MOZILLA 2002

It seems that with every week, someone releases a browser based on Mozilla. This is good. Mozilla continues to cause a discernable buzz. The question remains, is it a buzz like an annoying mosquito who won’t go away in an Internet Explorer dominated world OR is the tasty cultural buzz that precedes a technological shift?

I’m not an active user of Mozilla. On the PC I’m still mostly using IE6 and on the Mac, I’m using whatever is the most recent version of IE. In retrospect, the only significant recent annoyance I’ve had with IE is on the PC – something is screwed up with the View Source command and it appears to be caused by a corrupted cache.

Now, there are two points here. First, for being a very active user of IE, having one relatively small bug turn up in the past year is pretty good news for the IE code base. The bad news is that I’m a big fan of the View Source command, I’m lazy, and I know there are other browsers out there.

Now, when I need to snoop around HTML source, I’m firing up Mozilla to use their view source utility while also getting a feel for the new browser.

I’m currently using two flavors of Mozilla for evaluation. Mozilla 1.0 is already, apparently, out of date and Phoenix which is a bloat-free version of the browser totally written in XUL (rhymes with cool). It’s also worth noting that I’ve tinkered with Chimera which is a Cocoa-based Mozilla targeted for OS X.

From a buzz perspective, the features I’ve heard Mozilla has going for it are:

1. Support for tabbed browsing

2. Support for pop-up blocking

3. Support for anyone who doesn’t want to want to use IE.

That is paltry differentiating feature list. One might even call it pathetic, but Mozilla has been spending many years just getting a reliable, standards-based browser out the door to compete with IE. Evidence supporting this is found simply by looking at the release notes for Mozilla 1.1. Under “What’s New”, the first four bullet items are:

1. Improved application and layout performance

2. Improved stability

3. Improved Web site compatibility

4. Improved CSS, DOM, and HTML standards support

All of this work has given Mozilla and, in particular, Mozilla’s Gecko layout engine the distinction of being a “fine piece of code” and, now, all the projects based on it can now actually start throwing significant punches at IE and getting into a meaningful feature fight.

The brief feature list above demonstrates that the menagerie of teams working on Mozilla are innovating… they are creating features which address post Y2k problems like intrusive advertising (pop-up ad eaters) and messy desktops (tabbed browsing), but these are single punches. Where is the KO that is going garner significant buzz? My guess is that it’s not a feature or set of features that is going to lead to Mozilla’s success. It’s a combination of using business muscle on the dorks and zealots while eliminating transition barriers for the non-dorks while giving everyone good reasons to stay. Oh, and you need to be lucky, too. I’ll explain.

Business muscle. Believe it or not, most people in the United States are scared of their computers. These are the dorks. Sure, they love getting email from Cousin Suzy, but when you ask them if they want to switch browsers, they look nervous and quickly change the topic. There are more of these people than there are righteous Microsoft haters, so simply having a decent browser which isn’t built by Microsoft isn’t going to cut it. What will work with these people is not giving them a choice. Force it on them. No one is better at forcing technology down people’s throats than AOL and, if the rumors are true, an AOL switch to Netscape/Mozilla could instantly re-ignite the browser wars. (Read: Access to 30 million AOL subscribers)

Another ideal group of Mozilla adopters are those who are pre-disposed to being zealots. Those who will follow the mother ship in whatever direction it takes. With their contract with Microsoft gone, Apple is free to deliver whatever browser it wishes with its popular Mac OS X operating system. It’s only 5% of the market, but it sure is a noisy 5%. Tell me the last time you saw a parody of a Microsoft ad?

Business muscle, unfortunately, pays little attention to what is new and what is cool. To business muscle, the fact that Phoenix is written in XUL is just another example of “those geeks over-engineering something to death”. Still, we need business muscle to direct the mindless masses to drink the proper koolaid because more people using Mozilla means more money for the likes for AOL and Apple which, in turn, means more money to promote future development.

Our second class of browser users are those who are capable of deciding for themselves: the non-dorks. To these users, there are two essential tactics Mozilla browser makers must employ.

Elimination of barriers. Barriers are basically cost. Ask yourself, what is it going to cost me to switch browsers? Thanks to the Marc Andreesen, there is no actual cash involved in switching browsers, so the cost must be measured in how much time it’s going to take you to get running with a Mozilla-flavored browser. Let’s forget about the potential download time of a new browser over a still scarily prevalent 56k modem. Let’s talk about the first time I, the new user, fire up, say, Phoenix. All of the following questions must be answered YES if any Mozilla project is going to have a chance:

  • Does it display ALL my favorite web pages correctly?
  • Does it load ALL my favorite web pages as fast as Internet Explorer?
  • Is the user interaction model familiar? (i.e.: Can I find the reload button?)
  • EXTRA CREDIT: Do all of my bookmarks, preferences, and other personalized hoo-hah show up automagically?

This is a simple list. Browser makers are going to look at this list and say, “duh”. Then, they’re going to get really excited about a new feature and plop it smack dab in front of a new user who is going say, “Uh, this doesn’t feel like home… buh-bye.” Incidentally, this embrace and extend strategy is one Microsoft used on Netscape back when Navigator owned 75% of the market. So, hey, we know it works! (NOTE: your mileage may vary if you happen to not be a multi-billion dollar monopoly)

So, you’ve got your zealot or your non-dork regularly using your browser. That’s great news. Here’s the bad news: Microsoft has scads of money that they’re willing to pour, on a moment’s notice, into whatever project they like. This means that there is a loaded gun pointed directly at the heads of each developer of a Mozilla-based browser.

There are only two things which will prevent this gun from firing. First, you have the United States Government who may actually do something about the Microsoft monopoly. Unfortunately, even with a marginally level playing field, Microsoft still has scads of cash. This makes the second preventative measure even more important: Innovation.

Not only is innovation a requirement to stay ahead of Microsoft, it’s also a must-have tactic in oreder to keep the non-dorks onboard. Mozilla-based browsers need to be perceived as being the cutting edge and the only way this will happen is if the developers are constantly innovating. They need to be looking at the problems the majority of the users of the Internet are having here in 2002 and they need to be thinking, “How are we going to solve this problem in a new way?”

Lastly, Mozilla browsers need a bit of luck. There needs to be some fundamental change in technology which presents an opportunity to differentiate a product. Also, the change needs to be ignored by Microsoft for a significant amount of time. This is hard because Microsoft looks for precisely these situations so they can rally the Redmondians around “Cause Du Jour”. This means that we need one more piece of luck. We need this technological shift to occur at a time when Microsoft, for whatever reason, is incapable of responding.

I do not know what this shift is. Perhaps it’s an application which hits critical mass only when a majority of Internet users have broadband connections. Perhaps it’s a rethinking of peer-to-peer networking. I’m comfortable not knowing what it is and I’m certain I won’t recognize it when it arrives, but I do know that Mozilla browser-makers better be lucky enough to be brighter than I.

The browser wars are over and Microsoft won – they own 96% of the market. Internet Explorer is essentially integrated into the operating system while AOL stumbles along with its measly 3% market share trying to figure out a strategic direction. No one cares about the browser because it’s become a commodity. No product has publicly differentiated itself enough from IE to actually merit anyone taking notice.

The plethora of Mozilla-based browsers proves that it’s either easy to build a browser or that Mozilla open source development model is finally achieving some semblance of critical mass… maybe both. The question remains, of this group of browser upstarts, who is willing to pick a fight with an unbeatable opponent using a technology most folks don’t care about?

26 Responses

  1. I assume you’ve seen this page, since you mention a cache problem.

    http://www.mredkj.com/tutorials/tips_ie.html

    Even though I was on the IE4 and IE5 team, I won’t hold it against you if you switch.

  2. Yes, I know there is a fix — I actually found that page when I started to pull out significant hair… Funny thing was, while the fix of clearing the cache worked… it took about another two or three weeks for the problem to show up again. Alas.

  3. Mozilla’s still a buggy piece of open source shit.

    Use Opera. It does all the things that Mozilla does except not being free as in beer or speech or horrible anal rape. They even have Opera for teh lunix and I’m certain it’d run wonderfully on your Oh Ehs Ecks machine. Or use lynx.

  4. Well, Mozilla just lost the browser war on this front. I started it up, and loaded three of my favorite pages:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com – Worked well. In fact, the page loaded really fast and the browser impressed me.

    http://www.somethingawful.com – The text on the sidebar was much smaller than normal. Also, the images were scrunched up to the paragraphs. I decided to go best two out of three.

    My Homepage – The first thing I saw was that my bold text actually ran into the text following it. In the sense that the last two letters of the bold text and the first three letters of the nonbold text overlapped, rendering two words illegible. This pretty much decided it for me, ESPECIALLY SINCE ONE OF THOSE WORDS WAS BOLD AND THEREFORE VERY IMPORTANT.

    I happen to like being lazy in my web design, so if something works one way in Internet Explorer, I don’t want to have to go back and add all sorts of redundant code just to get it working in Netscape or any other browser. Maybe I’m alienating a good deal of my potential audience that way, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. Most of the time, my code works across browsers, anyway.

    Also, Mozilla looks like Netscape, which is a bad thing in my book, because all I can remember about Netscape are the words “What the fuck? Why the hell doesn’t that CSS work?”

  5. http://www.somethingawful.com – Looks fine in Mozilla 1.1

    spacklecube.dabrits.co.uk (I assume this is your site) – Also, look fine … except the “Latest Updates” text which is very small (a common problem with Mozilla under Linux)

    Maybe you’re running an out of date version.

    (And Mozilla looks like Netscape because netscape is based on the Mozilla code)

  6. Penny Arcade is one of your three favorite sites? Fucking Christ, man, why don’t you just start waxing poetic about User Friendly while the rest of us go around sucking the disembodied penis of Jim Woodring?

    . . . wait what was the question?

  7. Cyrus: Your site looks just fine under Phoenix. Even the bold text. If you have a problem with text sizes on your sidebar, it’s probably because you set them at a hard 8pts..

    I set forth rules when generating the styles behind my site:

    1) do not set font sizes

    2) do not use deprecated tags

    3) degrade gracefully

    4) use css for all layout

    Even though I broke rule number 4 (since IE renders poorly 50% of the time due to a css bug if I use divs to layout my sidebar — common problem across many sites) and used tables, I followed my own rules and everything looks right. That is, everything looks right except for the logo in the top left corner, because IE under windows doesn’t support PNGs 100% (nice going MSFT) so I don’t bother to get it working.

  8. Three things:

    – First, somethingawful.com looks fine in Chimera.

    – No browser can account for bad html (http://validator.w3.org/)

    – Chimera is crashing a lot this morning and it’s pissing me off.

  9. It’s funny, I actually had less crashes in Chimera than in Mozilla. I think the bloat in Mozilla really is an issue. But at least you have a crash log you can send along unless YOU ARE LOOKING FOR GAY PORN AND IT CRASHES YOUR BROWSER.

    Bad (x)HTML is bad (x)HTML, no matter what. PPL wonder why it is that their website looks like dog vomit, and 90% of that is a lack of skill. At least my site looks like SKILLED DOG VOMIT AND/OR BUKKAKE.

  10. I have a kitty, her name is Spot.

  11. while people are ranting/whining/bitching about differences in appearance between different browsers, i get the feeling that most people neglect common sense concerning web design. rands, being the reasonable fellow he is, took note of this neglect in a post above. lowmagnet also shed light on the issue. poor (x)html coding will look bad in any browser. i am by no means a professional (read: paid) web designer, but all my designs i’ve done have been validated using the validator (http://validator.w3.org) and they all render properly across various (IE, Mozilla, Konqueror, etc.) browsers. however, certain browsers support collective (http://www.w3c.org) standards better than others. i’ve found that mozilla supports CSS more thoroughly than IE for Win32. look at this demo with mozilla and then with IE for Win32. you’ll see what i mean. an explanation of the different look in IE is provided in the aforementioned page. i just wish people would stop and think before they bitch about browsers not rendering pages the way they want them to. a comment concerning Cyrus’ post and IE:

    Also, Mozilla looks like Netscape, which is a bad thing in my book, because all I can remember about Netscape are the words “What the fuck? Why the hell doesn’t that CSS work?”

    what the fuck? why the hell doesn’t that CSS (http://www.meyerweb.com/eric/css/edge/complexspiral/demo.html) work?

  12. bah, rands. the “post comments” system is a bit fubar, methinks. the demo i wanted to show you can be found here: http://www.meyerweb.com/eric/css/edge/complexspiral/demo.html

  13. ARGH! justify:full;!

    Anyway, complexspiral is always the best way of showing how browsers do and do not work to support the collective’s standards. Also, check out http://alistapart.com and http://webstandards.org if you don’t already.

  14. Just so you guys know, I was using the first mozilla download I found at mozilla.org. Release 1.2a, I guess.

    Look, I’m just saying exactly what I saw. I saw Something Awful looked crappy the first time I loaded it up in Mozilla, and the bold tags on my site looked hideous. The thing is, for Mozilla to succeed it will have answer those three questions Rands posed correctly. I think that, the first question can be expanded to add, “and if the user is an impatient asshole, it must display the sites the way he’s used to.” While Something Awful was still readable, it wasn’t what I was used to. And since I have had no problems with IE thusfar, I’m going to stick with what’s comfortable to me.

    Now, onto the many (and glaring) problems with my website. Yes, my code is sloppy. That comes from being lazy. My stringent philosophy is write something up in HTML, then look at it in Internet Explorer, and if it looks good I pack it up and ship it. However, the point that, when I loaded it up, it looked bad for me in Mozilla stands. I could care less about the problems with my site, all I know is that it looks okay in Internet Explorer but not in Mozilla. And, as a lazy, lazy designer, anything that makes me work harder is bad.

    About the CSS thing. I’m not talking about saying that two weeks ago. This was when I was starting up with a copy of “Learn HTML in 24 Hours” probably almost five years ago. I got to the CSS section and discovered, at that point, Netscape’s support for CSS blew compared to IE’s. Then, with each version of Netscape and IE for the next few years, Netscape’s support of CSS continued to blow, while IE’s continued to suit me just fine. Eventually, I just gave up and decided to stop caring about how my site looks in Netscape.

    And finally, I apologizing for liking a comic that fits in the genre of “not jerkcity”. I’m going to go commit bukkake to atone for my sins.

  15. well, hey, i like penny-arcade too.

  16. Okay. I admit it. I actually converted to Mozilla from IE around 1.0. Mozilla impressed me THAT much and I was looking for a reason to avoid having to patch security holes every fucking week.

    Mostly it was the tabbed browsing that totally won me over. I open things to new browser windows all the time, it’s almost second nature to me. Now I don’t have a million bajillion IE windows crowding up my taskbar. Also: IE never fucking let me open to new windows by middleclicking. My mouse software wouldn’t even let me do that. Mozilla does. Yeah, the pop up ad blocking is great and the gecko rendering engine fucking RULES THE EARTH compared to NS 4.x.

    I do have some small annoyances with Mozilla however:

    #1 It’s still not super-completely-ultra-ohshitchinanukedusanditsstillrunning stable. It has a bad habit of crashing when I ctrl-tab between the url entry bar and stuff.

    #2 XUL. I get the idea. That’s cool. It’s still a slow ass peice of shit and needlessly over complicated. Would it KILL you to use the native user interface API on platform X? Better yet, at least provide me with an easier way to actually manipulate the UI to my liking. I don’t give a shit about skins, I want to be able to easily say what button goes where. The potential to have this is there, someone just needs to run with it (i.e. not me!)

    #3 It has absolutely no mercy for graphics it thinks are ‘corrupted’. No, it won’t even show you part of the image, it just spits out a message. GRR.

    That being said, it’s still not enough to make me go back to using IE every day.

  17. A lot of complaints against Moz I’m hearing (about incomplete graphics, bad code, etc) are really due to the site’s creator’s lack of control.

    I was working on a section of my site today, using some of the stuff from a list apart for the week — not just stealing their code, but adapting it completely into my site. it’s at http://lowmagnet.org/test2 and it’s completely CSS-based.

    The tabs at the top are actually a [ul][li] set, as is the sidebar. Using CSS I am now able to inherit things in such a way where their semantic meaning (they are lists of items, after all) and their appearance are separate. Look it up in a text browser. Don’t try NS 4.7.. I have to modify the css to ‘unsupport’ and gracefully degrade that app and Omniweb (bleech on CSS1.0, let alone 2.0) since they both sux0r for r3nd3rx0r. Also, MSIE, Opera and Gecko-based browsers (moz, netscape, chimera navigator, phoenix, etc) render it nearly identically.

  18. I don’t see anything wrong with Cyrus’s page either, in Moz 1.2b, for what it’s worth. I did fire up SomethingAwful in IE to compare it, and yes, the text sits about 3 pixels closer to the images. As for the bold text running together thing: I do get that, or something similar to it, on Microsoft Knowledge Base pages. This problem popped up in one of the last few Mozilla versions.. I distinctly recall it not happening in 1.0.

    Here’s an example of a page that looks shitty:

    http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;Q272116

    It goes without saying that this page doesn’t pass the W3C validator.

    So.. why do I use Mozilla instead of IE? I’d like to think it’s only minimally because of my monopoly-smashing desires.. I mean, I still use Windows for all my video-gaming needs, so that would make me something of a hypocrite. I did use IE for a while, but there were things about it that bothered me, foremost being its tendency to bring the whole OS down with it when it crashed. And it crashed often.. daily at least. (Disclosure: I never used IE under anything but Win95. But is this a good enough excuse?)

    I don’t believe I’ve ever had Mozilla crash since v1.0, and I use it many more hours a day than I should be doing. If I had to switch back to IE, though, here’s what I would miss:

    * Security. It seems like every two days Windows Update tells me I need to download a new IE patch. Under the same category: I never get that moronic popup that tries to make you install Gator. Nor do I even have the option to launch an executable file straight from the browser.

    * Privacy. I can block banner ads and popups without having to run a proxy program. I can block cookies selectively. More importantly, though, the developers of my browser actually value my right to an enjoyable browsing experience more than they value the content providers’ right to shove ads in my face.

    * Responsiveness. I can’t even count how many times I’ve thought to myself “you know, feature XXX would be cool” only to see it pop up in the next version, without me even having to ask. The next feature I’m waiting for, by the way, is a prefs option to make it so plugins don’t start automatically. “Click here to start plugin.” Goodbye, Flash ads. If it doesn’t show up soon I may have to suggest it. 🙂 On the same bullet: Cool new features, most of them pretty much useless, nonetheless pop up in every new version. The only new feature I noticed in IE6 was a different icon.

    * Tabbed browsing. Yes, I know Opera has it, but don’t even get me started on Opera.

    * Familiarity. Just like IE users feel “uncomfortable” in Mozilla, I feel that way in IE. I notice the things that are slower and don’t notice the things that are faster.

    I’m not including the ease of third-party development on this short list because none of those aspects — forked browsers, mozdev projects — have ever really appealed to me. Although just today I’ve found the first third-party project that I think is actually useful (yes yes, through Slashdot, I admit it): Mouse gestures! Most of them are pretty much useless, but the ones to close the current tab and cycle between tabs are very useful, and the forward/back ones are good if I don’t have a hand on the keyboard. Speaking of which, there’s one gesture where you hold down a button, mouse-over as many links as you want, then do a gesture, and every link you passed over will simultaneously open in a new window or tab. I suspect this feature will revolutionize my jerking ritual. I have a date with thehun tonight!

    http://optimoz.mozdev.org/gestures/

  19. I tried out optimoz after a /. story on it, and I have to say that it needs work.. sometimes it will pick up a gesture when you are doing a quick drag of the scroll bar to the right of the html area, and I find that highly grating. *scroll down* ^new window pops up^..

    I don’t use Moz at work mainly because I don’t like its bloat. I use either phoenix or winembed if I just need a render and no fancy features. It’s a bit heavy at 12 megs to start, but winembed is a really nice option.

  20. lowmagnet: I can’t imagine using optimoz with the left mouse button.. how would you select text? With the right mouse button it doesn’t seem to get in the way of anything.

  21. Actually, you can select text with the left mouse button, you just have to pause a half second after doing it so the app doesn’t recognize it as a gesture. That’s why the scroll bar was such trouble; A quick flick of the scroll bar yielded a new window because I didn’t pause.

    And as to the ‘left’ mouse button thing, I’m a Mac user, and I am one of the few (apparently, from all the bitching attached to every /. article) who likes using one button.

  22. redrobotcore 14 years ago

    lowmagnet:

    you might be interested in the bannerblinds addon for mozilla which blocks ads, including flash ads based on the image/embeded object’s dimensions.

    http://bannerblind.mozdev.org

    (their installer is broken currently but I have a fixed xpi, email me if you are interested)

  23. Burton Radons 14 years ago

    I use Mozilla for mail and news as well; it’s not exactly feature-filled (Pan is for porn), but having the same tool in Windows and Linux is helpful.

    Mozilla does get a lot of mileage out of their small wins. I would switch if the only advantage were that I could middle-click to open a link in a new window/tab, and IE scrolls too little with the mouse scroll and too much with the keyboard. Further, if you put a low limit on font size in IE and the web page asks for a smaller font, it messes up rendering, making the feature pointless. All of these things would be enough to get me to switch. So from my perspective, any larger differences are irrelevant.

    What the masses will do I do not know and I do not care. We’re long past the point where proprietary solutions can enter the market successfully, so the only good thing that would come from my perspective with Mozilla getting more popular is that Microsoft won’t be able to get away with their special breed of innovation.

    Regarding PNGs not working properly in IE, if you’re serving from PHP you can hack around the lack of alpha blending by producing the correct DirectX bullshit if the browser in the HTTP request matches:

    http://msdn.microsoft.com/workshop/author/filter/reference/filters/alphaimageloader.asp

    I don’t have the PHP code that did this any more. You can be assured it was Satanic Certified.

  24. Burton,

    My style of web development forbids ‘hacks’ so while the link is interesting (even though I could likely do this in PERL) it is forbidden because MS is the fuckup here. And no, bonghits didn’t fix it — they fixed me.

  25. dhalgren 14 years ago

    I don’t quite understand why OmniWeb 4.1.1 hasn’t entered this conversation yet. Sure, it doesn’t use Gecko for rendering, but its renderer is just as pretty, if not more so.

    I had Chimera and Mozilla 1.0/1.1 installed for a while, trying to figure out which was best. I quickly discovered that MTBF in Chimera was about 5 minutes and that would simply not do. It got trashed.

    Mozilla 1.0 was pretty, but awfully slow – what kind of browser feels boggy on a brand-new dual 1GHz Mac box? 1.1 was prettier, and pre-loading all the favorite websites in tabbed browsing is fun, but the prefs stymied me. Those horrible, kludgy, slow-to-open prefs.

    Do try OmniWeb, mister rands. It’s what all my friends who work at Apple are using, because it’s developed by their old NeXTie friends. And she give you the, how you say, the reach-around.

  26. Sorry, but Omniweb is mostly crap, from a webpage development standpoint. It doesn’t render anything as logically expected.

    It has horrible DOM support, and its CSS level is 0.5. I’d not reccomend it to anyone. The only thing it has going for it is speed, and that’s not enough for those who need accuracy.