Netscape Cannot Win

Monday November 6th, 2000

I have recently become convinced that Netscape is fighting a losing battle against third-party micro-managing in their attempt to produce a browser for market.

The first conflict was with the raving loonies of the WSP. The WSP whines and bitches about standards compliance. They create a petition to convince Netscape to switch to development of their "Gecko" rendering engine technology, which promises greater standards compliance. They take credit for the Mozilla project moving to this new technology.

Then, they decide that the WSP is much more concerned about dictating project deadlines than standards compliance, and demand that Netscape release a product before the end of the year 2000, and stop any more work on Netscape 4.x -- including security fixes, apparently. (And read below to see what their fearless leader had to say today).

Now, a guy named Dave Flanagan has determined that Netscape 6 is too non-compliant to be released, although any reasonable, objective assessment of the application would prove that it is much more compliant than any browser currently on the market (yet you don't hear Mr. Flanagan petitioning against the release of iCab or IE6 or Konqueror).

And guess what? Mr. Flanagan has a petition you can sign, telling Netscape to hold off release of Netscape 6! But you can also use his petition to log your dissent.

[Mr. O'Reilly, I'm saddened that you signed an assent to Mr. Flanagan's petition without making an assessment of Netscape 6's standards compliance.

And Mr. Zeldman, I was dismayed, but not surprised, to read your statement in which you backtrack on the WSP's call for product release by the end of the year, when you obviously have not done an honest assessment of Netscape's standards compliance. "Releasing a close-to-perfect standards-compliant browser would be fine. (No software is perfect.) But releasing a browser with seriously buggy, incomplete standards support will not serve Netscape, will not serve developers, and will not serve the cause of web standards."]

I have made it known to a few people that I will no longer be fielding Netscape news on my site. You may see news of product releases, but you will no longer see links to reviews, complaints, rants, or any other information having to do with the Netscape product.

This site is called MozillaZine for a reason. I started it to support the Mozilla Open Source project. Along the way, I tried to be a voice of support for Netscape as it navigated the murky waters of being a commercial contributor to an open project. But what I am confronted with is the fact that if I were to continue posting Netscape news I would be forced to continue posting links to this garbage, giving it more credibility than it deserves. Look what happened when news of Mr. Flanagan's petition hit Slashdot. The petition now overflows with rants against Netscape, and I bet not one of these ravers has done even a modest assessment of Netscape 6's standards compliance. Is that the kind of support you wanted Mr. Flanagan? If you can get lots of people to raise their voices, does the din drown out their ignorance?

In any case, this crap will no longer will find a home in MozillaZine. So, take a good long look. Gaze into Mr. Flanagan's eyes. Because he's the last guy with an axe to grind against Netscape that you will see in these pages. The last armchair-marketer to get a say on this site. You'll have to go elsewhere to get your fix. (However, I allow myself an exception to clobber the hell out of the WSP if they continue to act like pussies.)

Netscape is in the unenviable position of choosing between bug-fixes and product release - the Scylla and Charybdis of software development. They've set their course. Maybe they will stop and reassess. That's up to the Netscape managers and the PDT team. But the waters grow increasingly insipid, and they might just end up deciding that it's not worth the trouble and pack it all up and call it a day. Maybe they can put in the past this peanut-gallery micro-management Hell that they've fallen into.

I'll leave you with a very thoughtful post to the n.p.m.layout newsgroup by Dylan Schiemann.

#32 Welcome to Shipping Software 101

by Blake <>

Tuesday November 7th, 2000 6:34 PM

You are replying to this message

Oh, for god's sakes...

Dave, 5 bug fixes aren't going to make it into Netscape 6, wah wah boo hoo. Let me get you a kleenex.

Do you really think a couple of fixes are going to make Netscape 6.0 a fully standards-compliant browser? Some of the bugs you mentioned don't even have a fix in hand. Some of them you reported a little over two weeks ago. TWO WEEKS before rtm. That sure is enough time to make a patch, get it approved, check it in and test for regressions, eh?

And where do you draw the line on accepting fixes? Regardless of when Netscape decides to ships, there will always be already-made fixes that won't get in. Or do you want developers to suddenly stop making bug fixes so we don't feel bad if some of them don't make it in? Welcome to the concept of shipping software. As "unbelievable" as it sounds, many companies (including Netscape in its past) have some sort of PDT concept because, believe it or not, most companies need to ship a product. The difference is that you're getting a first-hand look at the process (but that doesn't give you license to bitch and whine).

Oh, and...part of the criteria for allowing bug fixes is marketing and legal requirements? You don't say! Who would have thought that Netscape actually needs to make money and worry about getting sued? Mozilla is open-source, but Netscape is still very much a corporate entity that, like any other, needs to turn a profit. In reality, what you mention is not the entirety of PDT criteria, as you inaccurately suggest. In fact, PDT criteria was posted on the newsgroups for all to see about a month ago.

I think the fact that you bring up bug 57869 as evidence of flaws in PDT criteria shows how little you really know about, well, anything. You're suggesting that Netscape should stop burning rtm cd's to fix a minor misspelling in an obscure plugin error message that 1 in maybe 3 million users will ever encounter? Yes, that is what rtm++ means: we absolutely will not ship until this bug is fixed.

I had trouble believing you were even in the software industry when you expressed incredulity that "extraordinarily simple" patches which, according to engineers, "pose no risk of introducing other bugs" are being turned away. Dave, allow me to send you a one-line fix which will crash the browser on startup. Can I send you my one-character change which will completely break the layout engine? Dear god. No change should be taken lightly, and no one knows what fix can cause what regressions. That risk, primarily, is what is causing so-called "riskfree" patches to be turned so.

Let me ask you something: when do you ever expect to be able to print an article with the headline "BrowserX passes standards compliance." If you'd go so far as to oh-so-dramatically declare that Netscape 6 "fails" standards compliance then I shudder to think what you consider "passing."

You say, "developers who have eagerly looked forward to 'sixth-generation' browsers that are finally standards compliant may be disappointed by Netscape's offering." Uh. Well then, I guess they'll like IE6 better? I hear it has even more proprietary DHTML- and CSS- extensions. Hooray!

Believe it or not, Dave, if Netscape waited a month to release, you'd still be able to write this article, with it's strong foundation of support being a single-digit set of bugs. 2 months. 4 months. At what point will Netscape's standards compliance be bug-free? Never. Heck, the specs themselves will never be bug-free.

I'm incredulous at your suggestion that developers refocus their attention and efforts on standards compliance. Um, what do you think they've been dedicated to for the past 3 years?

You say that Netscape 6.0's standards compliance bugs will cause developers to shy away from the advanced web technologies of other 6.x browsers. Wait. Which browsers are you referring to here? Certainly not IE or Opera, because Netscape 6 -- even without the nominal amount of bug fixes you mention -- matches or surpasses them. And aside from the fact that you don't clarify this claim (thereby rendering it irrelevant), this argument is false and incoherent anyways. Netscape 4.x had the worst standards compliance support of any browser on the market in its time, but that didn't seem to stop 80% of the world's web developers from using technologies that it couldn't handle. If you're going to make this silly claim, you need to be making it to Microsoft's camp -- once Netscape 6 is on the market, it will be IE's faulty (or lacking) support of these technologies that will prevent developers from utilizing them.

And then there's the weak-minded WaSP who sways with the public opinion. What's that? Public consensus this week is that Netscape should release already? Yeah, Netscape, where's the browser?! Oh, now it's that Netscape needs to take it slow and fix its bugs? Yeah, Netscape, what's the hurry?! Stop publishing your silly demands, get off your asses, and help out if you want 110% standards compliance. You lost any shred of credibility you still retained when you completely and publicly shifted your idea of what Netscape's direction should be.

Jeffrey Baker: the title of your comment alone -- "Netscape PDT puts off this open-sourcer" -- removes any and all credibility from your post. Netscape 6.0 is not an open source browser; it is a vendor's commercial product based around the open source Mozilla. Netscape's PDT has nothing to do with Mozilla, and has not affected it in any way. If you really believe what you said -- that Netscape 6.0 is highly inferior to the product it could be if one more month was allotted for bug fixing -- then I seriously question how involved you really are in this project. With every checkin, you run the risk of introducing 2 or 3 new bugs. And PDT has already been extremely generous in giving more and more and more time. If I recall correctly, 10/16 was supposed to be the absolute final day for bug fixing, at which point the branch was going to "bake" while QA pounded on and tested all parts of the app. As of today, 11/7, the PDT is STILL accepting fixes. It is fun and easy to complain about PDT "rushing" when you're an unpaid contributor who helps out as a hobby. It's another thing to be a paid employee of a company that's increasingly, and very dangerously, losing marketshare. And no, I don't work for or get paid by Netscape.

And, Jeffrey, I am appalled by your statement, "It is a disservice to the contributors to release a shoddy product, when that shoddy product will be the one with the most public exposure." You are a contributor to Mozilla, the open source browser, something that is different from Netscape, the commercial product. Statements like yours serve only to solidify the public connection between Netscape and Mozilla, not break it, as you should be attempting to do. Mozilla 1.0 is still a long way off, so you should have no need to worry -- these bug fixes you're fighting for are already part of it. When Mozilla 1.0 comes out, you can get the recognition you're obviously vying for as a contributor. But if by working on the project you hope to make Netscape 6 a stable and successful product, you really need to re-examine your intentions, and possibly consider applying for a position at Netscape.

And for those of you complaining about Mozillazine's posting of this article -- well, I'm damn glad they did. I found it nice and convenient how the only way to respond to David Flagan's article was to add your comments to a petition that inherently agreed with his position. In other words, regardless of what you actually posted in your comment, you were virtually signing that you agreed with his misguided ideas. I couldn't even find a place to respond at all on WaSP, making Mozillazine the only place to fairly express your own views. Do I expect more support for Netscape here? Sure; it's an advocacy site. But at least my comments aren't part of some faux petition.

David, WaSP, Jeffrey, and all the others putting Netscape in a lose-lose situation: time to stop the whining and start examining how you can do more for Mozilla.

And maybe learn a little bit about how to ship a product.