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A Little History
or Why I hate (NS, IE) Please circle one

 8:49 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

I frequently hear new webmasters ranting, "That durn Netscape doesn't render text as it should and the center tag don't work" or "IE screws up my carefully arranged spacing, looks fine in NS." They often go on to tout the benefits of one browser over another and how their preferred browser is the standard and all others should conform... As we all know or soon come to realize, things are the way they are, and we must learn to design for all browsers.

But how did all of this happen? I've been an NS user since before IE existed and watched the evolution of both browsers. My RECOLLECTION is this (please correct me if I'm wrong which happens more frequently then I'd like!) NS 2 was my first browser, circa 1995, and the "Internet explosion," the exponential growth in popularity was just beginning. I had been a regular user of local BBS (bulletin board systems) until that time and interest in BBS declined as the Internet grew. And I had to see what all the fuss was about. AOL and Compuserve were doing well as private commercial BBS services in late '94 and early '95 too. As a result, Microsoft launched the Microsoft Network, initially another commercial BBS, during the same period.

Competition between AOL and MSN was fierce and as a result AOL began to offer limited net access which quickly grew from a trickle to a flood. MS recognized the potential and quickly released IE and began shipping it with their op systems. Netscape in the meantime dominated the browser market by default. There were few other choices... and poor old Compuserve was a text based system and didn't have a chance when compared to the multimedia potential of the net. They were subsequently acquired by AOL (circa early '97?) primarily to increase AOL's customer base.

W3C [w3.org] is the World Wide Web Design Consortium and they develope the standards, define the specs, that enable browsers and servers to talk to each other. NS has always conformed to these specs for the most part except for the occasional bug, usually corrected in a subsequent version. Unfortunately, early versions of IE were not as compliant. Early versions of IE included some HTML tags that were not in the W3C spec that was in effect at the time, perhaps by design, in an attempt to dominate the browser market, perhaps through sloppy coding, more likely due to hasty coding in an effort to get a product out the door.

And us poor webmasters are stuck with that legacy. MS has had to support those non-standard tags in subsequent versions of IE to maintain compabability with the early versions which brings us to our present state of design problems. Personally, I blame MS for the existing incompatabilities. At the time IE 3 was released the W3C HTLM 3.2 spec was in force and the V 4.0 spec was not yet finalized. My PERCEPTION was that MS was trying to dominate the V 4.0 spec and capture another market.

Having seen all of this evolve, it really "gets me going" when I hear some newbie pontificating about how IE is the standard and NS should comply, or vice versa. I feel like grabbing them around the neck and squeezing until they turn blue at least...

Some of these recollections are likely incorrect as to the time frame or sequence and some is just my opinion, I was just a beginning Internet user at the time and only gained deep understanding of this evolution in recent reflections and discussions with others that were part of the evolution. Please correct me wherever necessary!

And next time you hear a newbie bragging on HIS browser is the one true browser, tell him you never heard of me! ;)



 9:06 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

Having actually paid for (Spry ??) Mosaic in a box, I hear you, Dave. I still use NS4 for most surfing because I need the right-mouse functions. But, the war is over -IE has won. All that remains for MS to do is to mop up the last outposts of resistance.


 9:54 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

"But, the war is over -IE has won"

I think you're jumping the gun RC. Microsoft might want you to think that resistance is futile. But AOL's acquistion of netscape has given the resistance new hope. Just wait until the next version of AOL comes out, Youre going to see virtually everyone on the worlds largest isp surfing with their spanking new copies of Netscape 6.


 10:09 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

Having seen Tedster's review of NS6 pr1, I don't think MS has anything to worry about.


 10:27 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

>"But, the war is over -IE has won"

For the moment yes.

Why? NS is an inferior product, buggy, troublesome and with a long history of "problems" [see recent privacy threads].

Take a trawl through the Net, NS has not been the knight in shining armour that it tries to present itself as.



 11:21 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

"Having seen Tedster's review of NS6 pr1, I don't think MS has anything to worry about"

You can't judge the final product by the first pre release. Besides it doesn't really matter how good Netscape is. AOL users use the customized browser provided. If AOL provides netscape than 99.9% of AOL users are going to use netscape.


 11:29 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

"Why? NS is an inferior product"

Lets not forget the illegal tying of IE to Windows, or that Microsoft threatened to stop making word processing software for Apple unless they agreed not to include netscape in the mac os.


 11:43 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

>If AOL provides netscape than 99.9% of AOL users are going to use netscape.



 11:50 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)

Like the first poster I remember the stone age... Loading up Mosaic on a 2400 connection, waiting 20 minutes for my first page to download, and wondering what all the fuss was about. I went back to good old Compuserve for a few months, before i got the brand new 9600 connection!

Netscape also was guilty of introducing non-standard tags, when it was the only browser available, and later to position itself as better than IE.

We still get 30% of hits from Netscape. then again we attract a good proportion of academic users who seem to like NS.

Having said all that... Good simple WWW3 code looks fine in both browsers though they interpret it slightly differently. The problems usually occur by people using Front Page, which never really made it crystal clear that you were creating IE optimized pages that may have problems in NS, and other WYSIWG editors that go for bells and whistles over just good clean code.

Missing off table codes can look ok in IE but you find content is missing in NS. NS is less forgiving for code mangling.

99.9% of time the fault is the designer/Webmaster's rather than any particular browser.


 11:58 pm on Oct 4, 2000 (gmt 0)


I looked in the Language of the South [webmasterworld.com] thread, but couldn't find "Moo" :)


 2:13 am on Oct 5, 2000 (gmt 0)

seth_wilde re: Netscape 6
>>You can't judge the final product by the first pre release.<<

That's a fact. I'm psyching myself up to try version 3 right now.

However, the written copy on the Netscape site does give me pause. As might be expected with AOL ownership, the standards issue gets only a little mention, and most of the copy is about the bells and whistles. "The most customizable browser ever ... match your personality." Really. Just make sure it works right, and don't worry about my personality. I can deal with a color that doesn't match my shirt.

One thing I do hope for is that AOL's ownership will mean only two browsers for webmasters to worry about. To date, the AOL versions of IE have been a very strange beast -- almost like a third major browser. Decent compatibility testing today needs to consider MSIE-PC, MSIE-Mac, NN-PC, NN-Mac, AOL-PC, AOL-Mac, Opera, WebTV. That's a lot of stuff! And then there's backward compatibility for the earlier versions, especially if the site uses JavaScript and CSS.

I also wonder about NN6 and backwards compatibility for "transitional" HTML 4. "Strict" HTML 4 makes a dog's breakfast out of many of today's sites. It's not going to be boring for a long time, that's for sure.


 2:53 am on Oct 24, 2000 (gmt 0)

Frontpage use is not a problem as long as you set it to compatable with both browsers before 3.01. You don't really lose that much unless you like css but I am used to the old ways of using the wysiwyg editor then cleaning the html code directly to correct placement. Old habits die hard.
As for the new Netscape, it is an intrusive program that damages alot of software to place their own software in your system no matter if you customize or not during the installation. Ex: realphone installed without my permission,
real player installed though I said no in the options and it overwrote my DVDplayer.exe. Ok, it was beta and I was warned but darnnation, when I installed the upgraded nonbeta version it did it again. I stopped using Netscape that day. :(


 6:09 pm on Nov 12, 2000 (gmt 0)

One of the clearest statements I ever heard came from Danny Sullivan, who said that we need to consider the Search Engines a third major browser. And there lies the rub.

I work with clients who are inevitably enamored with some (take your pick) Flash/Java/CSS/JavaScript/DHTML/proprietary-IE feature. It's really quite crazy-making.

The tantalizing techno possibilities, compared to the marketing reality that, in the ranking battles, vanilla code will win every time.

I wish I could afford to go with the most comfortable browser -- but I can't. Even for personal browsing, I stick with Netscape 4.70 right now BECAUSE it's so darned buggy. This way I keep a handle on how bad the user experience can be if I don't take extreme care as I create pages.


 7:02 pm on Nov 12, 2000 (gmt 0)

>I blame MS for the existing incompatabilities.
Didn't the Beast from Redmond do the same thing with Java?

>in the ranking battles, vanilla code will win every time.

And don't get me started on Front Page :(


 7:05 am on Nov 17, 2000 (gmt 0)

I don't think MS has WON the browser competition, but they certainly have a strong lead at this point.

The next round of browser influence is more likely to come from PDA's, plamtops, and other embedded program boxes. As we speak, Palm, Psion, HP, Sony, and a host of other companies are tripping over themselves to produce the small pocket computers. They are selling like proverbial hotcakes.

Those small computers all need a browser. It is getting real clear that MS is having serious difficulty producing one that will run under MS-CE. They simply can't get out of the bloated code mentality and produce a browser that runs in 4 or 8 meg of ram. It may actually be a case that MS simply does not have the resources (not enough ML level programmers to go around) to produce such a browser.

So there is room out there right now for a small, fast, compatable browser. Enter Opera software. They have inked deals with Psion and are producing Opera for Epos OS already - which is being used on many PDA's and palm tops right now. They also are working with AMD to embed Opera in an AMD chipset for PDA's.

Those forces gathering around wireless PDA's that are web ready is going to have an impact on web design and ultimatly on who the players are in desktop web browsers.

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