Salon: The Browser as Middleware and Microsoft's Missteps

Friday November 12th, 1999

Salon Online has an interesting article in their Technology section, "Do the paranoid survive?" which delves into the paranoia that caused Microsoft to go after Netscape. Although the author discusses the idea of "the browser as middleware" -- the idea that the browser could function as a platform upon which other applications can be developed, in effect commoditizing the Operating System -- he neglects to mention that as a direct result of Microsoft's actions, Mozilla has sprung up and has been quietly developing a browser that actually embodies Microsoft's paranoid delusions. With 95% cross-platform code (expected to be 97% by release) and a user-interface built from XML, scriptable via JavaScript and C/C++, and rendered via HTML/CSS, Mozilla has more potential as a middle-tier base for cross-platform, Internet-ready application development than Netscape's offerings ever had. The Mozilla team is forging ahead into a new era in Internet applications (the Nokia/Intel Internet appliance is only the beginning) and even if it can't surmount IE's lead in the desktop browser base, it will indelibly change the face of the Internet, just as the first GUI browsers did. And Microsoft will once again be playing catch-up.

Thanks to James Keller for the news.

#1 Excellently Put

by dneighbors

Friday November 12th, 1999 7:51 AM

I totally agree that Mozilla will have the same impact of change that the first "non-text" browsers had.

At first people couldn't stand Mosaic. Because they couldn't understand why you would want to use it. Then several years later after many companies built and enhanced the spec and idea. We can't imagine the Internet as text based anymore.

Mozilla is bringing applications to the browser/internet in an EASY manner CROSS platform. A lot of people do not see how this is an advantage or why you would want to. Even people currently supporting Mozilla.

However as the spec gets changed and it evolves over a few years, it will change the Internet as we know it. Even if it means I.E. replicating the functionality.

My 2 Cents.

#2 Excellently Put

by Anon

Friday November 12th, 1999 8:21 AM

This guy is right. If you dig deep on sites like slashdot you'll still find guys who think they can do anything with armed with emacs and links but the rest of the world moved on. Just as four years ago there are people who see no point in having web based applications. When you ask for reasons they will give you two fixable causes: internet is to slow and HTML is too limited. Both can be fixed and will be fixed. Mozilla deals with the second argument (to some extent) and broadband internet will do the rest.

This article hints on an interesting topic. Operating systems have become a commodity that is not worth very much on it self. What is an OS, when you look at windows you see a small, buggy, not so advanced kernel with whole lot of stuff on top of it. When you think about it, what exactly are the technical reasons for creating a strong dependency between those two? Answer: there isn't a technical reason.

From this it follows that crossplatform development is possible.

Of course Microsoft would be the last to stimulate this since their whole business is based on the model that you need their buggy, not so advanced kernel to run all their other stuff.

#18 Agreed. Gopher

by Anon

Sunday November 14th, 1999 7:42 PM

I agree. I could not see why I would write up an html page when gopher could do the same thing. A list of documents, and images.

Then came inline images, and more importantly, image maps. Only then did I see why you would use html. Image maps and put via get, the killer web server function.

#3 Mozilla Middleware?

by james_keller

Friday November 12th, 1999 11:17 AM

After I finished reading the article, I began ruminating on the idea of the browser as middleware. And I got to thinking, why not get right into it, have Mozilla MiddleWare. Web applications are great, sure. But sometimes you want to write a client-side application.

Well what if you could easily write a complete application that relied on much of the mozilla framework. Some of the easy-networking and especially the XML skins would be of great interest. If I could write an application that could already be skinned with next to zero effort on my part. Well.. I think that would be cool. Plus it would be cross-platform.

I'm not involved in Mozilla development, so It's not like I really know what I'm talking about. But here's where maybe someone can take this idea and run with it. I don't know what would be required to create some type of mozilla framework that others could build upon (to make non-browser/plug in type applications. Say.. a word processor, or a cross platform winamp). But I see the potential just in the browser, and in what I hear from any developer I talk to.

Good Idea? Bad Idea?

#4 StarOffice

by james_keller

Friday November 12th, 1999 11:25 AM

I thought I'd also mention my agreement with Mark Gimein's assertion that it's Microsoft Office (not MSWindows) which has tied people so completely to the Windows platform. I've been using Office since.. well.. since I first started really using windows, and every company I've worked at has used Word/Excell/Outlook/etc. Now I know there are some companies that don't, but still..

Recently I've started using staroffice (, and it's quirky, but it's cross-platform-ness, free-distribution and open-source-ish licensing is definately one up on microsoft. The biggest plus, of course, is that it reads MSOffice files, so the upgrade was relatively painless (well, ok, I encountered this weird "missing soffice.ini" error, but I found the answer on some newsgroups).

I realize there are other alternatives than StarOffice, but I just thought I'd relate my experience.

#5 StarOffice with a Mozilla UI

by Anon

Friday November 12th, 1999 11:55 AM

Taken together, the above two posts are very interesting.

The biggest complaint I hear about StarOffice is that it imposes its own user interface, which can be quite different from the UI of the underlying OS.

If StarOffice was reworked to make use of Mozilla's reprogrammable user interface, it could create some amazing synergy.

#6 StarOffice with a Mozilla UI

by Anon

Friday November 12th, 1999 1:16 PM

I think the Sun Community Source Code License would keep that from ever happening.

#7 StarOffice with a Mozilla UI

by Anon

Friday November 12th, 1999 1:23 PM

Argh, you may be right. KOffice anyone?

#11 StarOffice with a Mozilla UI

by Anon

Friday November 12th, 1999 4:16 PM

Sun is a parthner of AOL which owns netscape which created mozilla, so why not?

#12 StarOffice with a Mozilla UI

by Anon

Friday November 12th, 1999 5:06 PM

Wouldn't the Mozilla Public License allow Sun to incorporate the necessary code into StarOffice?


> 3.7. Larger Works. > > You may create a Larger Work by combining Covered Code with other > code not governed by the terms of this License and distribute the > Larger Work as a single product. In such a case, You must make sure > the requirements of this License are fulfilled for the Covered Code.

#13 DOH - Darn Mozillazine Form

by Anon

Friday November 12th, 1999 5:24 PM

I understand that there's no HTML allowed, but why delete my carriage returns???

#14 StarOffice has it's own reality

by james_keller

Friday November 12th, 1999 11:37 PM

I'll agree with that one. As a win95 user, I'm used to my desktop and things behaving in a certain way. StarOffice's default behavior is to make itself the desktop (which it does not do 100% well) and it begins changing some of the common metaphors that I'm used to. Now perhaps in another OS this is more normal, but it all combines into a slightly unfriendly first impression. It's trying to be more than *just* an application.

Mozilla has it beat hands down. Mozilla is exactly what I expect + more. So you could be onto something with the whole synergy angle. I appreciate what Sun's trying to do. And maybe in time I'll love StarDesktop, but if I weren't a bit of a power user I'm sure I would have given up by now. <shrug> lessons to learn from I guess.

#21 Require good java support in Mozilla

by Anon

Monday November 15th, 1999 11:38 PM

For this to happen, Mozilla needs to have _very_ good and stable java integration. XPCOM components need to be written in some language; they are the part that do the interesting things. They are scripted using XPIDL, the DOM, XUL, etc. While XPCOM components can be written in Javascript, javascript sometimes lacks the necessary libraries to do the advanced sort of back-end stuff needed for large applications. Imagine that I make an XPCOM component that can read and write MSWORD documents. Do I want to write this in JavaScript? This might be quite hard. However, if I write it in Java, I can rely on a large collection of open-sourced third party libraries as well as have a cross-platform set of XPCOM components. Then, I could script against these using Javascript, the DOM, etc. This would rock my world!

Thanks, Brad GNUberg

#8 Mozilla Middleware?

by bmetzler

Friday November 12th, 1999 1:51 PM

Actually, Mozilla as MiddleWare is already happening. People have used Mozilla to develop things like IRC clients, text editors, even a termal emulator, I believe.

When Mozilla is released I believe we'lll see an explosion of applications built on Mozilla.


#10 Mozilla Middleware?

by svn

Friday November 12th, 1999 3:13 PM

I'm the one developing the "terminal emulator" called XMLterm. Actually, with the power of Mozilla one can do much more than just emulate a dumb terminal--one can considerably enhance the command line interface using graphics and hypertext. Therefore, I like to think of my program as a "terminal enhancer" ;)


#15 Mozilla Middleware?

by james_keller

Friday November 12th, 1999 11:42 PM

Indeed, but maybe it's just packaging I'm thinking of. Some sort of middleware API targetted at fellow developers interested in creating application that depend on Mozilla, but are not, in themselves, that related to mozilla.

Kindof the way Borland Delphi and Microsoft MFC [sorry I don't yet have experience outside of win95] are generic frameworks to base your own app off of. Mozilla has that potential, except it could be a category killer if it's cross-platform-ness can be maintained.

#9 Slighty offtopic but still Mozilla

by gerbilpower

Friday November 12th, 1999 3:12 PM

This has nothing to do with the Salon article but it is Mozilla. And speaking as a guy who's only contribution to Mozilla is downloading the builds everyday and look for bugs, I noticed that the has increased by over 200k in the past week or so. Why is Mozilla getting a lil fatter? Thanx


#16 Slighty offtopic but still Mozilla

by Tekhir

Sunday November 14th, 1999 11:58 AM

Usually its cause by adding features and making bug fixes. when they're first added they really don't give too much thought to size. However, when a team notcies their component is getting too big they start optimizing it.

#17 okay

by gerbilpower

Sunday November 14th, 1999 12:21 PM

Well that's good. For the past couple weeks Mozilla's weight has been stable and a sudden increase in a short period of time got me a lil worried, hehe


#19 Testing apps also hog up MB

by Kovu

Sunday November 14th, 1999 11:40 PM

It was estimated in the last chat that the final Linux version of Mozilla would be around 3MB. ;)

#20 Scriptable via C/C++

by Anon

Monday November 15th, 1999 9:17 AM

Should I be worried?