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CodeBitch says: Netscape must die!

31 May 2000

Netscape deserves to die. We all complained about crash-prone Netscape browsers, but kept using them because the alternative was, well, Microsoft. Sure, Microsoft was choking off Netscape’s air supply and deserves punishment for breaking antitrust laws. But Netscape acted like a victim and doesn’t deserve our support any longer.

We can all read the judge’s findings of fact and see the obstacles that Microsoft put in Netscape’s way. But despite those obstacles, Netscape had an advantage precisely because it was competing with Microsoft. If there hadn’t been so many of us dutifully using Netscape browsers simply because Netscape wasn’t Microsoft, their share of the browser market would be much lower than it is. Our distaste for anything Microsoft formed an effective tariff barrier. Navigator might have been shut out of the export market of new users, but it was quite happy to stay a fat and complacent producer in the import-competing sector, milking its existing market.

Until recently, Navigator had languished for years without a major upgrade. Oh sure, the version number has gone from 4 (and 4.01 through to 4.0.7) to 4.5 to 4.6 to 4.7. But the basic HTML rendering engine had not changed one iota, remaining broken all these years. They had time to put in special support for auction sites and other fripperies, but didn’t bother to improve their stylesheet support. In other words, they’ve added a bunch of frills and not gotten the basics right. And we’ve gone from a major release every year in the mid-1990s, which was too often, to a point release every year, which is not often enough.

Netscape’s poor stylesheet support is not a trivial thing that only geeks care about – there are standards for the Web, and the major browser manufacturers are breaking them. This disregard means that designers don’t use the new features because they can’t rely on them looking sensible in major browsers. As a result, users have a slower web browsing experience because pages have tables and inline HTML formatting instead of a linked stylesheet. Netscape’s tardiness is harming consumers.

Now we have a preview release of Communicator 6.0 – or should I say, a warmed-over pre-alpha version of Mozilla with a new splash screen. It still spews 4000 files over my hard drive. It still crashes. It still says “About apprunner” in the Apple menu. It still looks and works like an application that only a sociopathic Linux fanatic could love. And though Netscape crows about its compliance with Web standards, it still doesn’t support the title attribute for either hyperlinks or the acronym tag – so much for that usability enhancement.

Yes, it’s a preview release. Maybe they will get it right in the final version. But Netscape has had a couple of years to deliver a product that does what it claims: browse the Web. If they can’t do it this time, I’m not even going to bother checking pages in Netscape any more – if it validates as HTML 4 (or XHTML 1.0 nowadays), then I don’t care if it works in Communicator 4.9.9.9f or Mozilla M46, let alone Netscape 6.0.

Netscape can whine and moan that the class bully was picking on them. It’s true, and Microsoft will hopefully pay the price for that behavior. But by not continuing to improve their product, Netscape acted like a victim and a loser. They didn’t put up a fight, and as a result, they have lost the right to our patronage and our support.

— CodeBitch (codebitch@macedition.com) is the grumpy cow who does the HTML production for MacEdition.

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