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How the browser competition REALLY happened

Folks, I agree that IE was (momentarily) better than Netscape.

In fact, read my original posting. I called it "decent". It didn't crash as much, and was overall a bit better than Netscape. At that time, I used both.

In a normal, non-monopoly, market, here's what would have happened:

A-1: Microsoft enters the market with a superior product, charging $20/user for commercial use (Netscape charges a similar amount). They provide this browser on a couple of non-Windows platforms. It's not tied to Windows, in the sense that one can install any browser they like and achieve similar OS integration (because the OS-browser APIs are public).

A-2: Users migrate to Microsoft's better option. Netscape sees this market signal, and is incented (by money) to improve their browser. They do.

A-3: Users migrate back to Netscape's better option. Microsoft sees this market signal, and is incented (by money) to improve their browser. They do.

A-4: GOTO A-2.

Here's what actually happened in the world we actually live in:

B-1: Microsoft entered the browser market, intending to kill Netscape (which they correctly viewed as part of a long-term threat to their platform monopoly). They wrote a good browser, AND BUNDLED IT WITH THE MONOPOLY PLATFORM THAT EVERYBODY GETS. They tied it tightly to the platform in ways that made it difficult for Netscape to even deliver their product. They did not publicize the APIs that made this possible. They used their monopoly power to prevent many of the PC OEMs that wanted to deliver Netscape from doing so.

B-2: Netscape had no incentive to improve their product, since the price-per-user even in the commercial market was now ZERO. They got bought by people who had interests which were mostly not-in-common with the end-users' (AOL). End of browser competition.

B-3: Internet Explorer hasn't been improved sense. The only innovation in browsers has come from the fragmented user-hostile OSS world.

YAY MICROSOFT.

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Did anybody ever actually pay for Netscape?

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Bundling is held up as the Netscape killer but I bet very few people changed to IE just because they got a new computer or operating system upgrade. We all changed to IE4 because Netscape 4 crashed so often.

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Yawn.

Mark Hoffman
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Now, change operating system supplier to automobile manufacturer, and browser to tire.

God damn it! Those pesky car companies are bundling tires, or CD players, or something. How dare they?

Robert Smithson
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Netscape had no incentive to improve their product"

Wow. Someone should have told Netscape that:
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000069.html

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Philo,

Netscape was adding stuff mainly at AOL's behest at that time, and it was only tangentially related to the desires of the consumer. I mentioned that implicitly in my opening post.

Please try to not be such of a tool.

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Matthew:

Many, many, many corporations were paying for Netscape client licenses at the time Microsoft started bundling IE with Windows.

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Please try to not be such of a tool."

Self:

Please for to be trying to check grammar before Post Message hitting.

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Robert:

The automakers (mostly) make it a simple matter of design/engineering to sell replacement parts. If I want to put a better stereo in my car, it's easy for the guy who's installing it (or myself) to do so. This is an analogue to a public, stable, API for integration, which Microsoft has never provided in any of the cases which ended up getting them into trouble.

Seriously, people. Do you think 100% of the folks who were involved in the antitrust suits are simply jealous idiots?

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Do you think 100% of the folks who were involved in the antitrust suits are simply jealous idiots?"

Greedy, maybe. MS has $50B in the bank -- who wouldn't want a chunk of that?

"The automakers (mostly) make it a simple matter of design/engineering to sell replacement parts."

But not out of some altruistic feelings -- it's simply a matter of practicality. An automaker can't manufacture everything they use from scratch so it would kill them financially to require custom "upgradeable" parts. They *have* to work with other manufacturers (radios, electronics, etc.) so out of convenience they’ve tried to adopt standard plugs, etc. Of course, you can’t simply walk into a Best Buy and buy a new car radio without first checking to see if it will mate with your make/model/year of car.

But still -- Windows and IE are MICROSOFT products. Why do they have to "open" their products to competitors? Sure, it makes good sense to publish an API so people can write products for your operating system but why is it illegal not to do so?

Captain McFly
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

So he makes his point more clear, which is good. He ends his message by making jabs at the open source web browsers.

What do you find user-hostile about Mozilla? FireFox? Konqueror? They are fragmented how?

An example of a fragmented, user-hostile open source project would be one of the many SourceForge projects created by amateurs. Possibly in the form of a half-finished online game or yet another implentation of something that's been done for ten years.

Mozilla, on the other hand, is backed by the Mozilla Foundation, which is chaired by Mitch Kapor. They have procedures for contributing code. They have a massive bug database. They have quality developers.

Oh, and they also have a fantastic, free, open source product.

Fred
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Netscape was adding stuff mainly at AOL's behest at that time"

Cite?

Netscape 4.0 was released in June '97. They then went off to rewrite from scratch while IE was eating their lunch because NS4 crashed and couldn't reflow text. IMHO a 4.1 release could've been done by mid-98 that fixed the bugs and allowed resizing the browser window; then the race might've been on again. But we'll never know because they spent years rewriting their codebase from scratch.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Fred:

By 'user-hostile', I mean that I'd have a hard time sticking Mozilla on Aunt Millie's desktop, even today (although it continues to improve). GUI configuration and help come to mind. (Once properly configured, Mozilla is far superior to IE, but getting there is still hard for a novice user).

Not that the developers don't want to serve the end-user; but that due to the peculiar mechanics of the OSS 'market', they often have a strange view of who the end-user IS.

(I use Eclipse every day, I use Mozilla, this is not a statement stemming from ignorance).

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Philo:

http://www.fact-index.com/n/ne/netscape_navigator.html

A mixed bag for both of us, but it directly contradicts some of the assumptions thrown around by Joel and others. For instance, the "massive development effort" below has vanished after Netscape went away (as Joel noted in his current article).

"The early versions of Internet Explorer (IE) were clearly inferior to Navigator, but a massive development effort led to rapid improvement. IE version 3.0 (1996) was a usable substitute, and IE 5.0 (1998) was very large and bloated by the standards of the day but superior in almost all respects. Neither browser, though, adhered to the W3C's HTML and CSS standards, causing compatability problems which still have an impact today.

Meanwhile, Netscape's own browser development stagnated. Distracted by commercial considerations, Netscape's coders made only minor changes to Navigator, and worked away on the Netscape Communicator project - a major re-write of Navigator that added email and HTML composition modules.

Although it was being starved of revenue, the Netscape company was eventually able to sell itself to giant media conglomerate AOL. The purchase price was AOL stock valued at $4.2 billion at the deal announcement in November 1998.

When Communicator was eventually released, the new features were largely ignored by users, but the size increase and speed reduction were noted. More and more people switched to IE - which was no smaller but was at least more stable in 5.0 form, and faster in two different senses: much of the program load time was disguised by having Windows pre-load Explorer code at system boot time; and IE's page rendering engine was better at drawing complex pages (especially those composed of nested HTML tables)."

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Seriously, people. Do you think 100% of the folks who were involved in the antitrust suits are simply jealous idiots?"

Of course not. And Microsoft has behaved very badly at times, and done so in an anti-competitive manner - however DR-DOS vs. MS-DOS is a much, much better example of this than IE vs. Netscape.

Sure, Microsofts bundling may have had an effect, but it was a small one compared to the effect of having a better product. Bundling is simply not that effective: witness MSN and MediaPlayer.

Mr Jack
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

> Did anybody ever actually pay for Netscape?

Yes, for a very brief period, only few months. My sister-in-law paid $50 for a copy of version 3.0. We had 2.0 for free and 3.0 was not a real improvement, just repackaged for sale. Why pay for a phoney upgrade unless you didn't know any better? Within a very short time MS started giving away IE and the game was up.

old_timer
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Mr Jack:

Even if they were meaner to DR-DOS, it's hard to see how that had much impact on the future of the Windows monopoly.

On the other hand, killing Netscape and wounding Sun through their not-quite-compatible-JVM-shenanigans put off for at least a decade any viable challenge to MS' platform monopoly.

Remember: A good browser + good java (ie both companies working on innovation rather than having to struggle to stay alive against a monopolistic competitor pulling dirty tricks) might have been a decent competitor to the Windows fat client.

Now, all we can do is wonder what might have been.

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

>behaved very badly at times

You make it sound like MS snuck an extra cookie.
They have destroyed lives and dreams.

>Sure, Microsofts bundling may have had an effect,
>but it was a small one compared to the effect
>of having a better product. Bundling is simply
>not that effective: witness MSN and MediaPlayer.

Not comparible. The browser is used all the time and
is a fundamental interface. I don't really care about
or use MSN or MediaPlayer.

son of parnas
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MD:

Why is it hard to stick Mozilla on your Aunt's desktop?

Is it because Windows is hostile to other browsers?

I find that FireFox works pretty well as the default browser with XP. I rarely see an app to open IE instead. I don't think my bookmarks show up in the Windows favorites folders, but that's okay for me.

Fred
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Did anybody ever actually pay for Netscape?"

AOL paid a LOT for Netscape. And Time Warner paid a LOT for AOL. Who's the bigger fool here?

Marc Andressan  (sp?) was probably laughing all the way to the bank.

Mr. Analogy
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Yeah, but the toenail picture of Marc on the cover of Time makes up for all of it.

Fred
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Fred:

Mozilla's help and configuration are not good. Changes to these areas to make them less hostile to end-users are unlikely when the primary forces driving their development are open-source programmers and hobbyists.

(Yes, I get the irony that they're only about as bad as they were when Netscape wrote them - the point is that had MS not "cut off their air supply" but simply competed on their own merits, the competition from IE would have led Netscape to improve these areas).

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Many, many, many corporations were paying for Netscape client licenses at the time Microsoft started bundling IE with Windows. "

seems to me you are living in a parallell universe, but I'll have to give you the benefit of the doubt. Do you have any Netscape financial statements that back this up?

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MD, saying untrue things multiple times doesn't make them so.

Mr Jack
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

http://aroundcny.com/technofile/texts/bit020198.html

Addresses the "nobody ever paid for Netscape" canard.

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Microsoft%20antitrust%20case

"During the case it was revealed that Microsoft had threatened PC manufacturers with revoking their license to distribute Windows if they continued to ship their PC's with Netscape software preinstalled."

http://www.internet-encyclopedia.org/wiki.php?title=Netscape_Navigator

"Starved of revenue, the Netscape company was eventually sold to giant media conglomerate AOL"

Note: STARVED OF REVENUE.

http://explanation-guide.info/meaning/Browser-wars.html

"Microsoft had two strong advantages in the browser wars. One was simply an issue of resources: Netscape began with near-90% market share and a good deal of public goodwill, but as a relatively small company deriving the great bulk of its income from what was essentially a single product (Navigator and its derivatives), it was financially vulnerable. Netscape's total revenue never exceeded the interest income generated by Microsoft's cash on hand.

The other, more important, advantage was that Microsoft Windows had a monopoly in the operating system marketplace and could be used to leverage IE to a dominant position. IE was bundled with every copy of Windows; therefore, even though early versions of IE were markedly inferior to Netscape's browser, Microsoft was still able to grow its market share. And IE remained free while the enormous revenues from Windows were used to fund its development and marketing, resulting in rapid improvements until it was so similar to Netscape that users had no desire to download and install Netscape. "

http://lists.xml.org/archives/xml-dev/200211/msg01118.html

"Netscape definitely did sell Navigator in boxes you could get at
CompUSA, but there was always a way around, usually through evaluation
copies.  I think most of the people who actually paid for it were
probably looking to get on the Internet, period."

MD
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MD,

I see no finacial statement in any of those saying: icome generated trough software sales: Navigator: x$.

Not good enough. Nobody (Please understand that I'm talking about large trends here, and therefore when I say things like "nobody" I really mean "fewer than 10,000,000 people," and so on and so forth.) bought Netscape Navigator.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MD:

I just compared the options and help in both IE and FireFox 0.9.

Take a look for yourself. The IE options dialog is crammed with options that no user will ever touch. The FireFox dialog is simple and clean.

The help for FireFox and IE is basically the same. The organization of topics seems a little more logical in IE. Both have pretty clear explanations of how to do things.

I think the security issues and standards bugs in IE far outweigh any of the minor differences between configuration and help.

Fred
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A quite good thesis in French on how the software industry works, and its idiosyncracies as compared to other sectors of the economy :

L'économie du logiciel - Thèse de François Horn - 18 décembre 2000
www.univ-lille1.fr/bustl-grisemine/pdf/extheses/50374-2000-23-24.pdf

Fred
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

How did Netscape "help" itself.

Q: "How will you compete with Microsoft and IE?"

Andreesen: "We don't compete with Microsoft. Our main competition is Lotus Notes. We are focusing on providing all of Lotus Notes functionality on our standards-based servers. I hate Lotus Notes, those guys wrote their own floating point library........ Our servers will provide every thing they do and more at less cost and with open standards.  Microsoft is of no concern to Netscape"

He was spouting this for quite a while yet so few remember.

fool for python
Thursday, June 17, 2004

"Just Me":

'Please understand that I'm talking about large trends here, and therefore when I say things like "nobody" I really mean "fewer than 10,000,000 people,"'

That's an unreasonable moving of the goalposts, considering that at the time Netscape charged for browsers, there may in fact not even have been even 25,000,000 true internet end-users.

MD
Thursday, June 17, 2004

That was just a tongue in cheek reference to Joel's post. I meant that yes, there might have been the occasional sale of a Navigator box, but nothing significant.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, June 17, 2004

With the recent days, I would say I favor Mozilla Firefox more than any other browser. Good bye Microsoft. I am moving my office of 100 users to Firefox.

Shawn Henderson
Tuesday, July 06, 2004

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