Web Informant #99, 27 January 1998
Time to downgrade your browser to version 3
In our industry, version 4.0 is an unlucky number. I'm not
sure why, but it all started back in the dark DOS days.
While I can't remember the exact problems with DOS 4.0, I do
remember it was a dog of an upgrade, and most users waited
it out until DOS 5.0. NetWare 4.0 was bug city and released
before its time. To this list I'd add the 4.0 browsers from
our friends at Netscape and Microsoft. They have too few
enhancements that the public really needs, are way too
unstable, and are still far from being on most people's
My random checks around the net put the 4.0 population
somewhere around a quarter to a third of current users, and
about half are still using 3.0 versions. That seems about
right, given what I've seen. It is hard to lie about this
stuff, because your browser announces its identity to any
web server it touches. Sure, people can change the identity
string if they want to, but most don't. Many web operators
collect this information for their own uses: here is a link
to one site that shows you who came by in the last day.
Given that the v4 browsers have been out for many months,
most people are sticking with what they have got, and taking
their time upgrading. Why is this the case? I have several
- Stability. The last bunch of version 3 browsers was
pretty stable software. I rarely had crashes using them,
and I guess that is true for you too. The same can't be
said for the v4 crowd: crashes galore. Some pages
wouldn't load properly when viewed in v4. Some would load
slower. And whatever you do, don't install IE v4's active
desktop unless you want to get real familiar with the
boot sequence of your machine.
- Just enough features. The last round of v3 browsers
displayed frames, tables, new tags, etc. They ran most
Java programs without too much trouble. They had the
right mix of features that people wanted to use.
- Size and memory requirements. There is something about
running a software program that takes more than a few
minutes to download. Even if you have a fast network
connection and lots of hard disk space, you don't do
downloads often when the files grow much beyond 5 or 6
megabytes. For those of you with a sense of history, the
first browsers from Mosaic were way less than 1 megabyte!
The new v4 guys are way beyond this mark, and indeed
Microsoft has developed a web-based installation routine
to try to cope with this.
As a digression, that web-based install routine is a pain in
the neck. I've tried it several times with varying degrees
of failure. Luckily, I have a copy of the software on CD-
ROM, but I still can't seem to get IE v4 completely
installed on my home machine.
- Combining email with browsing is a confusing market
message. You would think with everyone running email
these days that the ideal thing to do would be to combine
an email product with the browser. As you probably know,
IE v4 comes with Outlook Express (which is a pretty
decent piece of software). Netscape v4 comes with an
overhauled version of Messenger (which is also a big
improvement over their v3 email software). But I have a
feeling that most people have either already chosen their
email package (or have it chosen for them by their IS
departments) or get confused when they want to try to
evaluate both email and web sides of the products. So
this strategy has actually backfired, and kept people
with their v3 software.
- We already have too many copies of older browsers anyway.
Not a single machine at home or in my office has just one
browser loaded on it. Granted, I may be somewhat unusual,
but I've seen plenty of other folks who have browser
overload on their desktops too. Having these older
browsers is like keeping your out-of-fashion wardrobe in
your attic: while the clothes no longer fit your taste or
waistline, you hang on to them with some sense that maybe
they will, someday. So with this glut, why add another
piece of software?
- One word: plug-ins. While I am far from a fan of these
things, if you do use them you don't ever want to go
through the experience of re-installing them. That tends
to take the motivation out of upgrading, especially as
many plug-ins are tied to a particular browser version
and break when you run them on something newer.
- Unfamiliar user interface. Both Netscape and Microsoft
made substantial changes to their screen icons, layouts,
and menus between v3 and v4. Users get comfortable with
one layout and don't like to change. So they stick with
the older, more familiar stuff.
- Word 97 gave upgrades a bad name. Many corporations are
still hurting from the problems with incompatible file
formats between Word 95 and 97, and so tar all upgrades
with the same bad news brush.
So we will continue on our merry v3 ways. Memo to the
Terrible Two: take your time with v5.
Site-keeping and self promotions dep't
My latest eCommerce article appeared last week in Web
Review's online magazine, suggesting several things you need
to examine before buying one of the popular storefront
suites. You can read about it here:
My last Web Informant essay on Microsoft's bad behavior with
respect to NDS for NT came during some quick changes to
Microsoft's position. If you are a student of history, or
tired of getting a 404 error when you try the various links,
I have put copies of all three position papers that appeared
on the MS web site here: first paper, second paper, current paper
This raises an interesting point: how do students of history
deal with the ever-changing web, especially nowadays as more
and more sites turn to creating pages on the fly from
databases and scripts? I first wrote about this issue a year
ago in the essay on maintaining a web archive.
But by now you are probably tired of hearing about all of
this. Instead, go read some really good analysis of where
NT, NetWare and Unix are going. Turn to the 2/1/98 issue of
Network Computing magazine and study Jay Milne's State of
the NOS article. It is the first time I have seen any in-
depth discussion of how NT v5 will require upgrading your
existing Domain Name System servers, for example. And for
those students of history, I bring to your attention the
magazine's first such feature back in October 1991. This
issue listed LAN Manager v2 (which didn't support TCP/IP at
the time) and AT&T StarGroup, along with Arcnet and Novell's
MHS. My how things change: Unix wasn't even on their charts.
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