"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 21 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Rebel Without a Pause



The quiet that's fallen over the

browser wars can't last long.

Like two testosterone-poisoned

teens dusting themselves off

after their abandoned hot rods

have careened off a cliff, both

Netscape and Microsoft have to

be disappointed that the other

guy survived. And now that the

race to 3.0 is all over (though

the prizes have yet to be

awarded), it's time to break out

the knives.


[Wild One]

These swaggering, leather-clad

BMOCs are simply repeating their

junior year, it seems, as the

browser pushers are about to

start down that long path of

beta software again, without

having learned anything the last

time through. And, once again,

we cowering nobodies are going

to flock behind them, eager for

the slightest contact with the

coolest guy in school, no matter

how big and stupid he is. Their

braggadocio may be based more on

hype and rumor than true

confidence, but when a bullying,

chest-pounding monthly release

is right in our face, we know

we're going to cave, completely

and totally, just to have the

aura, the shine, of the latest




Face it: Between now and the

sure-to-be near-simultaneous 4.0

releases, each of us is going to

let six or seven different beta

versions of our favorite browser

muscle their way onto our

machines. We'll meekly accept

them, hoping against hope that

they will do something that we

actually need done instead of

simply beating us up.



The web has completely changed

the idea of what "releasable

software" is. By essentially

eliminating distribution costs,

the web allows anybody with code

that compiles the chance to

foist it off as the latest and

greatest, to snare thousands of

wide-eyed insider wannabes as

free testing drones. Like the

abused, bespectacled gofer, we

hang with the latest beta

because everybody thinks it's

cool, never realizing that

everybody thinks it's cool

simply because everybody hangs

with it.


"Releasable software" used to be

something that wouldn't

embarrass you. Now, it's

something that has a higher

version number than your

competitor. If that feature

blows up, well, the program is

beta, so quit yer whining.



For all its mass-market

aspirations, the web is still

ruled by macho, pompadoured

corporations engaged in

senseless posturing, wild

chest-thumping, each desperate

to out-feature the other guy at

any cost. Never mind that the

hot rods still burst into flames

daily, buggier than the school

cafeteria. You wanna run with

the in-crowd or not?



Do you use CoolTalk? Does

anybody? My computer doesn't

even have a sound card. The

effort that went into that

interesting but largely useless

piece of code could have better

served me - and the majority of

Netscape users, I imagine - as

stability improvements,

seatbelts in the sportster.

After two years, Netscape still

doesn't fail elegantly when

faced with the cliff's edge.

It's not something you'd want to

send Mom out in.


Ah, but improving existing code

isn't sexy and isn't fun - and

sexy and fun is what the web's

all about, or at least what

marketing's all about. While

browser software is certainly

growing - and growing enormous -

it's not maturing at all. Johnny

may have moved from beer to gin,

but he still can't handle a

drunk. The constant flux of

features and gizmos and

whosiwhatsis leaves products

unstable, unreliable and,

ultimately, unusable by even the

most slavish sycophants. Putting

more chrome on the body to

impress the babes doesn't make

the engine stall any less.



And when the engine does work, it

usually misfires. The mad rush

of browsers and their features

down the dragstrip and into beta

has produced some whopper bugs.

While Sun and Netscape had a

time where they seemed to be

fixing potentially major Java

security problems every week,

Microsoft's Internet Explorer

3.0 has a security hole big

enough to drive Dad's Plymouth



That I don't want, use, or need

ActiveX doesn't stop Fred

McLain's ActiveX Exploder from

merrily shutting down my Windows

95 machine, like the cops at a

rumble. Microsoft's considered

response to the implications of

Exploder has been the defiant

dismissal of the cocky punks

everywhere: "Not my problem,

Pops." That's not the sign of

mature software, or mature

software design, or even mature

corporate responsibility. The

class president told us so.



Even the cheerleaders have

stopped being enthusiastic, and

can occasionally be heard

muttering that the guy's a

creep. "The entire medium of the

web is still in beta," said

Frank Voci, c|net's VP of

production and creative affairs,

"and that means the entire world

is a beta tester." And that

can't go on. A public that

considers the 99.9% availability

of their cable unacceptable sure

as hell isn't going to put up

with the crashing, clashing and

miscacheing that define today's

browsers, even post-beta. Beat

enough people up and they're

going to turn on you, no matter

how cool the car, the hair, the

cigarette look.



And so a plea, to coders and

designers everywhere, from the

kindly geezer who runs the soda

shop: Slow down. Spiffy features

are all fine and good, and

time-to-market is an important

consideration, but there are

plenty of us out here would like

to have software that works -

rock-solid works - before we have a

bucketful of tricks that we're

never going to use. At least get

a couple of guys in shop class

to do a tune-up.



Pride, machismo and stupidity

make for a volatile, heady mix

and while suicidal enthusiasm,

flashy pompadours, and a callous

disregard for common sense may

get the chicks in turbo-charged

adolescence, they make for a

resoundingly distasteful middle

age. Hot rods look silly driving

to the office - and the deep

scar that seemed so cool years

ago now just aches a little when

it starts to rain.

courtesy of An Entirely Other Greg