Savage Thoughts -- Web Browser Wars

By Leo Savage

This is something of a departure for me. Usually I try to stick to universal timeless issues like crime or beer. Lots and lots of folk talk about the topical issues of the day, and that's all well and good. But as for me, I try to make my essays timeless.

Disirregardless (a wonderful word I learned recently, for people who think "irregardless" is a meaningful word), I feel compelled to speak out on the current "browser war" between Microsoft and Netscape.

I know what's really going on. Each company is attempting to establish itself as the one who sets the standards. This implies a few things:

This explains quite a lot of what's going on now in the browser wars. You keep hearing wonderful things about Java, Shockwave, VRML, and who knows what all that "is going to define the future of web browsing." Is it really? Well, someday, maybe, but not anything like as soon as anyone would have you believe.

Let's take Java as an example, just because it's gotten the most press. What does it really mean to the user? It actually has some advantages as the Web technology of the future -- at least it doesn't require everyone to have 128k baud or better connections in order to work. While I really do believe that someday we'll all have the bandwidth at our beck and call to make use of Internet picture phones and suchlike technologies, things that require that kind of throughput are several years off. Meanwhile most users have connections that run at 28.8k baud or less.

Anyway, back to Java. Let's see, sounds nice, has lots of potential. There are a couple of problems, though. One is that only a very few platforms support it yet. You can't use Java applets on a Mac or on a Windows 3.1 system, which means it's irrelevant to 90+% of all Internet users. That's a pretty big drawback, no matter how you look at it. Here's another: Given this wonderful, flexible technology, what do you do with it? To date I haven't seen anyone do anything more exciting than a stock ticker. Maybe you think that's exciting; I don't. Especially not since the same thing can be done with "server push" -- a pre-existing technology.

When you really look at the latest generation of "neat stuff" for the World Wide Web, it all looks pretty irrelevant. At least, after the first couple of weeks. Lots of people think that the flash and glitter is what counts (which is why you keep finding web sites that take so long to load). But let's get real for a moment. What really counts is content.

For a week, or maybe two, a new user of the Internet (or more properly the World Wide Web) will be impressed by all the pretty graphics. After that, if he/she still uses the web at all it's because of the content. Let's face it. It doesn't matter how nicely you say it if you don't have anything to say.

So how does this relate to the "browser wars"?

Mostly that their agenda is irrelevant to what people really want to do. Never mind that Bill Gates recently discovered dynamic documents and thinks they are a wonderful new invention (even though they've been around for a long time). Never mind all the hype about Java, Shockwave, Wonderfulnewthing, or whatever gets touted next week as the latest and greatest. Do you get really upset at the thought that your encyclopaedia won't jump up and dance around the room doing an Irish jig? Most (virtually all) documents that now exist are static documents. They don't involve 3-D rendering, they aren't wonderfully interactive, they aren't animated. Wouldn't you like to have them available to you anyway?

Suppose that all of the records of all of the government agencies that are supposed to be public record were available to you without going down to the County Clerk's office and making a hairy nuisance of yourself. Suppose that all of the reports issued by all of the government agencies that you are supposed to have available to you for the asking were only a few mouse clicks away. Suppose you didn't have to write off to Pueblo, Colorado and wait for a response; you could just post the question and get an answer.

That is the real future and power of the web. It isn't sexy, it isn't glitzy, but it is empowering. It is the power of knowledge. There is no greater.

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