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  April 24, 2018

O'Reilly Network Weekly
Open Source Roundtable
Sponsored by IBM developerWorks

Where's that Lizard! - Transcript

You can also listen to this interview.

Dave Sims: Mozilla is the open source project that grew out of Netscape to develop a standards-compliant browser and has develop into a little more. Last week the Web standards project posted an open letter to Mozilla developers, criticizing the project's delay and accusing it of ceding the browser market to Microsoft. Mozilla advocates have responded strongly on the Web to the accusations and they have gone to lengths to point out all the things that have been accomplished. Tim, can we start with you? Can you tell us why the Web standards group published the open letter and summarize what it said?

Tim Bray: Well, the Web standards project tries to represent the interests of the people who build stuff on the Web. And our basic mission in life is to berate the browser vendors when they do standards supporting things and -- I'm sorry, berate them when they don't do standards supporting things -- and praise them when they do standards supporting things, and I think if you look at the history we have both berated and praised any particular browser vendor you may care to name.

Right at the moment, the biggest problem in the browser space is that there's only one out there in the minds of a distressing number of people. We profoundly believe that the most important thing that the Internet needs is to move towards a more standards-based approach to doing business. And I'm just not sure, we're just -- we just don't see how that's going to happen if there's only one browser out there. And you just hear a distressing number of people saying, "Oh we're just designing for IE."

Now we have been supportive in the past of the Mozilla project and I think we still are, but no matter how wonderful it is, its absence is part of the big standards problem right now on the Web. We don't have a deep, deep understanding of all the internal dynamics of the Mozilla project, and I personally don't fully understand the reasons for all the delay in the arrival. But it's just a huge, glaring fact staring us all in the face that that delay is a big, big, big problem.

Sims: David, you've been close to the development team. Maybe you could tell us a little about that. It does look to people on the outside that the project started out to develop a browser and that interesting things have been happening within, but there's still no browser.

David Boswell: Absolutely, I agree. I certainly understand and you did mention earlier, Tim, that you don't have a clear understanding of what actually is going on internally with Mozilla, and I think that confusion is pretty much the base for where the WaSP [Web Standards Project] criticism, the criticism that recently was published in the Suck.com article and pretty much all the criticism that you see around the Net lately comes from this confusion.

Mozilla is not Netscape, and so it's often you see people refer to Mozilla and to Netscape interchangeably, and I think that pretty much leads to more confusion by confusing the issue. Basically, there's two different kinds of Mozilla developers. There's either a Netscape developer or a non-Netscape developer. All the Netscape developers are solely focused on releasing Netscape 6. All the non-Netscape developers for Mozilla have other agendas, and for instance in the Suck.com article it pretty much said Mozilla is dead largely because it's bloated and it's lost its focus. Just to pick one thing -- for instance, it said, "Trying to add XSL support to Mozilla is one of the reasons why -- or one of the explanations why -- Mozilla has lost its focus." But this is something that's being done by an outside developer not employed by Netscape, and just because XSL might not be working right now, that's not going to delay the shipment of Netscape 6 in anyway whatsoever, because Netscape has the ability to take what it wants from the Mozilla code base and use it for what it wants to do.

Sims: Tim, I remember when Mozilla was first announced in the Web Standards Project -- if it was called that then, I'm not sure -- but I was specifically talking to Glenn Davis about the excitement. It was that if they could get a browser out there that was standards compliant, Web developers would embrace it and they would sort of drive the engine there and even though IE's market share might be growing, the developers' building to a standards-compliant browser would really push the agenda and get people to design to that and also get people use it. Has that opportunity been lost?

Bray: Oh, I don't think so. I think that -- and let's be fair. At the moment of all the shipping browser that are actually shipping and deployable, Internet Explorer is the most standards compliant. So we've got to be fair to those guys. Having said that, I think that the battle is certainly not lost. I think that assuming that in the not too distant future Netscape 6 is robust and deployable and high performance comes out, and in particular if Netscape's parent organization -- let's not forget who they are -- get behind it a little bit, we have a very good prospect of getting back into a two-browser Web, and I think a two browser Web is a better place than where we are now.

Sims: Um, David and also Derrick a little bit on this, part of the confusion in these articles has been not understanding what else has been going on in the project and the reasons for that, and sort of the inability to separate that from the browser. Can one or both of you illuminate a little some of the other development that's going on and how it ties with the browser and the things that don't tie with the browser?

Boswell: Absolutely. What I had talked about earlier about the division between really who are the Mozilla developers, it's key to figure out who's driving what. One of the common complaints you often see is that people are concerned that Mozilla seems to be turning itself into a platform. You often see, "I just want a browser I don't want a platform."

Sims: That's the part we thought was most exciting.

Boswell: Again, most of the developers are solely focused on releasing Netscape 6 and it seems to be largely the outside Mozilla developers, the non-Netscape developers, who are driving this whole platform concept. For instance Active State, with their Komoda interface Zope with their Zope Studio are really using the new Netscape technologies in a new way, that Netscape or the Mozilla organization never really intended them to be in the first place.

Dave: Well, if the projects are somewhat separated, why is it that the browser project has on its own taken two years?

Boswell: It's taken two years because that's simply how long it has taken. I don't think the arguments about "all these other things are getting in the way and are delaying it" are very valid. To take Zope for a example, just because Zope as an outside developer is using Mozilla technologies in a new way. It's really not delaying the Netscape shipment in any way.

Derrick Story: To talk about Netscape specifically for a second. David, what is the price for having a multi-platform browser as opposed to a browser that is designed specifically for each of the different platforms. Is that a high price? And then also, to be standards based, to have XML and the DOM actually integrated into the browser. Are we seeing those things as part of the delay?

Boswell: It's funny, one of the things that originally was started to be the biggest timesaver has turned out to be the least in terms of from the outside what attracts the most criticism is being the biggest delay. And that is XUL, the XML base user interface language. Originally that was started to cut time dramatically for creating front ends for Mozilla and/or Netscape on different platforms. The way 4.x and all previous browsers -- all previous Netscape browsers -- were created is the front ends were created specifically with platform-specific code, so if you have Netscape that runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows, you'd have three different development teams writing pretty much the same interface using three different languages.

So XUL is a way to do this where you created one user interface that was used on any number of different platforms. So it did start out to be a labor-saving device and that is what it's turned out to be. Although I don't think I'd say the best way. Mike Cornall, when he wrote a piece on Linux Today had a really good quote that I wanted to mention, and he basically is saying that application platform capabilities that people are mentioning came out of a lucky coincidence of open source development, good design, and far-sighted developers. And again, Netscape never set to create a platform. They set out to create a browser. It's the outside developers that are kind of turning this into something else that wasn't envisioned originally.

Dave: Let me ask a question to Tim about that actually. Tim, your open letter is addressed to Netscape actually, and the people who have responded strongly is sort of the Mozilla team as a group. Do you consciously not make a distinction between Netscape and Mozilla?

Tim: I think that it's possible that that's a symptom of our -- of the world's poor education of the dynamics, the internal dynamics that David has been describing. On the other hand, based on what he said, it sounds like we addressed it to the right people.

Dave: Hmm, given the response.

Tim: No, no, I mean from what I've been hearing hear it sounds like that if pressure needs to be applied, it specifically needs to be applied to the Netscape side of the host.

Boswell: I don't necessarily agree with that, because I believe my argument is that Netscape has not been delaying the project with all these external projects and that Netscape, specifically Netscape 6, is not bloated.

Bray: Well, you'll notice that we haven't specifically been complaining about the external projects. We are specifically saying, "Look, we really need there to be another standards-compliant browser out there," and I don't think we're trying to micromanage how Netscape or Mozilla or the combination should go about making this happen. We're just pointing out that the market is already suffering, and that there is further grave danger apparent if this doesn't happen soon.

Sims:: And to wrap this up, let me ask that question, David, the question that's always asked. When can we expect a user-level standards-compliant browser out of the project?

Boswell: Well, again Mozilla is not Netscape, so I can address this two ways. Netscape has publicly stated that they are going to release Netscape 6 by the end of the year. It's August already, so we really only have, at most, two or three months to wait. You can argue that that's soon enough or not soon enough, I guess that's very subjective. Mozilla on the other hand, has a different agenda. I'm not intimately familiar with what their plans are but I know that they are going to release a 1.0 when they feel like it's ready, and it's not necessarily going to be before or after Netscape's release. It'll be when it's ready.

Dave: All right, well, thank you both. I thank you all three of you for joining me. Tim Bray, thank you. David Boswell. Derrick Story. That's this week's O'Reilly Network Open Source Roundtable. Thanks for listening.

Return to the Main Roundtable Page.

Previously in the Open Source Roundtable:

What will be in Perl 6?
At O'Reilly's Open Source Conference in Monterey earlier this month, Perl creator Larry Wall announced the start of work on Perl 6. This week, O'Reilly Network Publisher Dale Dougherty talks with Perl.com managing editor Mark-Jason Dominus and Perl Mongers director brian d foy about the announcement, its meaning, and the reaction of the Perl community. 07/28/2000

Is Carnivore Eating You?
The FBI wants to install black boxes at ISPs to monitor email traffic of suspects. What are civil libertarians doing to try to stop it? 07/19/2000

Napster Rides Again
Fresh from his victory at the Microsoft antitrust trial, attorney David Boies has ridden to the defense of embattled Napster, saying its users are not breaking the law. Is the song-swapping service a model for a new breed of Net application? A roundtable discussion with News.com's John Borland and Steve Pizzo of Forbes ASAP. 07/14/2000

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