Which Web Browser is this?

The following describes one of two browsers: Netscape 4 or Internet Explorer 6.

This browser was wildly popular back in its day with a market share of over 70%. Then Microsoft, in order to protect its lucrative Windows monopoly, crushed the life out of it. They got away with it too, despite public outcry. Only critical patches and security fixes are released for this browser anymore. Today, web developers consider it a pain to design for. Other browsers have long since passed it in terms of JavaScript, DOM and CSS support. This browser is now generally considered an outdated mess of quirks and bugs.

Can you guess the browser from the clues given? Neither can I.



Posted by John Clingan on August 03, 2004 at 04:29 PM MDT #

I can easily guess: it's Netscape/Mozila -- both 4 and 6+! If Netscape 7 were any good, Web developers would not be running in droves to Flash and other proprietary and "semi-open" formats. It is a mess of eternal bugs. I've filed bugs describing how DOM content is mysteriously "doubled", how cross-frame JavaScript is irrationally blocked under https, how cross-frame JavaScript triggers the "unsafe" security icon, and how Mozilla Composer puts out invalid HTML when creating lists. One of these bugs was fixed for a while, and then reverted to not fixed, and maybe another one was finally fixed after 18 months. I'm all for the efforts of the developers behind this Web browser, and the much-worse Safari, but these Web browsers should be released as "experimental-only". They negatively impact the Web when released as "ready for prime time".

Announcement about a Speakers Panel on Current Web Browsers

As we continue to see rich-GUI Web software slide into proprietary formats, and the pressure on Microsoft to play nicely from legal battles ease, the time is right to address the future of the Web. I would like to invite you to come to a http://west.cmu.edu/specialPrograms/speakers/">speaker panel at <a href="http://west.cmu.edu/" target="_blank">Carnegie-Mellon University's West Coast Campus, at Moffett Field (45 minutes south of San Francisco), entitled, "Back to Proprietary Client-Server, or Web Renaissance?", on November 10th, 2004, at 6:30pm.

Every single person I know who has spent one year or more of full-time work doing intensive JavaScript/DOM by the w3c standards (including myself) feels that Mozilla, and especially Safari, are blights and should be released as "experimental" browsers until their bugs are fixed. I'm looking for more panelists who can speak to this "controversial" issue. Please contact me at mailto:cbalz@andrew.cmu.edu">cbalz at andrew.cmu.edu if you have suggestions for panelists. So far, I have some very good speakers signed up for the panel.


In this panel, I would like to have the panelists speak to the following questions:</div>
  • What role did open standards (specifically, HTTP and HTML) play in the initial adoption (from 1994 onward) of the Web and its development into a giant new business market and more?
  • How did these open standards come to take hold? What were the major obstacles? Was the driving force to adoption a mix of technological evangelism and market forces?
  • Compare and contrast HTML to DHTML (Dynamic HTML) with the JavaScript binding.
  • Give your perspective on client-side Web software development, and its importance today on the Web.
    • What is the importance of Dynamic HTML and the binding to JavaScript on the Web today?
    • Do you view the application of OO techniques to JavaScript, particularly simulation of Java-like class-based inheritance in JavaScript, as helpful in deploying Web software?
  • Is JavaScript a more realistic choice on the Web than Java for the client-side of consumer Web applications, due to JavaScript's current near-ubiquity, lack of need for installation, fast start-up time, and security (especially, it's lack of a file API)?
  • Give your view of the pros and cons of server-centric Web development (i.e., JSP, ASP) as opposed to a Web based on the distributed application or client-server concept.
    • What are the pros and cons to the consumer Web user, who needs high usability, interactivity, and speed, on dial-up and on high-speed?
    • What are the pros and cons to the server center, from the perspectives of IT (i.e., scalability), engineering, and security?
  • Why is it that the "other" Web browsers -- the non-Microsoft Web browsers -- do not support the W3C standards correctly enough to support building "next generation" Web applications based on public Web standards?
  • What is the impact of this situation, as we see rich-GUI Web applications migrate to proprietary formats such as Flash and IE-specific?
    • What are the security implications of a Web highly fragmented among Flash browsers, Microsoft Longhorn Client browsers, Web-standard browsers, and Internet Explorer-specific Web sites?
      • Would this amount to an unmanageable blizzard of security patches for consumers?
  • What can be done to improve the support of Web browsers for rich-GUI Web applications built solely on W3C standards?
    • Would an industry consortium be an appropriate vehicle for this task?
    • Can the market alone, in its current state, take care of this situation?
    • Is technological evangelism needed?
  • Imagining a supportive climate for distributed Web applications built on Web standards, what market spaces would this create?
    • What would be the role of current vendors of traditional Web application frameworks, such as BEA, IBM, and Sun/Netscape?

Posted by Christopher M. Balz on September 29, 2004 at 11:33 AM MDT #

Greg brought up an example of a bug in Internet Explorer and expressed that some feel quite differently than I about the relationship of the various Web browsers to the continued development of the Web. His quality commentary spurred me on to explain my position more. I'll take the liberty of doing so below.

Definitely, I can see bugs such as Greg describes coming up in IE. At least, there are work-arounds for bugs of that nature. The Mozilla and Safari bugs that I describe are not as easily worked around or are impossible to work around.

The systems I have built and worked on have involved creating a lot of HTML on the client and using that to draw the GUI via 'document.write' calls. Internet Explorer has always performed very well with these w3c-standard systems. But Mozilla doesn't seem to do too well with this (double-copying the HTML content in some deeply nested containers), and also blocking cross-frame scripting when it should be allowed (i.e., when both frames are from the same domain) under 'https'. With my application framework, I have to treat Mozilla/N6+ just like Netscape 4 -- avoiding writing to deeply nested containers. It makes the GUI response slower. Also, not surprisingly, auto-scrolling (of the viewed Web page) is broken in Mozilla, but works great in IE.

Safari and Opera both die on my legal cross-frame writes; I believe both even under 'http', not 'https'. I've filed detailed bug reports and provided test code for all these bugs, but only Mozilla has been responsive. However, the best result I've seen is for one of the bugs to get fixed and then re-appear later, broken. The bugs are so severe that I had to move on to other realms of software work a while ago and I've forgotten many of the details. I was one of the approximagtely 1300 developers that signed the <a href="http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/news/flanagan_1100.html">petition in late 2000 on O'Reilly begging Netscape not to release v6, but they did anyway. Things have not changed much since.

Regarding feature support, I imagine that Mozilla might encompass a larger area than IE, but from my experience, Mozilla functionality is often broken. It comes across as an app built by coders for coders. Mozilla Thunderbird, the e-mail program, is a classic example. It has lots of great features, but leaks memory like a sieve and once locked me out of my entire e-mail account folders. I had to manually reconstruct the installation. It would also not truly delete e-mails. This was the Thunderbird that shipped around Mozilla 1.4. After a year and a half of trying it, I chucked it and purchased Eudora.

The appearance of so much Internet Explorer-specific Web content (Yahoo E-mail Plus, GMail) and the adoption of data-centric Flash is, as far as I can see, the logical result of the situation. The issue isn't that there are not any perfect Web browsers. There are are just too many bugs in Mozilla, Safari, and Opera. It's a fixable problem though, once it's seen.

To clarify the deeply progress-withholding nature of some of these bugs, I will discuss the bugs on non-IE, non-Netscape 4.0 browsers with cross-frame JavaScript. Support for cross-frame JavaScript is absolutely crucial. To build a cross-platform "rich Internet" application, hidden HTML frames (i.e., width & height of 0) must be used as communication sockets. Some browsers have platform-specific ways of doing this, but using a hidden frame, which works on all robust, domain-security-rules following Web browsers, makes the most sense. It even works on Netscape 4.0x. Myers and Nakhimovsky spread the word about how hidden HTML frames are perfect for communication sockets in their 1998 book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1861001894/002-5797214-6584042?v=glance">JavaScript Objects.

Unfortunately, in my tests, Mozilla goes in and out of supporting this under https depending on the release version (despite my extensive Bugzilla commentary and proof code over the years), and Safari and Opera fail on my cross-frame writes. In the case of Mozilla, the problem appears to be pure carelessness, while Safari and Opera just seem to explode under the weight of a real rich-client Web application. It is this kind of thing that truly leads developers and entire engineer departments to flee the standard browsers as development platforms, and it has become something of a tragedy for the Web.

I hope that the CMU panel can be a positive force to help the Web move through this.

Posted by Christopher M. Balz on October 01, 2004 at 04:37 AM MDT #

Sorry for the broken link above -- here is the corrected link to the CMU Speaker Series.

Posted by Christopher M. Balz on October 01, 2004 at 09:44 AM MDT #

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My name is Greg Reimer and I'm a web technologist for the Sun.COM web design team.


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