Netscape Navigator 6.0 to Fail Standards
Compliance: An Update
by David Flanagan
I've been shocked by the number of responses to
my article and
to the Netscape product development team. I've also been very
pleased by the quality and thoughtfulness of most of the responses. Recently,
however, many of the reponses sound more like flames or rants.
Before things get out of hand, I'd like to take this opportunity to
summarize reader response so far, and to clarify and restate my
Repeated themes that emerge from the responses include:
- The browser wars are over. There is no longer a race to release new
versions, so Netscape should not worry about slowing down and getting
this release right.
- We've already waited this long for a new browser from Netscape and
we're willing to continue waiting a bit longer.
- Netscape is on the right track; they've got a good product, but please
make 6 a great product!
- This is Netscape's last chance to get it right.
Many of the responses expressed a lot of anger, which surprised me. I've
obviously touched a raw nerve. I wrote my article from the theoretical
perspective of someone who only does enough Web development to write books
about it. Readers who live and breathe Web development wrote from their
in-the-trenches perspective, and many of them are angry, frustrated, and
dismayed. This is obviously not a representative sample since most readers
who disagreed with me did not choose to respond, but nevertheless, it would
behoove the Netscape marketing and PR folks to try to understand where this
reaction is coming from! It is worth noting, however, that a lot of the
angry comments seem to concern Navigator 4.x, and so are not really relevant
to my point about Navigator 6.0, which is based on entirely new code.
It appears that some readers have taken my article to mean that Navigator 6.0
will not comply with standards at all, or that Navigator 6.0 will be as
noncompliant as Navigator 4.x. That is not the case. Netscape and Mozilla
engineers deserve tremendous
credit for creating a browser that has very good standards compliance. In
fact, according to many who have studied it more throughly than I, Mozilla
and Netscape 6 are more standards compliant than the competition. See, for
Netscape Standards Challenge. I regret that I did not make this more
explicit and give more credit to the Mozilla and Netscape engineers in my
Allow me to restate, then, what I consider to be my main points:
- First, although Navigator 6.0 has good standards support overall, there
are several egregious known bugs, which can be easily fixed if the Netscape PDT
would allow the schedule to slip. Consider the omission of
Date.toDateString() and Date.toTimeString() ECMAScript
wrote the test cases, bothered to read the standard carefully enough to
discover that these methods needed to be implemented! That kind of sloppiness
does not say "ready for RTM" to me. Also consider the <DL> tag that
cannot be nested within a <DD> tag. These tags have been part of HTML
since the beginning. To break them now and think it is okay to simply mention
the fact in the release notes is just unacceptable.
- Netscape has not yet released a credible beta version of Navigator 6.0.
There have been three "preview releases," but in my lexicon "preview release"
is a code word for alpha release. Maybe I'm just out of touch with this, but
my personal experience with PR3 on Linux bears it out; PR3 displayed an
"Activation" screen that locked up, continuously spewed debugging statements
to my console, and then crashed after a short period of use. When it crashed,
the talkback feature was unable to successfully talk back to Netscape and
report the crash. So I gave up on PR3 and decided to wait for the beta
release, which I imagined must surely be forthcoming. If my experience is at
all typical, then PR3 may have gotten much less external "beta testing" than
These are the reasons why I believe that Netscape should rebrand the upcoming
release as a beta. Give us a good stable-enough-to-test beta release now,
distribute it widely, and let the Web developer community really bang on
it while you allow your engineers to get down to work on the bugs that they
know need to be fixed. I, and everyone who has responded to
, want Netscape and
Navigator to succeed, but we worry that it will not if left in its current
For an alternative viewpoint of these issues from inside Netscape, see
Eric Krock's essay on the trade-offs of waiting for
perfection versus getting a product to market.
There is also a
discussion of my article on slashdot.org, although much
of that discussion appears to have veered off topic to a debate about
Netscape versus Internet Explorer and open source versus Microsoft.
David Flanagan is the author of several
best-selling O'Reilly books, including
Java in a Nutshell,
Java Examples in a