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Rewriting from Scratch...

One of the biggest mistakes of the Netscape/Mozilla team has been to re-write from scratch. Joel has, long back, posted on how fatal it was for Netscape/Mozilla....

...However, take a look at their products now, Mozilla/Firefox, Thunderbird etc.. dont you feel they've done a good job and have most of what it takes to get back to the top spot again ?
Most of what it takes, because it still doesnt get shipped with Windows XP :-) ?

Not a bad idea after all..
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Does it really matter if they did a good job?

Because they lost so much momentum, that it will, at best, take years to recover if it - and they may well never do.

S. Tanna
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I think Mozilla/Firefox may be in a slightly different position as MS essentially froze the IE codebase for... what, two years?

The point of that article was that if you trash all the code and start over, you're letting your competition get far beyond you.  This is not the scenario in the browser world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Of course, the new incarnations have little in common with their ancestor, whether it be UI, source model, or the people working on it.

And Netscape?  Now they're pushing their name as a new 'NetZero', when it's just AOLLite.

The rewrite proved fatal to the company.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

KC got it right.  Microsoft believed they had won the browser wars, and ceased development on IE in 2001.  Firefox is achieving traction because their biggest competitor (Microsoft) dropped the ball.  If Mozilla had to face a competent adversary they would never have recovered, because they'd always be *behind* on features, not ahead.

The Mozilla project is a good example of the reason Microsoft (and other commercial software developers) fear the open-source development model: products never truly die, and they may crawl back from the grave at any time, dust off the bits of earth and worms that clung to them, and say "I'm feeling much better now!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

One thing not mentioned in all this new browser talk might be fairly rare (I hope), but if not rare it would be important.

Where I work, the only browser choice is Microsoft.  Why?  Because as far as I can tell, nothing else works with Microsoft's proprietary web proxy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Oren, congrats for the best description of open source software ever!

This is a goof thing IMO. It's very nice (as a programmer) to not fear if someone will drop a new product or not in the future. I can just store the source in my hard disk, and can recompile/add stuff to it in the future if needed.

The bad thing about open souce: it forces new products to be open source too. Apple OS X would not be released as fast if they coulnd't use BSD's core (IIRC), which has a license that allows for commercial use and development of new products.

Mauricio Macedo
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

what proprietary web proxy? AFAIK, an ISA server is a normal HTTP proxy.
autoconfiguration on the other hand may not be supported by other programs. all it is some way of automaticaly getting the URL of the proxy auto-config file, which in turn is a format created by Netscape. figure that URL out and use it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

There is a proxy server from Microsoft called, I believe, "Microsoft Proxy Server". It used to cost $1k, and the last time I saw it was about 5 years ago.

Besides, who uses non-transparent proxies anymore, with NAT technology so widespread?

Brad Wilson (
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

mb, I'm not very knowledgable about the proxy, but I have two words I think apply: NT Authentication.


Brad, you're final question is super sensible.  I could answer for at least one "who", but I don't know who else. Is this a widespread disease I wonder?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

> Brad

There are still tons of people that proxy out going HTTP in a non-transparent way.  This allows corporate cacheing and policing of HTTP. 

Proxies such as squid can run transparent, but I would guess that is the exception and not the rule. 

christopher (
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The from-scratch rewrite is an arguable point because they made another big strategic mistake:  they didn't release an interim browser.

Netscape developers have always had a fascination with building a platform instead of a browser.  Gecko, the core HTML rendering component the Mozilla suite, was basically ready two years before they released a viable successor for Communicator 4.7.  If they'd released a simple, stable, fast browser then, when they still had a 20-30% marketshare, they could have hung on at that level until something of the quality of Mozilla 1.2 was ready (which was superior to 4.7, and from which they could have built to their current quality).  They could have arrested their freefall then and be in a much better place now, even with the rewrite-from-scratch.

Of course, if they'd done that, MS might not have frozen IE development, and might be a much better browser.

Justin Johnson
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

>"There are still tons of people that proxy out going HTTP in a non-transparent way.  This allows corporate cacheing and policing of HTTP."

But that can still be done with a transparent proxy.  Where I work they filter web access to certain sites, but the browser doesn't know it's going through a proxy.

T. Norman
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

And about rewriting from scratch ...
Netscape 4.x was such a slow and unstable piece of crap that it is quite likely their only option was to rewrite from scratch.

There is a difference between rewriting something that works well and rewriting a piece of junk.  With the latter there isn't much to lose.

T. Norman
Wednesday, July 21, 2004

As a note, Mozilla didn't support NTLM for years, and as a result many corporate setups were forced to dismiss the browser as an option.

This is no longer the case - NTLM *finally* works, but not all corporate policy makers are aware of this.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Rewriting from scratch while continuing the existing product line is a viable strategy (witness NT and it's progeny) but it takes a hell of a lot of resources to pull off well.

Mr Jack
Thursday, July 22, 2004

MS Proxy Server was just a normal HTTP proxy server. To use it with other browser software you had to set the proxy server & port in that browser's software. It's not really fair to say MS forced users on to IE because of their proxy software. Also remember the vast majority of users do not access the internet through any MS proxy at all.

It was replaced by ISA Server which is similarly compatible with any browser which supports HTTP proxies.

James U-S
Thursday, July 22, 2004

Maybe that's true when you specifically configure ISA to allow other browsers and work as a standard web proxy.  If you don't, it doesn't.

Remember this discussion is from the point of view of the people subject ot it, not the people configuring it.  It's not about "can", it's about the effect if IT people "dont".

Philbian, do you know to turn on integrated authentication in Mozilla, or better yet, Firefox.  It doesn't seem to work, and I see no option.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Louie, what are you talking about about the ISA proxy? It has three mechanisms I know of, though I'm far from an ISA expert.

1) Transparent proxy. You never know it's there. May require additional server/network setup.
2) Client side proxy software. Traps winsock. Other apps never know it's there.
3) Normal HTTP proxy.

I don't think IE supports anything *other* than a normal HTTP proxy and some support for SOCKS proxies (which predate HTTP and transparent proxies, and probably are no longer in use anywhere.)

Please provide evidence otherwise.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Note: There may be integrated windows authentication issues, however.

Friday, July 23, 2004

I used to admin a network running ISA Server. We had done nothing strange to the server setup, and people were able to use it with Netscape 4.x with no issues at the time. It also worked fine on the mac that we had in the company.

James U-S
Friday, July 23, 2004

MS Proxy 2.0 is initially installed with only MS authentication (NTLM) turned on.  The web browser has to send a domain name, user name, and a password which is very different (and proprietary) than the standard http://username:password@proxyname.  Microsoft also has a warning that can scare an administrator from turning off this standard and using the normal standard.

Unless you can ask you administrator to turn off this 'feature' you can only use Microsoft products that support the NTLM standard.  I believe that companies can pay $$ to use the standard but a free application like Firefox will just ignore it.  Real player can use NTLM but not successfully everywhere.  For example, I can watch videos but I cannot download updates through the application.  I have to download the full installer from  The same goes for Quicktime.

Jeff Rasmussen
Friday, July 30, 2004

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