'The Guardian' Recommends Mozilla Firebird/Thunderbird, Criticises Mozilla Development Decisions

Thursday July 10th, 2003

Ian Deeley and A Wood both wrote in to tell us that today's edition of The Guardian, the UK broadsheet newspaper, features a column by Jack Schofield that recommends Mozilla Firebird and Mozilla Thunderbird. The article states that "Mozilla's Firebird browser and Thunderbird standalone mail software could make Microsoft's offerings look very shabby indeed." The bulk of the rest of the feature critically examines Netscape's and's browser development decisions (it is particularly damning of the team's cross-platform aspirations) and discusses Microsoft's plans to abandon development of the standalone version of Internet Explorer. Readers of the print edition of The Guardian can find the column on page 22 of the Life/Online supplement.

#1 Disagree

by Kovu

Thursday July 10th, 2003 2:20 PM

I disagree that cross-platform is a bad idea. These people evidently don't have any foresight. Sure, the XP versions cause slowdown on "some" of "today's" computers. In ten years we'll all be using Pentium 18s and broadband, and the speed gap will be irrelevant. I swear, some people can't see past their nose.

#39 hmmm...

by bmacfarland

Friday July 11th, 2003 11:52 AM

I thought we had a similar boost going from Pentium Pros at 200 MHz to today's 3+ Ghz. Who is to say the next quantum leap in processing power will help matters? Perhaps there will just be more code necessary to support more standards that will slow things down as much as processing speeds up.

#48 Re: hmmm...

by koneru

Friday July 11th, 2003 9:29 PM

Do you really think the jump from 200Mhz to 3Ghz didn't help??? I think it helped a lot. If you dont remember then please try running a 200Mhz cpu with windows 3.1 software(may be difficult to find, But you will definately find a few on ebay). Even the speed of browsing has improved.


by Racer

Thursday July 10th, 2003 2:25 PM

The article claims that Mozilla should have been written as "a tightly written ActiveX control for Windows, but didn't" and as a result Mozilla is slow resulting in "Apple adopt(ing) the smaller, faster, KHTML browser engine.

I assert that had Mozilla been ActiveX only, many of the largest supporters (and, more importantly, developers), wouldn't have gotten interested in Mozilla in the first place. It would still be less used than IE and would NOT have the major support it has from other OSes - Linux being the most noticable.

Its good to see an article talking about Mozilla Firebird and such, but there really isn't any substance to the article. I mean, saying that Firebird "could make Microsoft's offerings look very shabby indeed" is like saying Linux COULD one day take over the desktop - something very possible but being pure speculation based on the assumption that Microsoft doesn't have a alternative in the works.

#3 cross-platform

by afree87

Thursday July 10th, 2003 2:48 PM

In response to this idiot, I would like to thank the entire Mozilla team for making the browser cross-platform. :)

Mozilla Firebird runs on my 333MHz, despite the fact that Windows XP does NOT.

#15 Re: cross-platform

by GuruJ

Thursday July 10th, 2003 10:54 PM

Heartily seconded -- being cross-platform gives Mozilla another powerful arrow in its already impressive list of advantages over other browsers.

I love the idea of Mozilla as a simple cross-platform development environment, even *without* using XUL. Just being able to design a set of XHTML pages that are pretty much guaranteed to render the same on all platforms is a huge potential advantage. No more IE/Netscape/Opera/Konquerer compatibility table lookups!

#16 Re: cross-platform

by Ark42

Friday July 11th, 2003 12:16 AM

I set up a grandma with a P-133 64M box and it runs Mozilla just fine. Honestly its the 64M that matters (less then that causes swapping) The real problem is 640x480 super extra large fonts and parts of the dialog boxes falling off the edge of the screen.

#40 Large fonts

by sremick

Friday July 11th, 2003 11:59 AM

Well, if your grandmother's eyesight is anything like my grandmother's, those extra-large fonts are probably perfect ;-)

#4 Interesting

by MoNkaholic

Thursday July 10th, 2003 3:27 PM

It's a curious article. If the future truly is to phase the standalone web browser out, Mozilla may very well be too late. Apple took up KHTML, Microsoft has their own (Mosaic is it?), all that's left for Mozilla is Linux, and who knows... Gecko may even face stiffer competition from KHTML there as well.

Here's to hoping that things aren't as doom and gloom as the article insists.

#59 Re: Interesting

by Unifex

Sunday July 13th, 2003 5:53 PM

That future is the future Microsoft would like us to believe in...

Personally I think that if the only way you're going to be able to upgrade your browser is to purchace/upgrade your OS then that browser will quickly fall out of favor.

#5 Crossplatform Development

by sunfire

Thursday July 10th, 2003 4:05 PM

I'm pretty sure that crossplatform development and open standards are the future. There will always be different operating systems and different computer architecture for different needs, but at some points they will all have to talk to each other.

Even Microsoft will have to open their minds in this direction if they want to stay as a major player in the software business.

#6 The truth Can Be Uncomfortable Sometimes

by TonyG

Thursday July 10th, 2003 4:18 PM

The truth is cross platfrom wasnt and isnt a viable proposition from a "business" point of view. That is of course if the business you are in is Market share of course...

The business of making a browser the way it should be and in the spirit on the 'net is of course a different business altogether.

Tired arguemnts from the Guardian - but an interesting assertion at the end. It wouldn't take long to get people off IE. My experience is that right now, its easy to get users off IE onto Mozill/NS7.2 if you can get em to look at it. Moz1.4 wins hands down and has nothing to detract from it being the best browser out there.

Be nice if the opportunity afforded by MS declaring IE to be stagnant was used effectively to do some "business" and eat its market share up like the ripe block of cheese that it is.

#29 Re: The truth Can Be Uncomfortable Sometimes

by rwc

Friday July 11th, 2003 9:22 AM

"Moz1.4 wins hands down and has nothing to detract from it being the best browser out there."

Hand over that crack pipe. Mozilla's Print preview is the largest pile of steaming elephant crap of any browser's. It only got worse between 1.3 and 1.4. Truncated text and images off the right edge of the page, unexplainable page breaks, trying to scale text smaller only makes it larger, "Open link in new tab" and some keyboard shortcuts still work breaking the PP window, etc. If they could fix these problems, *then* I'd wholeheartedly agree with your statement.

#51 Re: The truth Can Be Uncomfortable Sometimes

by YFan

Saturday July 12th, 2003 5:06 PM

I don't get truncated stuff in Mozilla's print preview or in the actual print. My keyboard shortcuts work like a charm as well. From what I can see, Mozilla just keeps getting better. Who needs IE anyway?

#52 Re: The truth Can Be Uncomfortable Sometimes

by rwc

Saturday July 12th, 2003 9:32 PM

Open a new tab. Print preview it. Hit Ctrl-F4 or Ctrl-PgUp/Ctrl-PgDn. You can get either a browser window with print-preview toolbars, or a print-preview window with browser toolbars using this method. Go to bugzilla and search for "print preview", choose from nearly 200 unresolved bugs. One needs IE to print web pages that can't be printed under Mozilla. The truth can be uncomfortable sometimes.

#53 Re: The truth Can Be Uncomfortable Sometimes

by YFan

Sunday July 13th, 2003 1:48 AM

>>Open a new tab. Print preview it. Hit Ctrl-F4 or Ctrl-PgUp/Ctrl-PgDn. You can get either a browser window with print-preview toolbars, or a print-preview window with browser toolbars using this method. Go to bugzilla and search for "print preview", choose from nearly 200 unresolved bugs.<<

New Tab print preview looks no different than the preview from the window if only one tab is open. Ctrl-F4 Closes the tab. Ctrl-PgUp and Ctrl-PgDn moves the focus to the tab to the left or the right. Nothing to do with print preview at all. Only discrepency I noticed was with the Yahoo homepage where the bottom of Yahoo's right side bara was truncated and the rest printed on the next page since the first page didn't have enough space. No big deal (I don't print the Yahoo home page too often). But when I printed it, it was fine, the pic was fitted into the first page. No text ever gets truncated. Yes, I do see 194 bug reports. But all the ones I tried out randomly no longer occur (except one) as of the July 9 nightly (the one I am using).

>>One needs IE to print web pages that can't be printed under Mozilla.<<

Actually, even if they cannot be "printed under Mozilla" (I have yet to discover such a page in my everyday surfing) most pages, especially news and document pages have a printer friendly link. That can be used, and in my opinion should be if available, no matter what browser one is on. I should mention that I have not touched IE to do speed tests on IE vs Mozilla since Mozilla 1.1, and I am a broadband multimedia type heavy browser. And the truth is, I couldn't be happier.

>>The truth can be uncomfortable sometimes.<<

Yes, but the truth is not that Mozilla cannot print.

#61 the truth is not that Mozilla cannot print

by Unifex

Sunday July 13th, 2003 6:05 PM

I just tried all this also and came across no issues with the print preview. You've really gotta wonder what rwc was smoking when trying this out ;)

#62 Printing and Print Preview problems

by rwc

Sunday July 13th, 2003 6:37 PM

This one is less subtle. Follow these instructions precisely:

Under Windows98/2000/NT/XP, open a new tab using a recent build or Mozilla 1.4. The new tab will be blank (load a page in this tab if you wish). Print preview the blank tab. DO NOT CLOSE PRINT PREVIEW, but hit Ctrl-PgUp to change from the new tab to the previous one. The previous tab's contents will now appear full-screen in print-preview, with no page numbers, title, URL, or date. Most of the PP toolbar stops working as well. Perhaps you wouldn't notice this normally. But, it gets better: NOW close print preview and click on the tab you just opened. It's a print preview page (complete with page numbers, title, URL, and date) with Navigator toolbars. Try to navigate; you can't without closing that tab.

This is bug #149907 which is confirmed and assigned, so whatever I was smoking, a few other people were smoking with me.

(You know, I don't think I ever said "Mozilla can't print". I said "One needs IE to print [those] web pages that can't be printed under Mozilla". Those pages are listed in the thread at - I'll be sure to be more specific next time.)

#66 why was the mail component rewritten?

by testerus

Saturday July 19th, 2003 5:09 PM

What I still do not understand is: why was the mail component rewritten too? Sure Netscape 4 was in need of a new HTML rendering engine, but Netscape 4.x Mail is still superior in many points compared with Mozilla Mail.

#56 You sure you talking about the right browser?

by rzaakir

Sunday July 13th, 2003 7:51 AM

Funny, I like printing in Mozilla over IE because Mozilla is smart enough to autoscale the page (shrink to fit) where IE will truncate pictures and text if the design doesn't fit an 8.5x11 page. Lets not even talk about the problems that IE has scaling text in the FIRST place. Maybe your assertions have merit but as somebody that prints in Mozilla all the time, these shortcomings have never manifested themselves to me.

#57 Re: You sure you talking about the right browser?

by rwc

Sunday July 13th, 2003 1:29 PM

The following are a few URLs that won't print and/or print preview correctly, the first set prints only the first page of a multi-page document, the second set crashes the browser - both in Mozilla 1.4 and the latest nightly from the trunk.

Bug #122750 (opened 1/2002)

bug #185357 (opened 12/2002) (!)

These are just *two* printing bugs. There are plenty more. I agree that an individual might not come across (or recognize as such) many Mozilla bugs while casually browsing. As the IT manager of a public library system serving more than 400,000 customers, I pushed last summer to install Mozilla on more than 400 PCs. So I guess I just hear about Mozilla's problems more often. When a customer asks why they can do something in IE at home but it doesn't work in Mozilla, you can't really say "Microsoft sucks" and then start to sing Revolution #9. Mozilla just *needs to work*. I like Mozilla and consider myself an evangelist, but if your "puppy" was still pooping on the floor after more than a year (e.g. Bug #122750), you'd probably complain about it too.

#58 Re: You sure you talking about the right brows

by YFan

Sunday July 13th, 2003 3:05 PM

Bug #122750 (opened 1/2002): Printing: Only first page is printed.

I visited the page specified. The page no longer exists. I never had the problem with Mozilla printing only the first page unless I specify it that way.

bug #185357 (opened 12/2002): iframe (in a table) can crash printing if will not fit on one page [@ nsLineBox::LastChild][@ nsIFrame::GetNextSibling ][@ nsFrameList::DestroyFrames]

Again, I visited the page specified. Print preview works perfectly. The funny thing is, the test case web page itself says, "Finally, printing Web pages works better with Mozilla. Too often, I have tried to print a page from IE and the words on the right margin were cut off. Is this rocket science?"

True, to your customers, you can't say Microsoft sucks and let it go. But you can explain that some web pages are built without regard to standards, as long as they work with IE. If any of the people I do business with (banks, etc) do that, they hear from me. I also suggest that installing a newer version of Mozilla may resolve most of the issues. But I would actually recommend Netscape 7.1 for public computers, since Mozilla is built with developers in mind, not the end user (although it's a hell of an end-user application). Netscape is a bit simpler (even though for someone technologically a little knowledgable, Mozilla is far superior).

#60 Re: Re: You sure you talking about the right brows

by rwc

Sunday July 13th, 2003 6:04 PM

We must be in different universes. Before posting those 16 links I verified, using last night's build, that all 16 pages still exist and either crash or display incorrectly in Mozilla. (But you say "I visited the page specified" which confuses me because I posted way more than one.) Any chance you're using a Mac, which as I recall uses the OS'es Print Preview instead of the browser's? What is the URL of the page you say no longer exists? Are you quite sure it's one of the ones I posted, and not one from the bug report itself?

I should explain that the browser crashes because some web pages are built without regard to standards? which is a repeatable crasher when print previewing on last night's build (under Windows anyway), is a perfectly valid XHTML 1.0 transitional document.

A newer version of Mozilla may resolve most of the issues? In the previous post I said the URLs I provided will crash/not display correctly in the *lastest nightly*. I can't get more "newer" than that.

Mozilla's UI on the public PCs has been modified to be way simpler than Netscape 7.1's - which I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole until they divorce IM from Mail. Netscape would not be the browser of choice anyway, due to its taking so long to catch up with Mozilla releases - Netscape 7.x was still based on the 1.0 branch up until the release of 7.1 two weeks ago. That was a lag time of over a year for feature parity.

Please don't respond with yet another "works for me" post (unless you can really successfully print preview all 16 URLs that I provided in my last post under Windows - that would be intriguing). The fact that bugs exist in bugzilla for these crashers and PP problems, that they've been assigned to a developer and are actively being commented on sort of lends merit to the claim that they actually do exist.

#63 Re: You sure you talking about the right b

by YFan

Sunday July 13th, 2003 8:24 PM

Ok, it seems that we had a little misunderstanding there. Yes, all of those links either print only the first page or crash Mozilla. But I should mention that NONE of those is standard compliant when put to the test, except the Mozilla link that you posted later. And, ALL of the ones that crash Mozilla (with the exception of the very last one and the one in your latest post) produce a fatal error in the W3C standard test. But then again, I don't really visit those pages, but you being a IT manager of a library, I can understand your predicament.

One thing though, it's not fair to compare IE and Mozilla print preview when you have more than one tab open. IE doesn't even have tabs. Besides that, I don't understand why one would want to go from one tab to another while in Print preview. I mean if you can't see the page in the first place, what's the use of print preview. Not withstanding, I agree that these bugs need fixing, but since IE has no tabs, the tab bug doesn't make IE superior in any way.

I am talking about Netscape here and now. And your public library patrons use Mail software in the library?? If not, you don't have to install either mail or IM if you do a custom install. Of course what browser you choose to have your library go with is your choice. Around here, I usually just take my laptop to the library and hook it up to one of the ethernet ports there, so that I always get Mozilla. (Granted, with Internet research and many library resources online, I barely need to go to the library).... But that's another story.

#64 Re: Re: You sure you talking about the right b

by rwc

Tuesday July 15th, 2003 8:35 AM

"And, ALL of the ones that crash Mozilla (with the exception of the very last one and the one in your latest post) produce a fatal error in the W3C standard test."

I think we need to have higher standards than to say that Mozilla crashing is expected behavior when it encounters invalid HTML (esp. since we would be hypocrites if we then made fun of IE's infamous "input type crash" bug). Also, since the non-crashing pages I mentioned render fine in the browser despite being invalid HTML, they should print-preview fine as well. I would concede that their not print previewing well is a result of invalid HTML *if* they didn't render well in the browser either, but that's not the case. WYS should be more or less WYG.

"Besides that, I don't understand why one would want to go from one tab to another while in Print preview."

I agree. That's why the bug should be fixed. I don't think that IE is superior, but I think Mozilla's print preview feature is neglected and needs some attention.

Netscape here and now will quickly grow old compared to Mozilla's releases. Yes, until recently, Mail was made available to the public, and is still used by staff.

#7 Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Tarraccas

Thursday July 10th, 2003 6:54 PM

As as web developer and end-user, cross-platform, standards-compliant Mozilla is a blessing to me in many ways. However, this article is correct in that -- from a business standpoint -- investing significant resources into the development of a product with a small potential user-base and little payback is not good. I do believe that it's important but priority needs to be given to the biggest slice of the pie, at least initially.

With exposure, Gecko-running browsers could dominate I think. I also think that most people use the browser that comes with their OS and rarely, if ever, update the thing (until a new AOL comes out) and probably aren't aware of how much better their online experience could be with an alternative or that alternatives even exist. To me, IE has become the old beater car that Netscape 4.x became; an unfortunate piece of garbage that I must make the sites I develop with Mozilla compatible with because most people use it. Produce a simple-to-use, Gecko-running browser with the ability to automatically self-update it's components unobtrusively, bundle it with popular OS', and watch the market-share swell.

#8 Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad, and the

by bzbarsky

Thursday July 10th, 2003 7:01 PM

> However, this article is correct in that -- from a business standpoint -- investing > significant resources into the development of a product with a small potential > user-base

Keep in mind that the whole point of open-sourcing the code was attracting developers... Pretty much all of the core layout developers develop on Linux today. They would never have gotten involved in the project, most of them, if it had been Windows-only.

#38 Re: Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad, and

by Tarraccas

Friday July 11th, 2003 11:51 AM

> Keep in mind that the whole point of open-sourcing the code was attracting developers... Pretty much all of the core layout developers develop on Linux today. They would never have gotten involved in the project, most of them, if it had been Windows-only. <

If these developers are investing their own resources into the project then it's not from a business standpoint. On the other hand, if a business is investing its resources into the project then there has to be some payback somewhere along the line or else it's a bad business decision ... or a tax writeoff.

#9 Marketing of Gecko with OEMs

by pkb351

Thursday July 10th, 2003 7:37 PM

Only if AOL would make a few deals with mjor computer makers such as Dell to have Moz or even Netscape installed. I believe that in three years the Gecko based browsers would own the lin's share of the market, that is unless Microsoft does a major rewrite of IE.

#10 Except that M$ will retaliate vs. OEMs

by tseelee

Thursday July 10th, 2003 7:52 PM

Massachusetts is already reviewing allegations that one OEM is being punished by M$ for promoting Linux. IBM was fined hundreds of millions by M$ for doing Lotus.

#13 Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad, and the

by flacco

Thursday July 10th, 2003 8:00 PM

I can't believe some of the messages I'm reading here, much less the myopic, totally-missing-the-point article. One of Mozilla's primary attributes is that it's CROSS-PLATFORM.

And just what, exactly, is the "business case" for competing with an entrenched browser on a single platform that's free of charge?

#42 Re: Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad, and

by Tarraccas

Friday July 11th, 2003 12:26 PM

As I mentioned before, I think cross-platform development is important. However, I think it's not necessarily practical from a business standpoint to develop for every obscure OS at the same time. There has to be some specific priorities.

The point of the article is that it's taken a really long time to produce this cross-platform browser and seems to imply that this is indicative of poor planning and was/is ultimately a bad business decision to dump money into such a small market (the not-so-major OS'). Cross-platform is great but how extensive and at what cost? I must say that I'm very happy that Mozilla is not confined to one OS but I understand what the article is driving at even if I don't fully agree.

#47 Re: Re: Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad,

by plwong

Friday July 11th, 2003 4:05 PM

Actually, even in business sense, being cross platform is still "business-reasonable". Think about it. If you rely on one OS only, then the maker of that OS will have more control on you during negotiations. You see what those monopolies did and you should understand. While it may not be that good in a short term, it's business-healthy in a long term. No business want to rely on just one thing.

#49 Re: Re: Re: Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the B

by Tarraccas

Friday July 11th, 2003 11:56 PM

Again, I'm not suggesting that Mozilla be confined to one OS as the article seems to - I don't agree with that at all. What I do understand, however, is that the greatest market share is currently claimed by Windows with Mac and Linux in distant second and third (correct me if I'm wrong). It follows that the number of potential end users matches these statistics more or less in kind. If I am a business and I'm looking to break even on my investments at the very least then it is important for me to cater to the greatest market share first before tapping other potential markets. This is no less true for those organizations who may seek to use Mozilla as a platform to provide their services through which, in my opinion, is the implied financial value of this project. I heartily agree that diversity is good for business but one step at a time.

#24 Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad, and the

by MarkHB

Friday July 11th, 2003 6:40 AM

I read the article as implying that the 'cross-platform mistake' (paraphrase) goes farther back than the October 1998 "scrap it all" decision. I think he's saying that marca, Barksdale and company should have been concentrating on Windows exclusively from the day Mosaic Communications Corp. was founded. Look at this paragraph:

<quote> One reason for the lack of progress is that Netscape made some poor decisions before Andreessen left. The company wanted to do a cross-platform browser to run on several operating systems, which is laudable in principle. Unfortunately, it also meant that it wasted its development budget on a small minority of the market, and that its Windows code was awful - as became clear when Netscape went "open source" with the Mozilla project five years ago. </quote>

To my mind, he's referring to the original NSPR / specific front-end design... which was expanded upon in Seamonkey.

#32 Re: Cross-platform ... the Good, the Bad, and the

by leeal

Friday July 11th, 2003 9:49 AM

Netscape existed before Windows 95 came into market (in 1994 IIRC). Also, I disagree that cross-platform is a mistake. At the very least a Unix version is needed. I suspect that when Netscape first came out, more Unix users are on the internet than Windows (3.1) users.

Personally, I think the biggest waste of effort they had was on the so called 'push technology'.

#11 Should Netscape have abandoned its code?

by tseelee

Thursday July 10th, 2003 7:55 PM

I know it's been argued ad nauseam, but Guardian may have brought up one correct point: the time it took Netscape/Mozilla to rewrite everything from the ground up gave away a piece of the market that it couldn't have afforded to lose. Assuming that Netscape 7.0 was the first usable version of Gecko for the public, we lost 4 years of competition. Could the code have been so bad?

#12 Re: Should Netscape have abandoned its code?

by bzbarsky

Thursday July 10th, 2003 7:59 PM

> Could the code have been so bad?

Yes. It wa. More importantly, it was not at all designed to have a DOM tree or render CSS -- retrofitting those on top of it would have been nearly impossible.

But why ask? You can still read the old code in lxr....

#23 shoulda done it sooner

by cmk

Friday July 11th, 2003 6:21 AM

NS's big mistake seemed to be that they should have recognized the problems with NS5 before they were about to send it out the door and gotten started with the re-write as soon as they finished NS4

#36 Re: shoulda done it sooner

by bzbarsky

Friday July 11th, 2003 11:39 AM

It's always very difficult to see problems in something you designed... such is life.

#67 Re: Re: shoulda done it sooner

by BrendanEich

Saturday July 19th, 2003 5:55 PM

Netscape's original codebase was written by some talented people, and they saw clearly its limitations. They just didn't want to fix the code to be free of those limitations. That would have been a lot of work (not "impossible" -- bz, bite your tongue ;-). More to the point, the principals were no longer active on the project by the time Mozilla was released as open source. Most had moved on earlier.

Even more to the point, during 4.0 development (and starting during 3.0 development), the Netscape client was being managed toward a "groupware" market in which it never succeeded. Lotus Notes was seen as the competition. The only platform play, proceeding roughly in parallel with the groupware push, was centered around Java on the client (I had only one or two people helping with JavaScript, including LiveConnect and all DOM level 0 stuff, and while standardizing it with ECMA, until later in the 4.0 days).

By the time it became clear how complete a web platform IE4 was going to be (Scott Furman and I, beers in hand, watched a pre-release IE4 demo, including alpha-blending, run by Scott Isaacs of Microsoft at a San Jose brewpub after-conference-hours event, mid-'97, IIRC), there was no way to turn things around inside Netscape. The groupware push was fizzling, the 4.x codebase had not been reformed incrementally to support a DOM, CSS1, etc., and there was nothing much anyone could do about that sad state of affairs.

Later, some of us (fur, shaver, nisheeth, me) tried to start a "Hawaii 5.0" effort within Netscape to revamp the old codebase significantly, but we didn't get management approval. Raptor was all the rage.

Lot of water under the bridge since then. Back in the present, Mozilla is in good shape, and will get even better. The only reason I'm writing this is to tell the history accurately, so someone else can strive to avoid repeating it. First lesson: do not go after entrenched, long-lead-time Enterprise/groupware markets about which you know little, while growing madly by acquisition after badly-integrated acquisition.

Also, I'm writing to emphasize that "rewrites" can be incremental, and that little is "impossible" in software.


#68 "impossible" vs. "nearly impossible"

by BrendanEich

Saturday July 19th, 2003 6:00 PM

Note I left out the "nearly" when chiding bz for using "impossible" -- I think it's an unnecessary waffle word. The point being made is that it was not practical to change the old Netscape layout engine so that it sported a DOM, CSS, etc. That point has not been proven, and we had evidence in the Mariner/Hawaii/Perignon days to the contrary.


#17 Re: Should Netscape have abandoned its code?

by jesusX

Friday July 11th, 2003 3:10 AM

Ugh, yeah. Well, its' nto that is was BAD perse, as much as it was doing things it wasn't designed to do, nor should have been made to do. It wasn't a huge castle with new well laid additions being created as much as it was a shack that had stuff tacked on as needed over the years. Netscape 1 was a nice tight small browser, which was all that you needed then. Over the years, stuff got thrown in. And in the end, the only choice was to throw it out.

#21 RE: Should Netscape have abandoned its code?

by arpa

Friday July 11th, 2003 5:20 AM

The reason NS4 lost marketshare was because most computers started to have IE pre-installed. When everyone had to DL a browser was it IE or NS then NS had the upper hand being around longer, with recognized name etc. -> everyone downloaded NS because it's the internet right :)

After IE4 IE was good enough and already on the omputer so why DL 10-20-30MB just to get another browser.

#22 Re: Should Netscape have abandoned its code?

by Tayto

Friday July 11th, 2003 6:00 AM

I think there were three major differences in the change to the new code. There was nglayout itself (aka gecko). There was XUL. And there was XPCOM.

nglayout (I think) was a prerequisite for any new version; people wanted the rendering engine to be able to do all the DHTML/CSS that IE could do, and more, and be standards-compliant at the same time.

There was a big debate at the time as to whether native code or XUL was the way to go. Netscape said that they didn't have the resources to maintain native code for all the platforms then supported. A tactical decision was made that XUL would allow Mozilla to run on more platforms. I'm not sure how correct this decision was, but XUL is certainly a useful technology now (4 years+ later).

And XPCOM. Well here I think one of the main reasons to include this was to make almost everything scriptable. A laudable notion.

Anyway, all three were done at once (the "big bang" model). Should they have made the changes one at a time (starting with nglayout)? I might say "Yes" with hindsight, but at the time I was quite enthused about the changes that were going to be made :-)

(I think what I said above is roughly correct, but I was just another bystander).

#35 its not real hard to understand

by joschi

Friday July 11th, 2003 10:59 AM

its not real hard to understand why NS lost their market share: microsoft, which controls more than 90% of desktop machines was *convicted* of illegally tieing their competing brower to their OS to crush the competition from netscape.

#14 Just wait...

by hubick

Thursday July 10th, 2003 10:20 PM

Just wait 5 years until Linux has taken over the desktop with Mozilla in tow, then we will see which platform development was wasted on supporting.

#18 Um... lol

by leafdigital

Friday July 11th, 2003 3:48 AM

That *is* a joke, right?

Sure, it could happen eventually, but even if Linux had usability comparable to Windows or Mac (at present it is nowhere NEAR that, but let's just pretend) then it would take a lot longer than 5 years to override Microsoft's absolute dominance.

There's far more hope of change on the browser front, because anyone can easily switch browser without - for example - having to change all your core office software to an alternate version that's of worse quality and isn't entirely compatible with your old documents. Even there, I don't see Gecko-based browsers taking over from IE in five years. (But, getting say 10-15% would be nice, on top of anything AOL might-but-probably-won't do...)

I agree that cross-platform support is great and the article was bollocks, but if you think Linux will take over from Windows on the desktop in five years then you're living in a dream world. Take a small share? Maybe; there's no sign of it yet but Linux is constantly improving. Take over? No.


#54 There is some merit to that

by YFan

Sunday July 13th, 2003 2:01 AM

Well actually, if you think about it, there is some merit to the idea. All it would really take is to have manufacturers or resellers load Netscape (not Mozilla, since mozilla is for a little more advanced users) and hide access to IE on the machines they make/sell. And they can now do that without any retaliation from microsoft, as that was much of what the Microsoft settlement with the federal govt. said. And if on top of that AOL decides to use its own browser (Netscape) rather than paying M$ to be able to use theirs, Gecko can gain dominance withing a few years.

These are big 'if's, but if you think about it, not impossible or even that hard to do.

#19 Speed

by leafdigital

Friday July 11th, 2003 3:58 AM

By the way I find it amusing how the article implicitly claims that Mozilla is slow; in fact, even the app suite is generally faster than IE. And I bet he's writing that article on a 1 GHz+ machine with 512MB too...

I don't want to give the impression I'm a brainless Mozilla partisan (because I'm not) or anti-Microsoft (because I'm not), but it's clear that article was pretty much bollocks in pretty much every particular. I like the Guardian as a newspaper but their technology coverage is woefully inadequate and incompetently written - to be fair, the same applies to most other newspapers.

(Oh, and did I misread it, or did that whole single-platform diatribe also neglect to mention that Netscape was *always* cross-platform even before Mozilla? I mean I first used it on Sun and HP workstations...)


#28 Re: Speed

by dave532

Friday July 11th, 2003 8:30 AM

I also like the Guardian as a newspaper but their computing articles have never been that good, however it all changes on a Sunday. The Observer (The Guardian's Sunday paper) has excellent articles written by John Naughton, he often writes articles about Linux, and things Governments are doing to reduce our rights/privacy.

Shame they don't get him writing for The Guardian too.

#20 Cross-platform

by Ascaris

Friday July 11th, 2003 4:36 AM

I see the cross-platform nature of Mozilla to be a strength. While Microsoft continues to push its monopoly, unimpeded by the courts, and centered on its Windows platform, Mozilla is silently working toward being the de facto default browser on all non-MS platforms, even with the Safari debacle. And while none of the other platforms comes close to the numbers of Windows, if all of them together use a browser that is, for all intents and purposes, identical, then it keeps MS from being able to single-handedly dictate the web standards as it sees fit.

Microsoft wants to continue the Windows stranglehold on the desktop, certainly. Now that IE is the clear choice of just about everyone, they are using the same technique that made IE the dominant browser to continue the Windows dominance-- that is, tighter and tighter integration with the Windows desktop, and dropping development of IE on other platforms. If you want the newest IE browser, you will have to get the newest Windows version... and since MS just about owns the browser market, they will be sure that most people are going to want or need the newest IE browser, and they will do that by setting their own standards, as always. It is the goal of MS to make the web into a place that is compatible only with Windows and IE.

That is where Mozilla can become a big pain for MS. If it were a bunch of different niche browsers for each of the different operating systems, it would be far easier to get web designers to ignore those "insignificant" browsers, and develop only for the new version of IE. But since Mozilla renders the same regardless of platform, it is not a bunch of niche browsers... it is a single entity, greater than the sum of its parts. And by being the best choice for non-MS operating systems, that ensures that the Windows users that would choose Mozilla (like me) will have a browser that has great enough numbers to make web designers at least consider developing according to W3C standards, not MS standards.

The Guardian article is written from the perspective of someone that considers the Windows platform to be the only viable one, and that will always be the only viable one. Windows is the home turf of Microsoft; a full frontal assault based only on Windows is not what I would call a winning idea. By being cross-platform, Mozilla has a better chance of capturing enough market share to keep MS from dictating its own standards and ignoring the W3C... and that is a very good thing. The W3C standards are based on an egalitarian ethos, while the MS standards are based on continuing to convert computerdom and the net into a bigger and bigger MS cash cow-- stifling the common good for their own financial gain. As such, the cross-platform nature of Mozilla benefits all, including users of the Windows versions of Mozilla.

If the Mozilla/Netscape developers had done as the article suggested and spent the resources they had developing a Windows-only browser, I think that I, and the scores of other Windows Mozilla users, would be worse off, not better. The browser itself may have been faster, less buggy, or otherwise superior to the product I am using right now, but I don't know that it would be as viable a browser. Evangelizing Mozilla and its W3C support (to web page designers) would be a lot harder if it was not cross-platform.

The writer of the Guardian piece clearly missed the big picture.


#55 It's great that M$ is stopping IE stand-alone

by YFan

Sunday July 13th, 2003 2:12 AM

I actually believe that it's fantastic that M$ stopped developing stand-alone IE. Remember that at any time, maybe about 20% of all Windows users use the newest operating system (it is pretty expensive). Are developers going to let go of the other 80% of windows users and other platforms just so they can deliver for that 20%? I don't think so. So, if Microsoft is planning on dictating web standards by the mean of confining IE development to new Windows versions only, I say they should go right ahead, because it will be a spectacular failure.

#25 Speed? What about Pentium II 300?

by kwanbis

Friday July 11th, 2003 7:08 AM

Well, moz is running prety fine on my old ThinkPad 600: Pentium II 300, with 196MB RAM, and Windows 2000 ... it is really a very low end system as far as i understand ... people allways complains about speed ;)

#27 Re: Speed? What about Pentium II 300?

by Ashato

Friday July 11th, 2003 7:34 AM

Well, Moz does start in more than 20s on my Presario 1240: PII 266 with 64MB RAM and Debian 3.0. On the other hand, IE starts almost instantaneously from my Win98 partition... I know people who stick to *NS4.7* because Moz is too slow for them ("launch Mozilla and go fetch a coffee").

#31 Re: Speed?

by Racer

Friday July 11th, 2003 9:47 AM

Actually, IE takes a long time to load, you just don't notice it because loading happens while Windows is starting up. Microsoft loads almost the entire IE into memory during boot to make it so that IE does "instantly" start up. Been wondering why Windows takes 30-60 seconds to start up? ...I'd bet that at least 10 seconds (maybe even 20) of that is IE loading into memory.

Mozilla has a similar feature but since it can be enabled/disabled, it is still not as transparent as IE loading itself no matter if you use it or not.

#33 Re: Re: Speed?

by duffbeer703

Friday July 11th, 2003 10:48 AM

What you say is accurate, but not the whole story. A clean XP system can boot in as few as 10 seconds on some systems, depending on the applications & policies that are applied at startup.

On Windows 2000 & Windows XP systems that take 45 or more seconds to boot, you are likely to see long load-times for IE as well.

In any case, who really cares about initial load time anyway? In my experience, since about v0.9.2 or so, Mozilla/Gecko has consistently rendered pages more quickly than Internet Explorer, and the recent builds seem to be less affected by other other programs (like file transfers or virus scans) than Internet Explorer.

#34 Re: Re: Speed? What about Pentium II 300?

by willll

Friday July 11th, 2003 10:49 AM

That's really strange. On my Pentium II 233 Mhz w/ Windows 95, both Mozilla and IE are slow loading. Mozilla takes about 25 seconds, and IE takes about 20.

#50 Re: Re: Speed? What about Pentium II 300?

by Ascaris

Saturday July 12th, 2003 3:28 AM


That supports the assertion that the reason IE loads quickly is hecause it loads as part of the operating system, not because IE is inherently faster to load. Windows 95 was the last Windows that did not have IE integrated, so when you start IE, it has to load from scratch, just the same as Mozilla. 98 and later versions of Windows load part of IE every time the OS loads, so that when you launch IE, most of the load is already done.


#26 Dark

by flywheel

Friday July 11th, 2003 7:34 AM

MSIE is bundled with the operating system, apparently at no charge - in the very near future it will be totally and utterly integrated in the operating system (A a consequens of the DOJ thingie). The most popular tools got special MSIE for Win modules, many of them only make MSIE for Win web-code. No contest.....

I would like to thank the entire Mozilla team and the commercial supporters, like the bug blue, that has brought us this wonderfull crossplatform web-browser. Without you 30-70mio users of non-Redmond based systems would have been left in the dark......

#30 More than cross platform

by orev

Friday July 11th, 2003 9:25 AM

Building a "cross-dekstop-OS" browser is a good thing, however, I remember many MANY arguments about stupid little things where someone would bring up some crappy little embedded computer, a cell phone, or a PDA as the reason to/not to do something, citing "cross platform". This is where many resources were wasted - moreso than just getting it working on Windows/Linux/Mac.

#46 Re: More than cross platform

by sketerpot

Friday July 11th, 2003 3:42 PM

Agreed. It's great to be able to use Firebird on Windows and Linux (I haven't used Mac for a while), and the whole idea behind structural markup rather than presentational markup is that it can be displayed in different ways on systems that don't have normal PC graphics. Cell phones and PDAs are the perfect platforms for special browsers, rather than Mozilla.

#37 Crossplatform OK, suite bad

by pbreit

Friday July 11th, 2003 11:44 AM

Cross-platform was the right way to go, especially because *nix needs a quality browser. The legitimately horrible decision was to create a suite. It's taken Netscape/Moz 5 or 6 years to finally recognize that they should be focusing on a browser, not superfluous, unrelated apps like news, compose, chat and even mail. Firebird demonstrates what's possible when some focus is present and the results are pretty impressive.

#41 Re: Crossplatform OK, suite bad

by bzbarsky

Friday July 11th, 2003 12:15 PM

Except they are not focusing on the browser... They are also working on the standalone mail client, standalone composer, etc.

So your comment is all nice, except without basis in reality....

Note that I am taking as a given your assumption that firebird is a good browser (though I happen to disagree personally, in spite of preferring a standalone browser myself).

#45 Re: Re: Crossplatform OK, suite bad

by alanjstr

Friday July 11th, 2003 3:06 PM

<i>Note that I am taking as a given your assumption that firebird is a good browser (though I happen to disagree personally, in spite of preferring a standalone browser myself).</i>


#65 please re-read the post

by pbreit

Friday July 18th, 2003 11:07 AM

That's why I said "recognize that they should be focusing on a browser" and "some focus".

They still aren't there yet but with even the minimal increased focus on the browser of late, they have produced something that is actually quite good and it's possible to finally envision browser share turning around.

My problem with Mozilla wasting energy on mail, news, chat and compose is that it obviously compromises their ability to make the browser good. This is patently obvious from the previous 5-6 years. I happen to care about Mozilla improving share. Maybe you don't.

#44 you still smoke the same crack

by joschi

Friday July 11th, 2003 1:16 PM continues to support and develop "news, compose, chat and even mail" ... what is your problem?

#43 I'm lost

by kc2kth

Friday July 11th, 2003 12:48 PM

After reading this article I have no idea what the point of it was. Who has the better browser - Microsoft or MozillaFirebird? If I relied only on this article I'd still no nothing about either. Why did the author mention TB? Nice press, but this is the only mention of a mail client in the article. Was the point to talk about the lack of innovation in browsers or about how the author dislikes supporting operating systems other than Windows? What the hell was he talking about?