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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of Academic Computing and User Services
It's a refrain I find myself saying
frequently these days. "It won't work in my browser." Of course, I
suffer the burden of being a Macintosh user who likes Safari as the
default browser. Safari loads quickly and renders HTML web pages with
ease. But, there's the occasional media clip, applet, or web
application that just fails to work, leaving an apparent pothole in
the information superhighway. Yet I doggedly cling to Safari and its
ability to present text and graphics in a fast and efficient manner. Why?
Because all of that other stuff wasn't supposed to be part of the
World Wide Web in the first place.
So what happened in 1995 that changed the WWW world?
What happened? NSFNet returned to being a research-only network.
Netscape stock went public. Commercial dial-up online services began
providing Internet access. And, the Internet was unleashed on the
capitalist economy. Commercialization of the Internet changed the
nature of the World Wide Web. The Web, as it's known now, was not a
product, but rather a set of standards and protocols implemented in
client and server software. Those protocols set certain frameworks for
how information was to be organized, but not for how it was to be
ultimately displayed. For example, this article has a title and some
text. How these elements are display is determined by the browser (the
client software). Generally, a title is in a larger font with some
emphasis applied (usually bolded text). But there is no specification
to how large or what font. Those specifications are configurable in
most browsers. Yet, with commercialization came a quest for control.
My observation of marketing leads me to believe that it requires not
only control of what you see and when you see it, but how you see it
And then came Microsoft ...
World Wide Web development could have proceeded in the same manner
as previously. New ideas would be proposed and implemented, mostly in
the public domain and freely available for implementation by anyone
with the technical skills and inclination to do so. The best ideas
would get generally adopted, and the less useful ones would eventually
fall into disuse, like a
slinking back into its hole. This anarchic, but effective, development
process had served the Internet well, yielding the strongest surviving
ideas not culled by software evolution. But, something else happened
in 1995: Microsoft released Internet Explorer.
So why won't it work in my browser?
The reason that stuff doesn't work in my browser is that open
protocols and unrestricted development environments have been replaced
by proprietary software implementations and software patents. The
Web's main reason for being is no longer for open information, but for
commercial applications. And the biggest cause is the confusion of
market share with global standard. The best way to lose my interest is
to tell me that your web page works best (or only) in Internet
Explorer or any other specific browser implementation. Plain old HTML
always works in my browser.