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Netscape had it's problems, sorry.

I have read several threads around here about how MS won the browsers war.

I remember using Netscape Navigator back when it was the only decent browser, and then using IE 3 (or IE 2) on Windows 3.1, together with the Netscape Navigator at that time.

IE was good quality software that ran fast and crashed very rarely.

Netscape was slow, and crashed.

This was NOT a minor problem. It crashed very often, and totally.

Imagine the frustration of the users which, after opening 3 or 4 interesting web sites (and we all know how slow 14400 baud modems were), the browser crashed, and the loaded pages were lost.

So, frankly, when people say that MS crushed Netscape by bundling IE with Windows, I always think that MS could crush Netscape by technical merits alone.

Sorry, folks, but the quality of IE was simply a lot better than the quality of Netscape Navigator.

Netscape Navigator crashed so often that I used to call it "Netscape Crashigator" or "Netscape Crash-Crash-Crash Navigator". It was also very slow.

IE had a little less features than Netscape (IE didn't support frames at that time, as far as I remember), but it was very stable and it worked fast.

Michael
Monday, August 04, 2003

Umm... my memory of the browser wars was different..

On my Windows 3.11 machine Netscape was king.

On my Windows 95 machine Netscape was good

Then came v4.x of both

And MS Explorer downloaded pages with graphical content faster, a lot faster. And more sites started adding more graphics...

And so it went on until MSIE v6

Then I found Mozilla Firebird (Thanks for the pointer Joel), and now MSIE sits unused on the desktop. If only this was Netscape 4.x, the world would have been so much more different...

Raddy Echt
Monday, August 04, 2003

IE 3 on Windows 3.1?!?

John Topley (www.johntopley.com)
Monday, August 04, 2003

Or maybe IE 2, I don't remember well.

But what I remember, is that it didn't crash, and it was fast.

Netscape crashed very often and was slow. The user interface was a bit strange.

Michael
Monday, August 04, 2003

> Then I found Mozilla Firebird (Thanks for the pointer
> Joel), and now MSIE sits unused on the desktop. If
> only this was Netscape 4.x, the world would have
> been so much more different...

Maybe, but it isn't Microsoft's fault that Netscape took many years before releasing a decent version!

Michael
Monday, August 04, 2003

16-bit versions of IE were available for a long time, as they serviced both Windows 3.x and Windows NT 3.x. To use the 32-bit version required not only a 32-bit OS, but the new shell (Windows NT 4.0 or later). I'm almost positive that 16-bit versions were made even into 5.x.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, August 04, 2003

I have to agree that MS won the browser war on technical merits. I had to write sites that worked on Netscape 4.x. It tripled the development time and support jobs. And so often I would write the simplest code and have the whole computer crash - aaaaaah!! For a long time it's been my desire to punch every one of the coders who wrote Netscape 4 in the nose. That's only just starting to go away.

As for the famous rewrite - personally if I had the chance back then, I would have got the NN4 codebase, destroyed any other copies, printed it out, burnt it, danced on the ashes and finally put the remains on a rocket headed straight for the centre of the sun.

Seriously. Humanity is better off without it.

RB
Monday, August 04, 2003

Don't forget the "free" factor. I agree that IE was a solid and stable browser when Netscape 3 was not, but it was also given away when Netscape still charged even for personal use. (Officially, that is -- in reality, I didn't know anyone who paid for it.)

I leave it to the imagination of others to determine whether "giving the thing away free" constitutes "exploiting OS dominance". However, I find it hard to believe that the market share of any product, even a somewhat superior one (and I don't recall Netscape being *that* bad) could have grown from 0% to 90% (or whatever) without the "free" factor.

Zahid
Monday, August 04, 2003

"However, I find it hard to believe that the market share of any product, even a somewhat superior one (and I don't recall Netscape being *that* bad) could have grown from 0% to 90% (or whatever) without the "free" factor."

The sweet irony is that MS now has to compete with free linux. And they do not seem to like it anymore even though it was fine with them in the case of browser wars ...

Mr Curiousity
Monday, August 04, 2003

I remember using Netscape 2.something and it was blazingly fast; it sure ruled supreme compared to IE 1/2 on Windows 95. Then they released 3.something and it was soooo sloooow compared to the older version, prompting me to change back. This, combined with the increased sluggishness of their UI is probably why i turned to IE 3/4.

Mickey Petersen
Monday, August 04, 2003

Web Developement Rule 1 : it takes 5% of the time to do the IE version, 95% to do the Netscape one (e.g. don't nest tables too much on NS or CPU will stay at 100% for 30 secs without any reason... IE renders the page in less than the blink of the eye).

Philippe
Monday, August 04, 2003

Once Netscape opted to produce a suite instead of focus on the browser, they were doomed. It is only now, that focus is back on the browser that Mozilla is producing something (FireBird) that could gain share.

pb
Monday, August 04, 2003

People like to rewrite history because it's more interesting that way.  The fact that IE won because it was superior to Netscape (in terms of stability, speed, integration with other apps, etc.) isn't as exciting and scandalous as claiming IE won because Microsoft used monopoly powers, gave it away free, integrated it with the OS, blah blah blah. 

SomeBody
Monday, August 04, 2003

an interesting sidenote to this is IE for mac.
Microsoft produced IE for mac and it was far better than their own windows equivalent product and most other browsers out there.
I used netscape 4 on the mac, and then began using IE on the mac simply because it was faster, more stable etc.
IE for the mac has not been updated for approx 4-5 years, but it is _still_ the most stable application available.

Ive recently switched to mozilla for various reasons, but although its support for css and various standards is far better than IE for mac its still less stable.

Not trying to draw any particular conclusions here but I thought it was interesting that Microsoft did such a thoroughly good job writing the IE application for macintosh the first time around, they must have had a verra good development team.

FullNameRequired
Monday, August 04, 2003

I don't know about large market trends.

*I* switched to IE version 3.0 because Netscape 3.0 crashed all the time.  I just wanted to browse the web.  I like Outlook Express for email, and have used it for 5 years now at home.

I used every version of IE until I tried Opera a few months ago, then I tried Mozilla Firebird and switched to that because Opera has some issues (like hanging on flash animation).

I switched to Opera and then Mozilla Firebird because

1) Mouse Gestures
2) Tabbed Browsing
3) Speed
4) Popup blocking

That's it.  Features make me happy, but then again, I'm not the "average user".

Alex
Monday, August 04, 2003

I used to use Netscape until 4.75, and was pretty happy with it.  I never had a problem with stability.  But I could never get Netscape 6 to run more than 10 minutes without crashing ... plus, it just looked ugly to me.  In general, any product which features skinnable UIs has reached the end of all *useful* innovations ...

IE had a much better DHTML model than Netscape -- so it wasn't long until webpages needed IE to render correctly, and it was for that reason I switched to IE ...

Alyosha`
Monday, August 04, 2003

Joel loves the example of Netscape Navigator when he talks about why re-writing the entire codebase. While I do believe that there is some validity to his argument I don't think Netscape is a very good example.

Joel's argument is that you introduce bugs other developers have solved by rewriting code, but at version 4.x of Netscape just about everything was implemented incorrectly:
- the HTML engine was temperamental
- the DHTML and CSS was lousy and could crash the browser
- if you left the browser running overnight your computer would be hanging as Netscape had leaked memory all over the place
- there were a large number of other quirks (e.g. the page reload one)

The problem I have with Joel using Netscape as an example of why not to rewrite is that he seems to be assuming that Netscape was a functional web browser and sure, from a high enough level of abstraction it was, but anyone who did anything remotely detailed with Netscape 4 definitely had nightmares.

In my opinion Netscape at version 4 was "very" broken - not just a little broken. Perhaps the very basics of the rendering engine worked, but perhaps they were implemented in such a way that did not scale to larger problems.  So while I'm happy to conceed that Netscape could have done a better job rewriting the browse, I'm not so sure that a rewrite wasn't needed.

At the root of all my skepticism about Joel's "never rewrite" thesis I wonder if he hasn't come across any TRUELY horrible code, I'm guessing the developers at Microsoft are all pretty smart and wrote nice code. Yet surely there are times when the codebase is SO bad that a rewrite is the best thing?

Walter Rumsby
Monday, August 04, 2003

People switch for the smallest reasons...

I switched from NS to IE because IE had the browsing history list and at the time NS didn't.

Recently, I switched back to Mozilla for two reasons: tabbed browsing and the fact that Flash can be completely disabled.

Andrew Reid
Monday, August 04, 2003

I think Joel likes the Netscape example because the drop was so dramatic -- nearly 100% market share to less than 5% (or whatever).  Not rewriting couldn't possibly have been worse than rewriting (the remaining few percent are likely members of the ABM crowd). 

SomeBody
Monday, August 04, 2003

Rewriting isn't ALWAYS bad.  No rules are absolute.  But, rewriting your company's primary application while simultaneously under intense competition from a worthy competitor is stupid.

I can pretty much guarantee that, off the street, I could have fixed all of Netscape's memory leaks in at most a couple of months.

Regardless though, they were going to lose.  You can't compete with free.

David
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

>In general, any product which features skinnable UIs
>has reached the end of all *useful* innovations

This is a brilliant statement.

Matt Foley
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The rewriting problem of Netscape was version 4, not so much mozilla.  The problem with mozilla was that it was perceived as being version 5 for too long and laboured trying to fix the broken codebase for too long.

If people think mozilla is complicated to work with now they should have tried the initial open source release.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

I used Netscape between their original release and version 4. I used Mosaic before that, but Netscape was far better from its very first release. When IE 4 came out is was of such higher quality than the Netscape offering that there was just no contest. IE4 just blew Netscape out of the water on the Windows platform. I remember demonstrating it to my coworkers and they literaly screamed when I showed the the speed difference. Moreover to call the NS4 browser "unstable" would be too kind.
Pretty soon there was not a single instance of Netscape running except for the most zealous ABM pockets.
The defeat was there before the Mozilla fiasco, and it was a fair and square "best code won".

What is even more interesting is that MS realized that rendering multimedia on the basis of an easy to learn declarative langauge would be an asset to a very wide range of applications. As they do with most things they made this capability available on their platform to any application developer out there (for which we are extremely gratefull but now please can we have the same on the managed .NET platform?).
Meanwile Netscape still limited the locked up the use of HTML in just one application with a back button and a bookmark list.

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"Netscape had it's problems, sorry. "

Hey Michael, nobody said that Netscape didn't have its problems, particularly at least me.  What I did say is that the argument of whether Microsoft explotied its OS dominance in illegal ways to push IE is a point totally independent of whether Netscape screwed up royally or not.

How hard is it to see that when you are the company that develops and distributes the OS, having the IE being distributed with it is a *huge* advantage for Microsoft? And what about internal development, which had acess to all OS API's and early betas before anybody else?

  Why can't people see this obvious truth?

- Raist

Raist3d
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"How hard is it to see that when you are the company that develops and distributes the OS, having the IE being distributed with it is a *huge* advantage for Microsoft? And what about internal development, which had acess to all OS API's and early betas before anybody else?

  Why can't people see this obvious truth?"


Because its not the whole truth. Or I should say, its not relevant.

Back where I worked during the release of IE 3.x, we decided to switch *before IE 3.x was bundled* simply due to the quality of it vs. the quality of netscape in our environment.

So bundling wasn't an issue for us. We switched because right then IE worked and Netscape didn't.

We had a product that was free and which worked and we had a product which was free for us too (as we were education) but which there were a lot of rumors about us soon having to pay for coming from its own sales force, and it did not work.

So tell me. What would you do in those circumstances. If bundling with windows was all it took to make a product dominant, we wouldn't have word or photoshop because of wordpad and paint. Why can't you see THAT "obvious truth"?

Robert Moir
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Oh, please, that's preposterous. Surely you're not suggesting that WordPad and Paint are viable replacements for Word and Photoshop. That's almost as stupid as suggesting that owning the OS is irrelevant when marketing a browser.

pb
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

>> And what about internal development, which had acess to all OS API's and early betas before anybody else? <<

What OS APIs?  My guess is that the number of OS APIs depended on by Netscape (or any other cross platform app) is minimal.  Most of these APIs were probably available in the first few versions of Windows long before any concept of the Internet or web browsers were on Microsoft's mind.  The OS API argument isn't new and is one of the silliest you can make.  Even if Microsoft did implement features for IE as OS APIs, what difference does this make versus them just implementing the features directly in IE?  They had to implement the stuff in the first place in either case.  It's not as if Netscape would suddenly switch over to WinInet if Microsoft gave them the headers and libs early.

The argument about shipping IE with the OS is also somewhat pointless given that IE started gaining in market share BEFORE Microsoft started shipping it with the OS.  Windows 95 and Windows NT 4 shipped without IE (possibily even before IE existed?).  People had to make the decision to install and use Netscape, IE, or something else and most eventually picked IE. 

SomeBody
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

FullNameRequired,

From my point of view, Netscape 4 for the Mac was superior to any IE Mac version until v.5.0 came out. Since then, I have used IE exclusively on my Mac.

One of the things that bothered me about the earlier version of IE on Windows is that the History panel did not have scrollbars... they just had a top and bottom arrow (like in Outlook). Yet, their mac version at the time did have a normal scrollbar.

Avrom Finkelstein
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"Oh, please, that's preposterous. Surely you're not suggesting that WordPad and Paint are viable replacements for Word and Photoshop. That's almost as stupid as suggesting that owning the OS is irrelevant when marketing a browser. "

*whoosh*

You've made my whole point without realising that you have.

Wordpad and Paint are obviously *not* viable replacements for Word and Photoshop. Yet they (wordpad and paint) are bundled with the operating system.

Therefore, in my opinion, going on about bundling being what "won" it for MS is obviously incorrect. If bundling with windows was all it took then wordpad and paint *would* be viable replacements for word and photoshop because wordpad and paint are whats bundled.

Think I've picked a poor example because Wordpad is obviously miles apart from Word?

Ok, how about Windows Media Player? How come people still download stuff like WinAMP and RealPlayer? It seems bundling isn't enough to make WMP the winner here.

Or Winzip. People still download that when there is support for zip files in Win XP.

I hope I've spelt it out enough for you now. Bundling is a red herring.

Robert Moir
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"From my point of view, Netscape 4 for the Mac was superior to any IE Mac version until v.5.0 came out. Since then, I have used IE exclusively on my Mac."

I totally agree, I used netscape 4 until IE 5 came out as well :)

..I really was not clear on that...

FullNameRequired
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The "NEVER REWRITE" mantra doesn't quite apply to Netscape because

a) Netscape 4 WAS (and IS) horribly rotten to the core
b) Web Browsers are a free product.

Netscape Co. would never have survived on revenue from Navigator in any case.  Losing marketshare to IE was regretable, but it was a hopeless cause.  Everyone was going to have IE since it was bundled with the system.  IE development would continue to be funded because it was subsidized by Windows/Office revenue.

I think the rewrite made a lot of sense.  Better to bite the bullet now and modernize your technology.  Later, IE will be the old, crufty, difficult to maintain browser and Mozilla will be the  modern one.  IE development has slowed down to next to nothing already.

Now, if they had focused on Browser instead of Suite from the beginning, they would be a lot further along.

Richard Ponton
Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I started with Netscape 2, then upgraded to Netscape 3, and then shifted to IE3 because it came with the CD the bank gave me for using its free ISP (a real example of unfair competition).

I upgraded to IE4, but shifted to Netscape 4 because I thought it was better.

What won me over to IE was version 5 beta. I stayed with that until Netscape 7.0 came along, which is just so much better than IE6 it's amazing.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, August 07, 2003

On the WinInet topic.  WinInet was one of the biggest pieces of crap MS has every put out.  To this day it is possible to hang WinInet with malformed HTTP headers.  It was so bad that I went the route of writting my own HTTP parser for a product a few years ago. 

But I do think Netscape did loose the battle fair and square on technical merit, but truth be told, netscape as company would be doomed anyway.  And I think they pretty much just gave up.  Their plan was to make money on the server.  Good plan.  But their server software never took off.  They should have concentrated on developing an application server like BEA.  Same with Sun.  But I digress.

Oddly enough following the official demise of Netscape, they have finally put out the best web browser to date in Firebird, which I am using right now.  No more pop-ups and No proxy!  Yahoo!  Or is that google now.  : )

christopher baus
Friday, August 22, 2003

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