, millions upon millions of people, seeing Netscape 6.0 is done, will get it, even if it's not as feature-rich or fantastic as Mozilla is. But when mozilla reaches the point where it makes my gonads explode, Netscape will be right there with them. With 6.08 or something.

You see what I mean? It's 4:22 a.m.

#11 Embedded browsers

by stephan

Saturday May 13th, 2000 10:46 AM

The main competitor AFA embedded browsers are conserned is AFAICT Opera, not IE. Have a look at to see what I mean.

#14 No one uses Opera

by Kovu

Saturday May 13th, 2000 1:39 PM

Don't those morons still think they can charge for their browser? No one is going to pay to use Opera when they can use IE for free.

#18 Re: No one uses Opera

by stephan

Saturday May 13th, 2000 5:54 PM

1. Opera Software not only thinks it can charge for the browser, it does, and it makes money doing so. What does that tell you about Opera's browser?

2. Using IE in your devices is not necessarily free, and it involves having to use Microsoft platforms. Many companies do not want to give control of their devices to Microsoft.

3. Opera is available/will be available soon for lots of platforms that Microsoft has yet to announce *plans* of supporting. Many companies plan to use Linux for their devices, where IE is not (and probably will not be) available. Opera is Mozilla/Netscape's competitor in this field, not Microsoft.

4. The size of Opera is currently smaller than both IE and Netscape. Size *is* important for small devices.

5. You should respect your competitors. Calling them 'morons' is not a good thing.

#21 Opera is NOT a competitor

by Kovu

Saturday May 13th, 2000 7:04 PM

Firstly, again, no one uses Opera. Rather, hardly anyone, especially when compared to Netscape and IE.

Secondly, they ARE morons for thinking they can charge money for a browser that doesn't even support current W3C standards like Mozilla does.

Thirdly, Mozilla is far from just a browser, it's a Web application platform (read: integrated IRC/chat clients, Web editing software, embeddable rendering engines, integrated mail/IM clients), all made from the same code. And the browser package is about twice as fully featured as Opera, features that can be removed for smaller embeddable versions of the software. Further, Mozilla is very modular and will get smaller with optimization, which obviously can't happen until the features are frozen. Opera offers NONE of this Web application platform capability to my knowledge, and yet still thinks they can live in pre-IE times by charging $30 for what amounts to yet another broken Web browser.

You want small, use Espial's browser which is like 80k and runs completely in Java. But that doesn't mean it's not still broken compared to Mozilla's standards support, nor does it have a fraction the potential of Mozilla as a Web app platform any more than Opera does.

Mozilla itself is probably already more used than Opera, and if not it will be about ten minutes after Netscape 6 is released final. I don't see Opera (or Espial) as competitors, I'm afraid -- I see them as a walking corpse.

Finally, IE IS pretty much free to use. Part of the argument in the MS trial is that to woo developers they gave away development software for IE that any company that actually intended to support itself from the product would have charged money for -- in some cases even PAYING developers to use that software -- and they did that specifically to crush Netscape. This is still pretty much the case and will be unless the trial results in Microsoft having to stop this behavior.

#24 Re: Opera is NOT a competitor

by stephan

Sunday May 14th, 2000 1:05 PM

This is very off-topic and would demand a rather long answer. Won't do that here.

#25 Shucks n/t

by Kovu

Sunday May 14th, 2000 2:59 PM


#12 Feature freeze vs. API freeze

by svn

Saturday May 13th, 2000 10:54 AM

Netscape is primarily concerned with features because that's what the ordinary PC user cares about. The end user for Mozilla is the developer, not the average PC user. When the release of Mozilla 1.0 becomes imminent, we will be talking about an API freeze, not a feature freeze. The two are closely related, but the API is more fundamental than superficial features. So I think Netscape's priorities and Mozilla's priorities will always remain distinct, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Mozilla is not yet ready for an API freeze, but if Netscape thinks they can release a competitive browser based on Mozilla, let them go ahead. Netscape is losing market share and mind share, and they do need to act quickly. In some ways, Netscape's survival as a viable company is at stake here. Their actions may delay Mozilla 1.0, but I think we should be willing to put up with it, just this one time. If Netscape had a dominant position in the browser market, I would have a different opinion. (But then Mozilla may have never come into existence!)

#13 It all depends...

by Gerv

Saturday May 13th, 2000 12:13 PM

(as I seem to remember Mike Shaver saying, but it could have been someone else) on how easy it is to upgrade the code in the field.

There's currently a pref, on by default, marked "automatically install new and updates software". If _this_ works correctly and is bug-free, a few problems with other bits don't matter so much, because the problems can be fixed later. NS 6 will be the first major application to get field-upgrading *right*.

On the other hand, it is good to remember that browser versions stick around for far longer than you would like. The feature set of NS 6 release 1 will affect web development in a fundamental way for the next five years. If things don't work, and the on-the-fly upgrading doesn't hit enough people, they will not get used - even if future versions support it.


#15 critical bugs

by antoniod

Saturday May 13th, 2000 4:13 PM

This would all be well and good if the Lizard was at least able run without crashing every few minutes! I run Linux, an OS of above average stability, and with M15 the entire app just dies trying to load a new page every few minutes. If this does not stop, no amount of accolades for rendering the latest standards will be any good.

#16 OF COURSE it'll stop

by Kovu

Saturday May 13th, 2000 5:13 PM

That's the thing about beta software, especially in this critical juncture where Netscape is throwing feature after feature into the code and causing regression upon regression -- IT'S GOING TO BE BUGGY. We're not discussing bugs with the regressions, we're discussing Netscape's claim that they will support 100% of certain standards and then turning the other cheek and saying "but we don't promise NO bugs in those standards", i.e., it's hard to claim 100% and still have a buggy implementation.

#17 Yes.

by mozineAdmin

Saturday May 13th, 2000 5:35 PM

"it's hard to claim 100% and still have a buggy implementation."

I agree completely.

#19 i like cheese too

by Pyro

Saturday May 13th, 2000 6:18 PM

but I have to agree with Kovu. Squash the major bugs and then show me something faster and more stable than what we have. Netscape 4.73 (yes I actually download the increments) is good for me, just a tad slow and no capabilities for modern web standard. But it gets the job done. If I can get a more modern, faster version of that, I'm happy. Having skinability is awesome. Fun features are awesome. But what I hate most is when I'm doing a report and Netscape (or anything) decides to crash my machine. Stability + speed are the main things I'm looking for. And whatever happened to that promise of Netscape fitting on a 1.44MB floppy?

#22 That promise was GECKO, not Mozilla

by Kovu

Saturday May 13th, 2000 7:06 PM

Gecko still fits on one floppy, I believe. :)

#20 Why aren't these messages on n.p.m.announce?

by gwalla

Saturday May 13th, 2000 6:40 PM

It would make sense if major mozilla policy announcements like news:// and news:// were posted to netscape.public.mozilla.announce. But for some reason, that group is completely dead. There haven't been any new messages on it in ages, despite major changes to the API (like all the string changes) and policy announcements like those. Has the n.p.m.announce moderator fallen asleep at the wheel?

#23 Re: Why aren't these messages on n.p.m.announce?

by frankhecker

Sunday May 14th, 2000 11:23 AM

I agree that it would be good to post more Mozilla-related announcements to n.p.m.announce. But I don't think it's the fault of the n.p.m.moderator, I think it's the fact that people don't submit articles to n.p.m.announce in the first place. I'll send a note to staff to remind them to use n.p.m.anounce more to make sure people get important information.

#26 Re: Re: Why aren't these messages on n.p.m.announc

by dveditz

Sunday May 14th, 2000 11:40 PM

Many of these interesting posts aren't announcements per se, but they do deserve a wider audience.

Use NEWSBOT -- and encourage your friends to use it too!

#27 n.p.m.announce

by mitchell

Monday May 15th, 2000 1:43 PM

I hadn't thought of the tree management postings as announcements, but I'm happy to cross post there if its helpful. Same for newsbot.

#29 Re: n.p.m.announce

by MattyT

Monday May 15th, 2000 6:55 PM

Sounds good to me. Perhaps post to seamonkey first and then to announce after initial feedback.

#28 Another issue

by Pyro

Monday May 15th, 2000 2:29 PM

How will web statistics of browser usage be reported once there are official separate final releases of Netscape and Mozilla? Will it be separate, the same, or will it be standard to have some sort of annotation saying something like "Mozilla and Netscape go together blah blah"?

#31 Re: Another issue

by prawda

Tuesday May 23rd, 2000 2:37 PM

seems like no-one knows the answer to this, though i think it's a vital issue..

#30 What is all the fuss about ?

by Salsaman

Friday May 19th, 2000 2:58 PM

I am somebody who has been following the development of Mozilla closely, but without trying to get too much involved with the politics of Netscape/Mozilla.

As far as I could gather from the quoted mail messages: NS beta 2 will be based on M16; Netscape 6 will be out before Mozilla 1.0. As has been pointed out, Mozilla may never reach 1.0, as it will (probably) always be developing. So what is new here ? Are Netscape pulling their developers off Mozilla devolpment ? Are they going to stop supporting Moz ? Unless they are then it seems to me to be needless worrying.

#32 Re: General response...

by mra_delft

Friday May 26th, 2000 6:11 PM

In my opinion Netscape Communications Corp. has 3 fields of activity. Only in the web client field there are chance for success.

1. Web server software competition: Microsoft (medium), Apache (strong) allies: SUN, Novell, IBM?, ... products: rock solid, enterprise proof.

2. Corporate applications competition: Lotus, Novell, Microsoft allies: ? products: weak feature lists. old?

3. Web client software -> NetCenter competition: Microsoft (strong) ... products: NS 4.x(weak) currently weakening against IE.

The only interesting thing her is the web client software. With Netscape 6 Netscape once again posesses a product that is technologically very advanced and that might improve their creditibility so much that ISP's corporate networks will use it as their platform of choice. (Developing Intranets around JavaScript and Java instead of ActiveX...)

#33 In the public's eye

by archen

Wednesday June 7th, 2000 8:40 PM

I think Netscape just wants to prove that they're not dead more than anything. If you listen to any sort of report on the M$ monopoly, they always talk like Netscape was killed off by Microsoft years ago.

I don't think I'd be too worried about IE taking over the embedded systems market. Any smaller device will probably run something like PalmOS or a stripped down version of Linux... not the sort of stuff IE could flurish in.

#34 You're too slow

by Cone

Friday June 30th, 2000 12:43 PM

You nearly kicked InternetExlplorer with the version 4. But now Internet Exlplorer released the version 5 many month ago and your version 5 is still in alpha. I like NC (or mozilla) much better than IE, but the actual version doesn't even interpret the most StyleSheets.

#35 You're too slow

by Cone

Friday June 30th, 2000 12:43 PM

You nearly kicked InternetExlplorer with the version 4. But now Internet Exlplorer released the version 5 many month ago and your version 5 is still in alpha. I like NC (or mozilla) much better than IE, but the actual version doesn't even interpret the most StyleSheets.

#37 long and short terms

by wingnut

Wednesday August 2nd, 2000 1:03 PM

I think I'd have to agree with Hubick's comment in post 4...

'Commercial reality aside I would rather see an "it's done when it's done" attitude.'

I once heard a NASA engineer say something to the affect that when things are built under tight competition, they get built faster, but they suffer from a lack of reuseability. I think Netscape should try to avoid worrying about market share for the time being, (if they can indeed still afford to feed the programmers) and shoot for the long-term results. In a way, what IS market share other than a type of "hero worship".

I am a fart in a windstorm as far as being an active player in the grand scheme of Mozilla development. I am primarily a MOO pig. But in being such, I am a proponent of groupware collaboration and data visualization. I have been a fan of Chaco's Pueblo MOO client for quite awhile, and have seen some of the possibilities of HTML-based groupware, as well as some visualization wonderfulness offered by VRML. Pueblo was an early attempt at mixing a browser, telnet client, and vrml renderer into one display. MPEG 4/7/? seems to want to absorb many of these goods. Although some say that 'helper apps' is the only way to deal with the mime-a-thon that seems to be attacking... I am a fan of "the universal displayer" and Mozilla's wonderful thoughts of being a smoothly "embedable" browser. (Like in a Java MOO client!) Browser embedability alone will bring back any lost market shares attained by taking the time to do things right and modular.

Lastly, I am a big fan of RDF, OIL, and ontology inference work. Society seems to want to plaster advertising on anything that will receive paint... and between inferencing and Ted Nelson's transpublishing, I'm going to do my best to eliminate the noise. Now we could get real political on these subjects if we wanted, but the people that truly matter in building the future web KNOW that it is not money that will improve the state of mankind, it is KNOWLEDGE. Short term, getting a browser out there that satisfies some new product/technology releases is for MONEY. Long term, we should be shooting for something that advances mankind... a browser produced with knowledge. Netscape... please understand that heroes are long term things!