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WWW Inventor On Microsoft's Browser Tricks 503

Posted by timothy
from the creators'-rights dept.
Unipuma writes: "Tim Berners-Lee gives his views in an interview with Silicon Valley about the latests blocking of the MSN website for most other than Internet Explorer browsers. 'I have fought since the beginning of the Web for its openness: that anyone can read Web pages with any software running on any hardware. This is what makes the Web itself. This is the environment into which so many people have invested so much energy and creativity. When I see any Web site claim to be only readable using particular hardware or software, I cringe - they are pining for the bad old days when each piece of information need a different program to access it.'"
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WWW Inventor On Microsoft's Browser Tricks

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  • by don_carnage (145494) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:06AM (#2492248) Homepage

    It would probably be a good thing if browsers followed the HTML standard. I can't tell you how annoying it is to make a decent looking website only to find out that your Netscape 4.7 users see garbage.



    • by karot (26201) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:14AM (#2492283)
      It would be an even better thing if the HTML standard

      a) Stood still for a while
      b) Kept browser compatibility in mind
      c) Didn't just base itself on the latest non-standard toy added by MS or NS
      d) Wasn't developed by Committee

      (Committee == A mammal with an average of 100 legs, and no brain)

      OK, time for my tablets... The real-world is calling me back ;-)
    • Whoever modded this redundant is off-base. This is the core of the issue.

      The whole problem here is that some browsers don't correctly or fully implement the standards (NS 4.x) or that other browsers (IE) "extend" the standard with proprietary tags and then web content producers build sites with a single browser in mind.

      Browser makers need to choose a level of W3C standards-compliance (v3, v4, etc.) and implement to chosen level religiously. Likewise, web developers need to do the same with their sites - pick a level of compliance and stick to it. Modern browsers (at least IE6 and recent versions of Mozilla) are doing a much better job of standards-compliance.

      • The part of this whole story that galls me most is Microsoft's excuse: "We blocked Mozilla and Opera because they are not sufficiently standards compliant." Opera and Mozilla are both far more compliant with the W3C than anything Redmond has wrought. Heck, IE6 is a step *backwards* in compliance, with it's fscked-up CSS box model. Oh, wait, it just hit me: Microsoft wasn't talking about W3C standards. They were talking about *Microsoft* standards. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this was an isolated incident. "Embrace, Extend Extinguish." The era of MSHTML, MSCSS, and the whole Microsoft Internet(TM) has just begun.
    • Education! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cujo (19106)

      I know clever and talented web designers for whom "standards compliance" is at best a vague abstraction. They hardly ever visit the W3C site [w3c.org], and probably never run their pages through the validator (it hurts). There's a kind of pisoner's dilemma at work here: why should I be the first one to comply, when no one else is, not even the big guys?

      The solution is the same as it is for lots of things - get to them when they're young, and help them understand and value openness and robustness. The key to making openness work is a strong community-developed standards process, which only works if you comply.

      This is going to take at least a generation.

    • I can't tell you how annoying it is to make a decent looking website only to find out that your Netscape 4.7 users see garbage.

      I keep hearing this kind of stuff, and it just doesn't match up with my experiences. I have never written a page only to discover that some browser couldn't display it. Could someone please point to an example page that shows this problem? I would love to see a page that Netscape 4.x can't display. My guess is that the page will contain a bunch of typesetting stuff instead of being HTML, but maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, if anyone could give an example, it would really help.

  • by pointym5 (128908) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:09AM (#2492262)
    What does this have to do with anybody's rights? If MSN shuts out other browsers, well that sucks I guess, but I have no inalienable right to read MSN with Opera. And there wasn't much in the article about anybody's "rights", just a discussion of the meaning of W3C standards.
    • by code_rage (130128) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:52AM (#2492487)
      The right which is being abrogated is the right of other browser publishers to compete with IE. Since Microsoft has been ruled a monopoly, special rules apply to them which don't apply generally in the marketplace. Monopolies cannot use their monopoly power to exclude competitors. Some of the licensing issues such as excluding Netscape from the Windows desktop might be permitted if MS were not a monopoly, but as a monopoly they cannot use this power.
    • Not sure if this is exactly a right, or not, but remember that Al Gore built the Internet with your tax dollars. Theoretically, as a 1/250,000,000th owner, you should have unfettered access. Microsoft walling off parts of the Internet as Win-only or IE-only is kind of like General Motors walling off parts of the D.W.D. Interstate Highway system for only GM brand cars.
  • Unreadable sites (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bribecka (176328) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:10AM (#2492264) Homepage
    I wonder what his opinion is on needing a plug-in to view some content--it basically amounts to the same thing.

    The problem is that in order for all browsers to see everything, a web site would probably have to use HTML 1.0, resulting in a very boring web. More current technologies aren't standards based since they are so new. Where does it stop? Everything must be compatible with Mosaic 1.0?

    I don't agree with the MSN lockout, but there are instances on the web where a program is required to view certain content, and I don't see any sites getting rid of Flash just because Lynx doesn't support it.

    • Re:Unreadable sites (Score:4, Informative)

      by pointym5 (128908) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:18AM (#2492299)
      and I don't see any sites getting rid of Flash just because Lynx doesn't support it.


      That's because they're foolish. I regularly send "I'm a pain in the ass" mail to whatever marketing address I can find to inform people that locking potential customers out of their promotional websites is the height of stupidity. Use of Flash or other plugins may be OK for optional "tours" or whatever, but to block a customer from the main page due to lack of a plugin is a clear case of marketing people gone wild without adult supervision.


      The idea that flash animation is required to grab attention is based on a misunderstanding of the context. If I go to a commercial web site, chances are I've gone there on purpose to gather information. I do not need to be impressed. I do not need eye candy to keep me "stuck" to the site. I just want information.


      The same goes for access sites at banks or credit card companies (like Citibank, for example) that feel the need to drown me in stupid flyover popup menus. Why why why? I just want to check my balance, and your 100K of Javascript does NOT make my life better.

      • Let me tell you from experience that major web sites get huge volumes of crank mail and you are often going directly to the bin bucket when you waste your time sending them.

        Major web sites work from server logs, useage stats, competitive metrics and other metrics to devise their site design.

        And frankly the interest group you represent is so infinitesimally small that they would be idiots to listen to you in the first place (and they know it).

      • by MrBoring (256282) on Monday October 29, 2001 @11:22AM (#2492935)

        Yes. Yes. Yes. Do get angry at these web people. I used to be able to dial directly into my bank and download my transactions, and pay bills, all without a web browser. And it was faster. I don't care what you web people say. Life is faster when you don't spell everything out in plain text and use pretty graphics and javascript and such.

        Yes. Get rid of the excessive javascript, or even better, don't use it at all! Get rid of the excessive pictures. Don't put a back picture when I could use my back key! Don't create popup menus, just use links. Don't put up ads on bank account pages, especially after the customer has paid you $6.95 per month.

        And give the information! Don't make us email you for it. Don't make us call some 800 number and talk to a salesperson. If you have prices, put them up! Don't hide them unless you're ashamed of them.

        Have honest links. If you have a download link for an application, for instance, don't make us go through 10,000 slow, image laden web pages just to download the thing. A download link should take us to a downloadable file! (Or a page with the OS selection and such). Forget the mirrors crap. Just ask us a location and direct us to it.

        To the web developers: Make life simpler, and faster. Not slow and annoying!

    • Re:Unreadable sites (Score:5, Informative)

      by Masem (1171) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:20AM (#2492308)
      HTML 4.0 has a wonderful tag called the OBJECT tag. It allows you to include multi-media content but allows multiple levels of defaults if that content can't be displayed on the target browser. (Compared to IMG, where it only has one level, the ALT tag, and this can't be formatted nicely in HTML).

      E.G., if I wanted a Flash animation, but defaulting to a static JPG if Flash wasn't available, or in the case of a text browser, a short paragraph describing what the user could have seen, I could do this:

      OBJECT type="x-application/flash" src="image.swf">
      <OBJECT type="image/jpg" src="image.jpg">
      This is a the default text rendering here.
      </OBJECT>
      </OBJECT>

      If OBJECT was used more, then it wouldn't matter if content was mostly in plug-ins; it should be no problem to rewrite it to use alternate methods to maximize those who can see it. In non-4.0 browsers, the code above simply looks like the inner text block, so they will still see something.

      The problem is that OBJECT is yet to be strongly implemented by any browser, IE, NS, Opera, etc. Yet it was introduced in the HTML 4.0 standard, which is more than a year old, so it's a matter of getting these browser makers (all of them, not just a few select ones) up to speed on the latest approved spec asap. With how Mozilla does a separate development of the Gecko engine that handles the HTML display from the mechanics of browsing and the UI, this can help, but I doubt that one can do a similar separation with code from IE or Opera.

    • by Stiletto (12066)
      What makes a web site boring? Informative?

      Is information not surrouned by animation and beautiful shadowed icons less valuable? Does a slick candy coating make a content-less website more compelling?

      Does that flash animation really give your readers a more "complete web experience"? Do different fonts make your words more meaningful? Does the color of your text say anything about the message it contains?

      Does a message have to stand out to be outstanding?

    • Re:Unreadable sites (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TekkenLaw (521038)
      I think you are missing the point totally..making your site accessible to all browsers definitely does not mean serving to the lowest common denominator. It just means you should detect the browser & serve content appropriate for it. If a browser supports the fancy stylesheets & latest HTML standards, by all means take advantage of that, but don't forget folks using lynx who would prefer text-only content.

      As for plugins for Flash etc., I don't think this is comparable to shutting people out, as long as parallel content is available (whenever possible). Of course in all this, the most important issue is of the development cost in creating content for the large number of browsers out there.
    • by MrBoring (256282)
      I disagree about Flash. I really wish web developers would have the courtesy of not using things like this. The web protocol and most browsers with them, is really slow. It's also not innovative except in allowing people to pass whole words in the form of tags when they could pass symbols and save bandwidth. We don't need to make it any slower. So if using a standard such as Mosaic 1.0 saves bandwidth by cutting out the fancy crap, I'm all for it. I don't use the web for pretty pictures. I use it for research, and people who insist on developing software for the the absolute slowest GUI available.
    • by jesterzog (189797)

      The problem is that in order for all browsers to see everything, a web site would probably have to use HTML 1.0, resulting in a very boring web. More current technologies aren't standards based since they are so new. Where does it stop? Everything must be compatible with Mosaic 1.0?

      I disagree. There are at least two ways to provide content for web browsers that don't support the latest standards. The first is to detect the browser and display for it, and the other is to design degradable pages - which is the proper way to do it, and what the w3c has been continuously trying to encourage people to do for the last ten years. (Except for a couple of looney years when HTML 3.2 was around.)

      Right back since HTML 2.0, which was the first stable formal release of an HTML spec, the w3c has requested that user agents ignore what they don't understand [w3.org].

      If you look properly at the HTML 4.01 or even better the XHTML 1.0 strict spec (which is basically the same thing except with an XML syntax enforced), the whole thing is rigged around building a page using only basic markup like headings, paragraphs, lists, and so on. Nearly everything to do with formatting has been deprecated, except for what was more or less available in HTML originally.

      The HTML syntax has been reduced to the one for providing the actual information - or that's what the intention is, at least. All of the cool looking stuff has been moved to other specs like CSS (which is approaching version 3), that are defined externally and linked to the HTML file. With the most modern standards, it's possible to take a very basic HTML web page of marked up information, and turn it into a flashy, presentational marvel. That is for people who choose to use browsers that display those extentions. At the same time however, it doesn't prevent blind people from getting directly to the information. It doesn't prevent people using lynx.

      IMHO, good web design should always put the information part on the HTML and build the presentation around it. The alternative is serving browser-specific content, but that's really ugly because your server needs to know about all the different browsers, and it needs more server hardware for the extra processing.

      The time where it is useful is for web browsers that think they support a certain standard and act like they support a certain standard, but then completely screw it up. Netscape 4 does this with CSS. Some of the earlier browsers do it with javascript, and so on.

      It's not just legacy browsers that don't support modern standards, it's modern browsers that don't work in visual media. For example, tell me how a speech browser would support the tabbed menu selector at the top of MSN in a way that would convey "The Microsoft Network Experience". And yet you can be sure it supports all the standards that are relevant to its media.

      The thing is that it's always supposed to have been up to the user agent on the user end to decide how to present the content. That's why web servers serve up markup instead of images. I wish more managers out there would understand that. Incidently, does anyone know if Microsoft was letting in MSIE clients who had CSS and/or Javascript disabled? I forgot to check.

      My feeling now is that Microsoft has just recently used some hypocritical doublespeak and screwed over a general management view of how web standards are supposed to work, stating some of the facts but ignoring the most important ideals that they're there for.

  • hmm, very true (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CoolVibe (11466) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:10AM (#2492267) Journal
    Well.. I recently blocked MSIE from my webpage. Every other browser is welcome, but not MSIE.

    But based on what Mr. Berners-Lee says I feel kinda awkward now. Indeed, the web should be accessible by everyone and everything. There's more reasons why TBL is right, and Microsoft is at fault there as well (MS extended HTML tags anyone?). But that's probably another story and that's offtopic.

    I will remove the ban on MSIE from my site when I have the time... What the hell was I thinking?

    • The most embarassing part is that IE seems to have the best implementation of modern (in internet-time) standards out. Of course they have proprietary tags supported, but for the most part IE will render an HTML4.0 Strict page properly. Last I checked, NS barfed on CSS. I used to say "best viewed in IE5", but that's kinda ghey. Now I just say "best viewed in an HTML4-compliant browser". Doesn't sound anywhere near as elitist. And then when people email me about it not working in netscape, I tell them to get a browser that supports modern standards.
      • I tell them to get a browser that supports modern standards.

        me too. I always recommend the latest mozilla build and am careful to note that while IE5 for Mac is very compliant, IE5 for Windows is significantly less compliant than the Mac codebase. Then I note that since Mozilla uses the same codebase on all platforms, it does not have this cross-platform compatibility problem that IE5 has. I have not used/tested/read anything about IE6 so I will keep my comment limited to IE5.

        When Netscape 6 finally stabilizes on a decent version of Mozilla, I might recommend that. But until then, no way. With the Mozilla runtime always being open like IE's is, it's much speedier.

        cheers,
        -l

  • Huh ? (Score:2, Troll)

    by tmark (230091)
    they are pining for the bad old days when each piece of information need a different program to access it.'"


    What does this mean ? Is he comparing the "bad old days" with supposed "good recent days", the latter when every piece of information can be accessed by a single program ? Schlepping up numbers or words on a webpage does not constitute real 'access' any more than does providing printouts or plain text files - you still need a program (or human) to parse the output, and this is usually trivial compared to the work involved in using that information.

    And what does this have to do anyways with MS trying to block access to websites when using anything but Explorer ? This is an attempt to make ALL their information accessible by a SINGLE program, and NOT an attempt to make every piece of information accessible by a DIFFERENT program.

    We owe him a debt of gratitude for inventing the web but as far as I am concerned his invention does not make Berners-Lee's opinions on these subjects any more or less valuable than any other reasonably astute person, and his opinions are even less valuable to me when they range to social commentary. Most of his writings I have found to be incoherent or self-contradictory.

    • by bluGill (862)

      Have you ever got a document in MSWord format and not had a program that reads word? I have several times. There was a day when the docuemtn you needed was on a internet machine that you had ftp access to, but because you didn't have the right translator avaiable you couldn't read it.

      While the web isn't the best possibal fix for that problem it is a good enough fix.

    • Re:Huh ? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "What does this mean ? Is he comparing the "bad old days" with supposed "good recent days", the latter when every piece of information can be accessed by a single program ?"

      Apparently so. And the proof is in the ability of search engines like google to find stuff all over the world.

      "Schlepping up numbers or words on a webpage does not constitute real 'access' any more than does providing printouts or plain text files - you still need a program (or human) to parse the output, and this is usually trivial compared to the work involved in using that information"

      Compare going to the library to read the CIA world fact book to browsing it from their website. Hell compare a BBS to slashdot. Sure you still need access and someone has to pay the freight but in the end if you can it's a good thing. More access to more information and access to global communication mediums are a good thing.

      "And what does this have to do anyways with MS trying to block access to websites when using anything but Explorer ? This is an attempt to make ALL their information accessible by a SINGLE program, and NOT an attempt to make every piece of information accessible by a DIFFERENT program."

      Easy it comes down to this. Microsoft is making the web that they own into areas only IE can access (Yes I know you can forge your browser info but how many would just switch instead?)it's their right but it's a poor choice acessability wise. He called them on the carpet and is using his place as a web pioneer to get his point across. This should be applauded not derided.

      "We owe him a debt of gratitude for inventing the web but as far as I am concerned his invention does not make Berners-Lee's opinions on these subjects any more or less valuable than any other reasonably astute person,"

      Hey it's your opinion and you are entitled to it. At the same time, the medium of expression you choose to use today and that was seen by likely tens of thousands of readers was the one he helped bring into being.

      "and his opinions are even less valuable to me when they range to social commentary."

      But how do you reconcile that with the very idea that communication of ideas is a social thing? If someone didn't have a grand but flawed vision we might not have the web at all.

      "Most of his writings I have found to be incoherent or self-contradictory."

      Yup over many years and keynotes and papers he sure has put out a lot of stuff. Some of it is oppositional to prior views he held. Some of it is also little sound byte quotes taken from grander visions. Maybe he mellowed a bit. Maybe the world changed from his idealistic view of one program to create view and communicate. My point is lots of things change and our ability to adapt is a good one. Don't begrudge someone that ability.
    • What about the application you're using right now? It's fairly popular. All it really does is schleps up numbers or words. Right now it's schlepping up these words. I've seen it modified to support a wide array of collaborative projects.

      You can do a lot of stuff with just words and numbers, especially with server side code to back it up.

  • Content vs Media (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ers81239 (94163) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:12AM (#2492272) Homepage
    Isn't the main problem that everyone wants the web to be 'cool', not just deliver information. When the internet was invented, it was a way to share information without requiring seperate programs to access information from seperate sources.

    As a web developer, managers mostly care about how it looks, not how it works. They care about what their managers think, not what site visitors think. Everywhere I've worked sees between 90% to 98% M$ browsers, so the managers wisely decide not to spend time/money on developing for other browsers.

    As for Microsoft's claims that other browsers don't work as closely to the standards as theirs does, thats obviously hogwash. Embrace and Extend is their true scam.

    • by alexhmit01 (104757) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:46AM (#2492449)
      One of my client's sites was written with just IE in mind. It makes heavy use of CSS, and Netscape's CSS bugs just cough on it.

      However, the logs indicate that currently 8.5% of our users are Netscape 4.x.

      The operations guy at the client broke out his calculator, saw the costs of my fixing the system for Netscape, saw the revenue/profit increase, and saw that B>A and said, do it.

      I was hoping to just change the style sheet, but Netscape is totally busted, so it looks like separate scripts. Sure the IE version will be the priority, but when you can increase profits 8-10% of more (in fact, increasing revenue by 8% should increase profits 10%-12% based upon some fixed costs, etc.) it becomes really hard to justify ignoring.

      Unless technology costs are a rediculously high percentage of your budget, you can't ignore 8% of the market.

      Now WebTV and Mac, that are .5% and 1.5% of this website? They probably aren't worth spending resources on beyond testing on the Mac, but you have to evaluate your costs.

      What about non-commercial sites? Code to HTML standards, and use minimal CSS. While we have sites that need heavy CSS to look amazing, the site could work without them. Limit yourself to fonts, sizes, etc., and you'll be fine. Don't worry about it looking right tot he pixel and you'll be fine on multiple browsers.

      Alex
      • I was hoping to just change the style sheet, but Netscape is totally busted, so it looks like separate scripts. Sure the IE version will be the priority, but when you can increase profits 8-10% of more (in fact, increasing revenue by 8% should increase profits 10%-12% based upon some fixed costs, etc.) it becomes really hard to justify ignoring.
        Would you be justified in popping a window that said something like: "Hey, we aren't affiliated with Netscape, but we noticed you are using NS4.7x. We suggest that you upgrade to Netscape 6.1 here(URL)" ?

        sPh

        • Sending the user away from the page means that they aren't generating revenue for my client. We're not interested in improving the web, we're interested in improving their bottom line.

          If it works in my Mozilla browser, terrific, if not, oh well. If and when Mozilla/Netscape 6.x provide enough of a reason to make the site compliant, we'll work through their bugs.

          It's annoying, but IE/Netscape 6 conversions should be easier. I don't mind (too much) writing two stylesheets. They don't take that long. It's making two versions of the site (a legacy one for Netscape) that is annoying me.

          I test in IE because thats what the users are using. I'll develop for Netscape 6 when the platform is available.

          The central codebase is the same, I just need to write different HTML renderers...

          Sigh, one of our projects is to write our own XML language that was a content/display combo that wasn't HTML. Then we'll just write three renderers, IE/Netscape/Mozilla. Oh well, one day.

          Alex
    • Were you there in the "good old days"? There was WWW, gopher, ftp, nntp, archie, email, and others ... You needed a seperate program for each service. It took a while before the old web browsers could access these services (Mosiac was one I remember).
  • by Brad Wilson (462844) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:12AM (#2492273) Homepage
    Many sites on the web are designed toward some goal. Many are designed to be most useful in IE, because most users are using IE (depending on who you ask, the numbers will vary, but nobody denies that IE has the stranglehold now). The only reason this makes Slashdot is because the anti-Microsoft bias of the editors itches to report something like this. It's done every hour of every day on some web site somewhere.

    Does that mean IE is the best browser? Not necessarily. It is the most standards compliant browser? Not necessarily. Should people be designing their sites to be HTML 4.0/XHTML compatible instead of IE compatible? Probably. But I think the inventor of the web has a slight blind side to the fact that de-facto standards (namely, that the vast majority of users who browse the web use IE) are at least as powerful as bodies-based standards.
    • Arguably these problems are slightly different.

      In one case, the access problems are caused by using new features, eyecandy etc. In the other case specific browsers are locked out, even though they'd be perfectly able to display the content.

      While you can find plenty of arguments to excuse the first case, it seems difficult to attribute the second to anything but malice.

  • Funny. My ancient Netscape for Irix works just fine. I believed this story completely for a time because I had no real interest in msn.com. I'm sure they're locking out some browsers, but why not all?

    [kidding]
    Hey, this is just a trick to get us to try it- and thereby up their hitcount!
    [/kidding]

    Windows X-Con is ready for you! [ridiculopathy.com]
  • by webword (82711) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:14AM (#2492279) Homepage
    I don't think that Microsoft ever really planned on blocking browsers. At least not yet, and at least not for the long haul. Oh, I think eventually they will block other browsers for real, but just not yet.

    So, why did Microsoft block some folks from MSN? What were they so "foolish" you ask?

    The answer is obvious. Microsoft are great at marketing. This was free publicity. Tons and tons and tons of free press....

    After an Online Ruckus, Microsoft Opens MSN Site to All [nytimes.com]

    What a total win! They have the NY Times giving them a great headline. Oooh, Microsoft the kind, the gentle, the good. Microsoft, so good for people. So willing to bend over for people.

    What a crock. Wake up. It is sad that even Berners-Lee was suckered into this whole thing. People are always taking their eye off the ball. Microsoft knew they couldn't keep people out very long, but they knew it would stir things up. Free publicity.

    Microsoft = marketing wizards.

    By the way, given what I have said, isn't it a shame that we'll spend more time talking about Microsoft? And, isn't it a shame that /. even posted this story...?
    • by Masem (1171)
      While MS is certainly trying to spin it there way, the end of the NYTimes article claims that the spin is going against them; particularly in light of anti-trust claims.

      But I disagree that you think that MS didn't block on purpose. If all they had done was to only allow IE browsers onto the site, I can see that as being a bit of egotism and lack of foresight in whomever programmed that. However, as specifically pointed out, it was blocked certain browser strings; that is, with the default Opera identification string, it was blocked, but when it was changed by one letter, access was granted.

      But again, as the NYT article indicates, that might not have been done at the upper levels; it could have been some younger native programmer not realizing the right way to impose such a block. However, given that the latter version happened over the former, it suggests there might have been much more deeper alternative motives for this switch.

      • Masem,

        You definitely have some good points. However, I suspect that most people don't really pay full attention when they read articles. In the case of the NY Times article, the headline is pretty positive. Then again, even if you see it as negative, and even if the article is negative, it doesn't matter much. Microsoft still gets the upper hand. That is, they still get the publicity -- good or bad press doesn't matter to them. It is free and it is powerful. I stand by my posting.

        Here is something else to think about. What if you are correct and there really are deeper motives. Let's assume that I am wrong. What are the deeper motives? What does this action tell us about their plans and objectives? As usual, I don't think that there are any obvious answers.
    • by kipple (244681)
      let me see if I got it right: am I wrong, or that happened in the same period of time that XP was launched?

      No, I'm not thinking what I'm thinking, right?
    • I resent XP because of its relentless huxterism: Guiding or forcing me to use the sites that it prefers. There is a scary nexus in front of us that nobody seems to be talking about, and its about the freedoms we have with our general computing devices. Microsoft is very interested in guiding/forcing you to use their sites and technologies, to drive their revenue model.

      Right now they are able to avoid some criticism because you can reconfigure IE. You don't have to use their search sites, and you don't have to use the home page they so thoughtfully provide for you. But, what if they took the ability to set your own home page away? What if they took away the ability to choose your own search engine? What then? Why, you say, you'd just figure out how to modify the registry or hack the program or something like that. But you can't. You just violated the DMCA by doing that. You tampered with a security system, and you're going to jail.

      This isn't paranoia. It's a logical extension of what we're seeing right now. Not only will it be difficult to NOT use Microsoft's chosen service providers, it'll actually be illegal.

      Ultimately, it's about freedom. Do I have the right to do as I wish with a general computation device that I own? The DMCA says no. Hollings say s no. Microsoft says no.

      I think the industry has done just fine without massive regulation so far. We are entering an age where "the little guy" can do something equally as interesting as a large corporation. Clearly, they can't have that. Campaign contributions are dangerously close to ensuring that "they" succeed.

      Who is "they"?

      It is the RIAA. It is Microsoft. These companies believe their right to control the ultimate use of their products is more important than YOUR right to live and think in freedom.

    • Microsoft = marketing wizards.

      Interesting point, but think about this: this little stunt got all the critics talking about something MS could easily reverse, instead of talking about Win XP. It's a beautiful, no cost distraction to focus critical attention away from the really big coup. Classic misdirection. And I believe it's intentional. When it comes to marketing and PR, MS is ten steps ahead of everyone.

    • So, why did Microsoft block some folks from MSN? What were they so "foolish" you ask?

      I've built web sites where we've locked out browsers, usually Netscape. The reason is simple: we can make the site do what we want it to do in MSIE, and the cost of making it do what we want it to do (and all the regression testing on different versions and platforms) in Netscape wasn't justified by the number of Netscape users we saw in the logs for a previous version of the site. It was judged by people senior to me (who presumably know this stuff) that it was better for Netscape users to see nothing but a message to use MSIE than it was for them to use the site and see that it was broken for them.

      The thing that academic-style organizations that typically set standards on the Internet haven't yet learnt is that commercial organizations don't have time to wait for their deliberations. It is unreasonable to expect everyone in the industry to wait until a standards body can agree - Netscape didn't wait, did they? Remember <BLINK>?

      So long as there is a common subset that works in all browsers - and there is, HTML 3.2 - then vendors should be free to add extensions. If you don't want to use them, that is fine by me, but if I want to use them on content I author, that too is my right.
  • ...in Microsoft's view are only "bad" to the extent that every piece of software needed to access a discrete piece of information is not totally controlled by Microsoft. Bad for the computing public is good for MS because it means the strengthening of its monopoly on desktop systems and increased licensing revenues from the multiple programs necessary for each piece of information accessed.

    The ideal model for MS is one where not only do you need different programs for different information (managed "seamlessly" of course by Windows) but also where MS gets to ding your credit card every time you access that information.

    It pains me to see Mr. Berners-Lee's accomplishment being twisted by MS's greed.

  • And the problem is? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Aerog (324274)
    But the question still remains, who really wants to visit the MSN site anyway? I'm one in the opinion that the MSN site is already simply pro-microsoft messaging, so what's the big deal. Sure, other sites do block certain browsers, but I'm in the opinion that web developers should try their best to make it look good in all (I sure do; still design on Netscape 4.7, but add features that work in one browser (by way of the navigator.appname function.) Yeah, that discriminates against non-JS users, but there are ways around that, too, you just have to accept not having a snazzy front end.)

    The thing you have to ask is is it worth it. If you don't care what MS does with their pages, use Mozilla (or Konqueror, if that turns your crank) and read something else. If the hits go down they might reconsider.

    But maybe I'm just ranting.
    • The problem is that as corporations merge, the web becomes more homogenous. For example, I used to frequent the ESPN.com site.
      Initially it was espn.starwave.com. Then Disney bought it, and the "go" network was born, thus: espn.go.com. Somehow, MSN has now partnered with Disney, and it has become espn.msn.com, complete with an MSN banner at the top (much like Slashdot's OSDN banner, but much larger).


      What happens when sites like ESPN block users, because MSN told them to? On Friday, I visited ESPN site and found a pop-up window stating that my browser (Mozilla0.9.5/Solaris) would not display the page correctly, even though it obviously displayed it perfectly. The worry is that Microsoft will section off a part of the web and make it Microsoft-only, just as it tried to separate Java into running only on Microsoft browsers/OSes.


      The solution is to stop visiting these sites (after 5 years of daily ESPN visits, I now visit CNNSI instead), but the word must get out, or the future of the web will indeed be bleak as Berners-Lee mentioned.

  • Freedom vs Control (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alien54 (180860) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:24AM (#2492324) Journal
    It is, of course about freedom vs control. any monopoly wants to have control.

    The question is if it is possible to have freedom while allow a single company control. Or is it a matter of the golden handcuffs, and an S&M relationship between the marketer and the customer?

    Even in an S&M type of relationship, there is the matter of trust. And the problem is that in a large company, there will be people you can not trust. It becomes a fight between people who want to improve the product vs people who wish to get head by destroying their competitors. MS seems to have segregated these tyeps somewhat, pushing the destructive types into marketing.

    I do not want an S&M relationship with my software provider. I want a meritocracy of software, not a meritocracy of marketing and propanga. By the actions of marketing , and the silly games they play in system design to lock out other companies, Microsoft lost me long ago. They could not trust the quality and craftmanship of their own product to win the customer over. They had to use dis-honest means. Which meant that I started dis-trusting what the system was telling me. Their very tactics taught me to distrust them. I think that any thinking person tends to resent this kind of thing after awhile. After all, these efforts to take control are not even with your own best interest at heart, not matter how misguided. It is with their own best interest at heart, without regard for the benefits to others. Most people do not like being used in this way.

    The example of MS behavior regarding the Web is only more of the same.

  • DCMA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by grmoc (57943)
    Isn't this basically what the DCMA effectively forces one to do- that is, if you follow it to the letter?
    Look, I can't use MY pencil because the RIAA hasn't licensed it to write an opinion about song X from artist, erm label Y. (Yeah, exaggeration, but what the hey..)

    The "bad old days" is precisely what large copyright-holders want- It makes control so much easier when it is illegal to create, copy, or use information (which I might point out is the lifeblood of any culture..) without using their hardware or software.

    Just imagine what it will (could) be like if we followed the DCMA to the letter =) What fun.
    Right.
  • Did anybody else find it mildly ironic that the author of article added hyperlinks to the text? Admittedly, in this case, they were useful, but wasn't the addition of hyperlinks to the page without the author's knowledge one of the features that was widely critizied in the upcoming version of Internet Explorer?
    • The values of whether or not the useragent should do additional processing, vs whether or not pages should be created according to standards, are totally orthogonal. They are completely independant variables. Thus, there is no irony at all. A person can be smartlinks-tolerant and MSN-hating, smartlinks-hating and MSN-hating, smartlinks-tolerant and MSN tolerant, or smartlinks-hating and MSD tolerant. None of the four possible positions contains any inconsistency. (Of course, three of the positions are still wrong, though. ;-)

  • by egrinake (308662) <erikg@NOsPaM.codepoet.no> on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:46AM (#2492446)
    I believe that todays web-pages have become far too complex to fulfill the purpose they were originally intended for; originally HTML was a simplistic markup-language, which focused more on the content-structure of the document instead of the layout, using tags like H1, B, A, P etc. When sticking to these very simple tags, it is up to the user agent to render the page as best it can for its particular medium. A HTML-page should be as easily viewable in a browser on a 16,7m colour modern computer system as on a cellular phone, text-mode browser (lynx etc), news-ticker, blind-terminals or whatever. These different environments requires highly different methods for formatting the data, but the main concern is that it is still easily viewable, and has a logical structure (ie you can distinguish a headline from a footnote).

    Today, however, HTML has become very layout-centric, as opposed to content-centric, with emphasis on tables and invisible GIFs for arranging the data. This is most probably a consequence of larger commercial companies moving content onto the web, and using a mindset from magazine and newspaper production in this entirely new medium; and that's where the problems start. When you try to develop a web-page as you would a page in a magazine you have to use alot of tricks to get the desired result, and these tricks corrupt the basic meaning of an html-page. For example, it is not uncommon to have ten nested tables to take care of a basic page layout. However, the purpose of tables is not to take care of layout and design, it is to present data matrixes. And it is this kind of widespread abuse that has messed up the web to the point where it is only properly viewable by a handful of browsers, of which maybe only one or two display it as was intended by the page creator. Luckily we have new standards like XML and XHTML (I have no experience with XHTML whatsoever - so apoligies in advance if this should be wrong) which allows us to separate content-structure from layout and design. But people will most probably abuse these new standards as well... I just think that something's VERY wrong when a browser contains more source code than a complete operating system.
    • You're right. But it's not a problem. It's just that the initial view of HTML and the web was very shortsighted.
      • HTML's design wasn't shortsighted so much as those who wanted to do more layout-oriented stuff shouldn't have used HTML at all.



        They should've innovated (real innovation) and brought out a protocol that was similar to the web but had real-time two-way communications for web applications (instead of relying on cookies and POSTs, etc.) as well as layout mechanisms and colour matching, etc.



        HTML would have stayed a raw data form or moved to XHTML eventually with CSS but would've have been used for things like this [aroundrecords.com].


    • Actually, HTML has not become layout-centric at all. HTML developers have become layout-centric. Think about it. If you want such-and-such a paragraph to appear in such-and-such a place, should you have to use funky kludges such as "invisible GIFs" to get the thing to line up properly?

      You shouldn't HAVE to use invisible GIFs. Or tables in tables in tables in... HTML in fact has no good layout controlling features. Why has HTML become so hard to use, if you want a real good-looking page? Because HTML has nothing to do with layout -- and this remains the case.

  • I was trying to download the latest Intellipoint mouse drivers from Microsoft's website using Mozilla. I drilled down to a page that listed the latest (or so I thought) ver. 3.x drivers for my mouse.

    I clicked the link to download and was taken to a custom 404 page that offered links to other pages where I might find what I was looking for, those pages took me to even more 404 pages and so forth and so on.

    Out of curiousity, I tried downloading the drivers using IE 5.5, this time I was taken to a different page that listed the (real) latest drivers for the Intellipoint mouse, version 4.x.

    It seems like a whole lot of effort to go through to make it difficult for people that haven't been assimiliated by the M$ borg.

    And besides, drivers should be freely available to anyone, regardless of what browser/platform they are using. What if I was downloading it from my Solaris machine to use on a Win9x machine that didn't have a fast connection?
  • I think I'll be saving a copy of this interview to show to people who insist on using the most obscure plugins to do their web work. Maybe I am strange, but I really like it when I can look at web pages from any computer anywhere and have them look essentially the same. Thus, I tend to use simple HTML with well-supported graphics and non-browser specific tags. That doesn't seem like all that difficult of a thing to do. Trying to take over the computing world with a bad product just doesn't seem nice to me...
  • by PastaAnta (513349) on Monday October 29, 2001 @09:57AM (#2492517)
    TBL is absolutely right. The foundation for a free Internet is standard compliance. But where are we when not even Slashdot is W3C HTML compliant???

    I tried to validate it at validator.w3c.org [slashdot.org], but I got more than 600 errors!
    Try for yourself [w3.org]

    No Goat is hidden here
  • by certsoft (442059)
    I just added www.msn.com to my firewall's filter list, now all my browsers work exactly the same on that site.
  • I hate to join The Army of the Damned(tm), but is this really so news-worthy? Last time I looked, there were 'members only' sites all over the internet. NY Times has free registration. Since IE is a free download, isn't this just more of the same? I tried to help my girlfriend with her cable modem, and when I went to their tech support website, it wouldn't let me in because I didn't have a Rogers @Home browser. Are they evil too? The fact is, you can get your news from any other 'free' news site. If you really need your MSN, which is a free service, then they have every right to ask you to do something for them. We register for free at NY Times to use the service. We get ad banners from damn near every site on the web. So if MS says 'do this for us and we'll give you free content', either download the free browser, or go elsewhere. It's not anti-competitive behaviour. They're not telling you that you have to use IE for ALL websites, just theirs.
    • They they should stop lying about it: they are not using HTML and claiming that they do is false advertising. If they stopped that then I'd have no problem with needing a special browser to view their non-HTML pages.

      TWW

  • Really? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Slad (155536) on Monday October 29, 2001 @10:16AM (#2492611)
    I thought Al Gore invented the internet.
  • I just tried out MSN on NS 4.77, IE 6, Opera 5 and NS 6.1. It looks acceptable on Konqueror, as well. All work just fine -- passport even works.

    As a Web developer, I can tell you from experience that Netscape 4.x series browsers have chapped my ass far more than any version of IE ever has.

    I agree that if everyone used Lynx and only geeks used the Internet we might have Nirvana. Unfortunately, the medium of the World Wide Web has gone through the same evolution every other mass medium has -- from a tool for hobbyists to a mass (and therefore commercial) medium. Just like radio, however, if you pine for the days of vacuum tubes and cloth-covered wiring, you can always roll your own...
  • Tim can bitch all he wants about MSN ultimately becoming a closed network, and Microsoft clients ultimately sterring people towards a closed network they control...but at the end of the day the best solution that the W3 has to offer is HTTP 1.1 and XHTML 4.

    The stateless, text-oriented, forms-supported model had its day but that day has passed. The only way Microsoft, AOL, and other comapnies can offer vastly richer experiences is to either turn their entire site into a Flash sequence, or to develop proprietary protocols.

    Seeing how Microsoft would be insane to factor out the most interactive aspect of the online experience to a third party vendor like Macromedia, I am not surprised at all to see them making the moves they are making.

    The W3 could have done something about this though - once upon a time they understood that HTTP needed to be overhauled, but the HTTP-NG spec was never refined. More or less they just decided that HTTP 1.1 was the last HTTP spec. Well, guess what happens in an innovation vaccum at the open, standards-based end? Yup, closed proprietary extensions.

    Within five years the "open" web will be a second-class network and AOL and Microsoft will own 95% of online traffic on their closed, enhanced networks.

    • Umm, XHTML and HTTP 1.1 are not the problem; the fact that Microsoft doesn't simply step off and allow you to visit the site with any browser you like is the problem.
      • the fact that Microsoft doesn't simply step off and allow you to visit the site with any browser you like is the problem.

        But its only a problem for the 10% of users who either don't use XP or IE. Frankly they can get away with shunning this market as it is a lost cause anyway - that 10% will never migrate to Microsoft tools if they haven't already.

        This isn't about being a good corporate citizen - MS has never cared about that in any case (because nice guys finish last). Its about locking people into a close network of sites that support extended A/V and interactivity that joe user will drool over and pay for.

        MSN will simply be another AOL, and yes, most consumers will gladly allow themselves to be locked into one of these networks.

  • What he said wasn't 100% correct -

    Amaya is NOT blocked by MSN.com - at least the 5.1 version isn't.

    I was able to load MSN.com...

    Only problem - it didn't interpret it correctly, probably because as he pointed out, they do not use proper XHTML formatting. Screenshot here [sourcehunter.com].

    What is REALLY funny is you get something different every time you reload :).

  • In reading about the latest stupid move MS has taken to try & turn the the internet into their own proprietary .NET I find myself hoping that the new judge is watching. OK, sure, breaking up the company doesn't look feasible any longer, though it would have been nice to separate their OS from their Office Productivity from their .NET/MSN ventures. Not gonna happen though. SO, what structural remedies can be taken?

    I think our best chance lies in a judically mandated opening of all IE & .NET software & protocols to allow anyone & everyone to use it. This directly prevents an MS takeover of the net, let's them keep their precious OS monopoly, and adequately punishes them for the underhanded methods used to gain browser superiority in the first place. It also makes sure that this major piece of software most people use to surf the net is out in the open, without any hidden dirty little secrets.

    It'd be nice to make them open up the OS too, but it won't happen. Outside of /. too many people like Windows & are mystified by Linux to want it in anyone else's hands. Maybe we could try for opening up the MFCs, a long time wish of WinX programmers everywhere, which would go a long way toward making all programs better. For any lasting remedy though, something has to be done to thwart the development of proprietary internet protocols. Each individual has a part to play too. Do NOT use Passport / Hotmail. Do NOT patronize any .NET-using service. I now run XP, and despite the hype, it's completely possible to use this OS without involving yourself in any of that crap. Long term, write your congresspeople to demand laws mandating all internet communications protocols be open and available for even the individual user to make use of.

    • The government has basically signed off of antitrust for the forseeable future. With the economy in the dumps the last thing they want to do now is shave another 20% off of the markets (yes, splitting MS would do this).

      Until the terrorist threat has passed, the government is totally preoccupied and won't touch MS significantly at this point.

  • Stop, look, listen (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Brian Kendig (1959) on Monday October 29, 2001 @11:30AM (#2492975) Homepage
    You're all overlooking something very important, something absolutely critical to the game:

    Microsoft is not interested in playing nice. Everything they do is geared towards locking in more customers to gain more control and thereby more money. They pay lip service to standards and open-ness when it doesn't hurt them, but they have absolutely no hesitations about violating standards, breaking the law, or otherwise Not Being Nice when it suits them to be.

    The sole and entire purpose of Windows XP is to lock people into using the msn.com web site for all their needs, and to force them into using Windows Media Player for video and audio files. Their goal is divisiveness and incompatibility from anything that's not Microsoft-made. They want to leverage the Windows market share to make their standards and their services so necessary that people will have to be able to access the msn.com web site, and so therefore it'll just be too much trouble to bother using any browser other than IE, or any media player other than WMP. MP3's will be too much of a hassle because Windows XP doesn't support them nearly as nicely as it supports WMA files. (XP's media player has crippled MP3 features, including limiting the bit rate at which the MP3 codecs can record music.)

    Stop trying to make sense of Microsoft's actions in terms of what's best for competition or for the web. Microsoft doesn't care. They will play nice when it benefits them; they'll play dirty when it suits them; and there's nothing anybody can do about it, because they've shown they're capable of tying court cases in knots for years until long after they've won the battles in question and crushed their opponents into oblivion.

    Notice, by the way, that they're doing their best to make absolutely certain that they own all the file formats they're using; they only push for open formats when they don't own the market in question. You can bet it'll be a cold day in hell before Linux users ever get to use Windows audio and video file formats without getting sued by Microsoft, and the formats which Linux supports will continue to be deprecated in Windows -- thereby relegating Linux to become an 'incompatible' operating system which even fewer users will have an incentive to use.

    Microsoft's actions are extremely bad for the industry and for the future of computing. They have far too much power and there's no clear way to stop them.

  • Everyone should remember that loveable Netscape used to block foreign browsers from their site as well. This was back in the days when Netscape had 90% market share and thought it could bully everyone from AT&T to AOL. How times have changed...
  • Every time there's a thread about the anti-trust trial against Microsoft, I am astonished to read posts on Slashdot by people rushing to their defense. One of the common claims is that the efforts to destroy Netscape have created no disadvantage to consumers.

    Well, here you are: an Internet based on open standards is a benefit to consumers, because the browser vendors have to compete by delivering better quality against a common standard, but can't drive anyone out by introducing incompatibilities (which are completely superfluous to any consumers' needs). The more competition, the better the software, and hence greater quality at consumers' disposal.

    Now that Microsoft has gotten away with their crime and have succeeded at demolishing Netscape, leaving no meaningful competition in the browser market, it was only a matter of time before things like this would begin. With dominant market share, they can seek to eviscerate standards and leave behind an Internet that only operates on M$'s rules. Great benefit to Redmond, nothing but disadvantages for consumers.

    But even in this thread, people are claiming there's no problem! This is a sign of people completely locked into libertarian ideology, which simply cannot countenance the existence of a monopoly like M$ doing the things that they do. Evidently, denial is their only way out.
  • by benmhall (9092) on Monday October 29, 2001 @12:29PM (#2493263) Homepage Journal
    Try checking your mail with Opera or Knoqueror. As some who have posted here suggested, this story is just news because it's MS.

    Me, I want it all: I want to be able to browse to any website using a good, standards-compliant web browser and see the content. I have done corporate web development before too. Yup, it's tricky supporting all of the new browsers while maintaining compatibility with the dinosaurs like NS4.x. Such is life. Get over it.

    Oh, and MS and Netscape are not the only offenders. I sent a polite letter to ATI a few months back when I was trying to decide on my next video card and found out that ATI shut Mozilla/NS6 out. They left Konqueror though, so I was able to browse the site. Man was it broken..

    My bank, PC Financial, has had on and off support for alternate browsers. It had always worked with Mozilla/NS6 and they that stopped for a while. It seems to be working again, and now works under Konqueror too, so at least they aren't all bad...

    Finally, I went to www.ea.com a while ago. As usual, I tried with both Mozilla and Konqueror. Again, no good. They blocked them out, and suggested "upgrading" to IE.

    I can understand wanting to let NS4 go, as it really is showing its age, but that some major sites don't support NS6/Mozilla is baffling to me. It's not _that_ hard to get right.

    Oh yeah, one more thing: msn.com is a _very_ popular domain. Don't forget that it is set as the default start page for IE users. Back in its day home.netscape.com had over 40million hits a day for this reason. Now msn.com has this going for it. (But yeah, the content isn't too hot..)

    Well, there's my rambling..
    • I think the truly evil thing that MS is doing here is blocking other browsers, or even warning the users that their "experience" will be less than perfect. These other instances you mention are probably not malicious errors, they are more likely accidental ones. MS's web pages are maliciously broken.

      This is classic FUD!

      The main problem here is that Joe Newbie will take it at face value. He won't realize that Mozilla, for instance, is more standards compliant than IE and that MS is breaking their web pages by using MSHTML and blocking the better browsers on purpose. He won't realize that you can change the browser string by just one letter and view the web pages with no problems. He will instead think that these other browsers are inferior -- the opposite of the truth.

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