Web Informant Newsletter #3: October 17, 1995

I'm back after two weeks of intensive travel to Interop and the launch of Web Informant. Thanks for all of your kind comments at the show -- we're off and running! The site is located here.

It has links to web sites that are of interest to me (and hopefully you as well), all of my previous publications and these newsletters and awards, and my contact database. You may want to search the people section and let me know if I have your information correct.

For those of you reading this for the first time, this newsletter is in HTML format: save the text and read it in your Web browser, and the links will take you to places of interest directly. I'm still trying to figure out if this is worthwhile for you, so let me know.

This week: The end of the open Internet

After seeing what Netscape has done with the latest beta (I've been using the Mac version 2.0b1), I'd say we've just seen the end of open systems as far as the Web goes. In the past year, the 1.x browser has grown like kudzu: estimates in the press for percentage of all browsers in use start at 50 and usually are higher, and after using the 1.1 products over the past year I can certainly agree that the Netscape browser is my favorite and best fits my style of working. But...

With the 1.1 browsers, we got tables and background colors and other goodies. Some of these features have been implemented in Mosaic and other browsers. Some are supposed to be in overall HTML specs to come -- the trouble is that these specs are voted on by committee, and this vote takes time. Netscape did an end-run and included them ahead of the competition: well, that's what makes America such a great country. The 2.0 release brings even more features, some of which are already being implemented on web sites because they are very useful for good-looking designs. They are even more compelling than the 1.1 features, and of course not sanctioned by the standards committee.

In Pete Lewis' column in today's NY Times, he says "Navigator 2.0b is so compelling, and reveals so much about the future of the Web, that it is worthy of a preview." I'd agree. You can also read about Information Week's review in this week's issue as well. The trade hype is just beginning....

But some of this hype is justified. As an example, download v2 (if you can, I had to get a copy from a friend via floppy since Netscape's ftp sites were so crowded last week) and check out Dave Garaffa's BrowserWatch, which receives our Be.Here.Now award this week for innovative site design. His site shows what versions of browsers are available, as well as a short tutorial on how he constructed his pages. He has set up the site to appear differently (yet well) with different browsers.

Now, I had my open systems epiphany about two years ago, and since then have been a big booster of why you need them and want them to continue to be open. The event was trying to download a humongous message in Eudora that kept getting mangled. When I realized that I had several other email packages lurking about on my disk and all it took was firing one up, I was mighty pleased with myself, you can be sure.

But the assault of Netscape Navigator v2 is the beginning of the end of openness on the Web, and I'm very torn about this. The part of me that is a web site operator likes the new design controls (you can have separately scrolling windows within a single page, for example). The part of me that is an old Internet hand (well, not as old as some but I've been communicating and using the net for research for over five years) is horrified that the web is moving so quickly from open to closed. It is enough to make me want to go run MS Windows v2 just to remember THOSE days.

Coincident with the v2 "launch" (or availability of the beta), I had a conversation with an executive at a major industry firm. I was complaining about the bandwidth required to view his site, which is probably the single biggest gripe that I hear from everyone no matter what kind of connectivity they have.

He told me, "Our clients and users all have high-speed digital links to the 'net, so we've designed the site purposefully to exploit this. Besides, if you are a dial-up user, we don't want to talk to you." (I am paraphrasing our conversation, but that is the gist of it.) Again, I am torn on this: as a web designer, I'd like to put in all sorts of graphical doo-dads that make my site appealing and show the real power of the web. But as an old net-hand, bits and bandwidth matter. Indeed, just sending out this newsletter via email when you could get a synopsis and read the entire version on my site gives me pause about those wasted bits. (But I'm still sending the whole thing for now. Sorry about that.)

The old net culture is quickly dying, and there is nothing any of us can do about it. The new graphical gee-gaws are too tempting: like designer drugs, they capture one's interest quickly and don't let go.

Look at all the attention paid by the trade press on Hot Java, VRML, and other new techniques. Look how much attention isn't paid by the same editors on Front Page, PL/Web, and other just-as-important web technologies (the former allows for site management, the latter is a search tool). I could argue that these latter, un-sexy technologies are more important to the overall Web Community: most sites need content management tools before they are going to implement graphical turn-ons. But this newsletter is long enough.

Oh well. Maybe I should just grin and bear it. Also, while you are linking to my site, take a look at another worthwhile effort by my alma matter, Network Computing magazine's contributing editor Dave Molta, on "Designing Your Organization's Network for Internet Access." Granted, I hired the guy when I ran the book, but don't hold that against him! Dave gets this week's Big.Duck award too.

David Strom
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