October 25, 1999 -- Newsletter #51

By Joe Burns

October 25, 1999 -- Newsletter #51
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear...

>There is now talk of a global currency for Internet business. Visa has just created eVisa, a division intended to set up one Internet money system. Soon after, American Express did basically the same thing. The competition starts. Sit back and enjoy.

>There are IBM knock-offs, but now an iMac knock-off? Yepper. Sotec, a company out of Japan, has caught heck for producing iMac-type machines. Guess how they got out of being sued? They changed the color of their machine from the traditional translucent blue to all silver. (Really? The color is what mattered? Ugh!)

>Have you been tapped? Does your computer have a camera or microphone attached? If so, you may be. The U.S. Army has spent the last four months showing commanding officers how to hack into a personal computer and turn on the microphone. Wow! A bug! I love all this James Bond stuff. Do you want to thwart the invasion? It's tricky. Listen closely: unplug your microphone and camera when you're done. Are you writing this down?

Now onto today's topic...

Round up the chairs. Gather up the bets. Get some people in here to pick up the trash.

It's over. Bill won.

I was innocently painting the foyer, CNN was playing innocently in the background. The news anchor proclaimed that the browser wars we have all come to know and love are over. He cited the latest surveys on what browser people were using as the basis for his statement: Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) is carrying up to an 80% market share.

Wow. That's just about an insurmountable lead, kind of like what my beloved Cleveland Browns face each week...

So, it's over. (At least as a topic for this newsletter. I don't know that Netscape is quite ready to throw in the towel yet). I'll miss the blink command, I admit it. The only time I use NN is when I am checking my pages for cross-browser mistakes or writing a tutorial specifically for the browser.

What I want to know is when the shift occurred. What happened to make Netscape Navigator (NN), formerly beloved of Internet browsers, become a second-class citizen to IE in many people's eyes?

I remember distinctly when IE came out. There was a serious rift between those who loved IE and those who loved NN. So much so that people would actually set up JavaScript events that would berate others for using one browser or the other. Some JavaScript events even shut down the browser window if you dared to enter their site using IE. It was silly I know, but that's what happened. People really took sides.

It was so prevalent for a while that I wrote an opinion piece in the format of an Obit for the Internet. I was concerned that the one-browser-or-another fight was becoming so hard fought that it would drive people away. Shows how much I know, huh?

The funny thing is that NN was the darling of the Web. IE was the browser that most people were against. That's the one that caught heck.

So, what happened?

I guess we could go the Oliver Stone route and proclaim that Bill Gates is an evil man who used predatory practices, eye of newt, and a large cauldron of white broth to force a browser on us. Well, there may be something to that, but in all honestly, there has to be more to it than the fact that it was on the computer when we got it. We all know we could have had multiple browsers on our computers. Bill Gates didn't force you to use IE at gunpoint.

That said, I'd like to offer a few statements on why I think IE seems to be winning the browser fight. You may agree or disagree. I am writing based on my own experiences with the browser.

1. The browser is on every computer running Windows software.

Okay, okay, I admit this certainly has to have something to do with it. I'm listing it as my first reason, not because I feel it's the biggest factor, but because it's one that's hard to ignore.

2. IE is forgiving.

I like writing and surfing in IE better than NN because I get fewer errors and less crashing. The later versions of NN became so strict regarding acceptable code that it wasn't fun to write for the browser.

Remember that the bulk of Web pages are written by Weekend Silicon Warriors. It's a bad sign when I get e-mail saying the page looks great in IE but won't even render in Netscape. The funny thing is that the problem is usually something minor, thus very hard to pick out. Giant mistakes are easier to see.

People got tired of being wrong a lot of the time. IE seemed created more for the Weekend Warrior. NN seemed created for the professional programmer. Now, I know this will prompt a great deal of e-mail, saying that people should write like programmers and they should be held to strict parameters. I actually agree, but let's be honest. Someone who is having some fun on the weekend writing Web pages is not interested in perfect coding. We want to see our pages. There's something to be said for a browser being a little more forgiving.

3. The IE proprietary stuff is just cooler than the NN stuff.

"Proprietary stuff" is coding that only works on one browser or the other, not both. IE had Style Sheets first. It offers more Style Sheet commands now. IE has DHTML (depending on how you define it - some say layers are also DHTML), easy scrolling marquees, static backgrounds, menus that remember what you put in text boxes, and lots of other cool stuff. NN just doesn't have the same arsenal of goodies.

To be fair, one thing that NN has that IE just can't seem to get is the easy use of form commands to create guestbooks. Yes, yes, I know IE 4.0 and above claim to do the trick. It just doesn't do it with the greatest of ease.

4. IE is seen as the leader between the two browsers.

I think there was a perception of leader/follower when the W3C took IE's Style Sheet format as "correct." Lately, NN just seems to be playing catch-up. People like to be with the leader rather than the follower. In addition, although it was never trumpeted, the AOL browser was modeled after the IE rather than the NN browser. That's a pretty big endorsement.

5. IE is interacting with me.

IE 5's AutoComplete and drop-down location menu is great at remembering what I've previously written. I love the favicon.ico feature where you can set an image as your bookmark. I have far more control over browser functions. I can offer links to set bookmarks and even initiate a print. NN seems static, whereas IE seems to be helping me.

There are the five reasons that jump to mind when I consider why IE is taking such a lead in the browser war. Now, contrary to what you might believe at this point in the newsletter, I'm not so sure the browser war is over, but unless something drastic happens, I think we may soon have a clear winner.

(I'm smiling right now because I just know I'm going to get e-mail like crazy asking if I work for the evil Bill Gates. Rest assured, I don't. But Bill, if you're out there... ;->)

So, I love Microsoft and that's that, right? Nope. Although the browser is winning the war, it seems as if they still have some solid battles to fight. There is one thing that you always hear about IE that you never seem to hear about NN. The NN browser seems to have plugged up all the holes. The IE browser seems to leave the user vulnerable. Sure, the vulnerabilities are hard to crack, but they are there nonetheless.

NT/IE was just cracked by the Army so that computer microphones could be turned on to become listening devices. Code numbers were generated that could track a single user. On top of all that, IE's parent Microsoft has big trouble with Hotmail and numerous other privacy concerns.

Whether it's true or not (I've never seen proof), there's a rumor that you can crack through IE in order to control and place files on a person's hard drive. That's a hard concern to live down. The general thinking in some people's minds is that NN is safe and IE is not. There are some points in NN's favor.

So, the battle rages on, but it appears as if IE is at the 20 and most of their first team is still in. What we don't know at this point is how NN will be altered now that it's owned by AOL. I hope the browser doesn't become a clone of IE. Then we actually do lose the ability to choose between the two.

There are still people out there who are diehard NN fans, either because they like the browser better or because they hate Microsoft. Hopefully those people will have something to cheer about when the next level of NN comes out.

Yep, I use IE, but you know as soon as NNv5.0 rolls off the assembly line, I'll be right there to grab my copy.


And that's that. Thanks for reading.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Here's one for all you Star Trek/Wars fans out there. Do you know the difference between a constellation and a galaxy? A constellation is a series of stars that, when viewed from Earth, appear close together, but probably aren't. A galaxy is a grouping of stars that actually are close together, forming a cluster. So, the Big Dipper is a constellation, right? Wrong. It's what's known as an "asterism." That's a cluster of stars found within a constellation. Isn't this fun?

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