The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The New Browser Wars 

This is an interesting article via Slashdot on how the Browser Wars are Reigniting. Its also a very long article... but when you read it, you realize that it isn't actually saying a whole lot. I came away with the impression that this 6 section article could have been reduced to 3 very easily. But I digress. What is the general thesis put forth by the author? Well when you see that its linked by Slashdot it should be easy to tell that its the usual: Microsoft Bad, Other Guy Good. The more I read these the more I realize the similarities with the current presidential elections. But I'll leave that to another post.

Here is probably the real crux of the article (friom the last section of course):

Make no mistake: Microsoft really hates the web. The new browser war may appear to be about the emergence of Mozilla and friends with their polished eye-candy interfaces, but it's really about Microsoft versus the W3C. Internet Explorer is Microsoft's blocking tactic - never to be properly web-compliant, never to give the W3C a day in the sun - and Longhorn technology is the big-stick alternative being built. One of the purposes of Longhorn is to destroy the web as we know it.

The web is used to provide a variety of services and communities. Part of the Longhorn strategy is to extract from the web all of the services with any profit model at all: web magazines, auction sites, news, online retailers, and so on. When Microsoft tempts these organizations and communities to Longhorn, the web suffers the death of a thousand cuts. Over here will be the standards-based web, with a gradually shrinking set of web sites. Over there will be the future Longhorn-based proprietary global infrastructure - a global version of the early Novell NetWare, a sort of stock market/CNN fusion for content delivery. For Microsoft, the best possible outcome is for the standards-based web to be reduced to the profitless: a few idealistic hippies, some idle perverts, and the disaffected. Few others will want to go there; so every day there will be fewer traditional websites, every day less relevance.

This is a fundamentally different attack from that of the browser wars, round 1. Instead of fighting for control, the new browser war is a fight for the survival of the web itself. In this new war, the eye candy offered by new and polished browsers is a necessary but insufficient response to the stonewalling of Internet Explorer as a precursor to Longhorn. It's the presence of standardized data in web content - whether current standards such as XHTML or some yet-unknown future standards, perhaps based on XUL - guaranteeing that the web will remain a global commons, an information highway, and a free marketplace. The alternative is a corporate Diaspora and a tollway.

So the real complaint here is that Microsoft is coming up with an architecture that will use the Internet to transmit information using something other than HTML, and the other related standard for posting markup (like CSS, and XHTML, etc.). The general theme here is that its evil to do that. But why? The author never explains it.

The world of the web today is really a set of disjoint services, that takes user effort to connect up properly. For the readers of Slashdot (myself included), this is great. It offers us the level of control that we desire. We can pick and choose our Legos and build up our castle exactly how we like. But for the average person, the person that we should be designing software for, this is not acceptable. The world of Longhorn is a world where the pieces are put together for you so you just turn it on and go. While that may scare the hell out of the Slashdot'ers, its a welcome change for the people that count... the consumer. Its time that these people get their heads out of the sand, and finally realize that the Internet is a consumer world now, and must evolve to meet the consumer's needs. HTML, CSS, and any other new markup technologies are just patching an outdated system. Its time to move on.

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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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