John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · 11 December 2003
The Browser Wars are on Again
Netscape died an ugly death a couple of years ago after coughing up a bloated, overdue and fritzy version 6 which everyone ignored because they had all switched to Internet Explorer. Even I used Internet Explorer. I briefly tried Opera, but after finding out it was spyware and and transmitting retinal scans and whatever else it could find out about me to some igloo in Norway I dropped it. I didn't missing the flashing ads either. Another sorry chapter in computer history over, Microsoft wins again.

On my home PC Netscape 4.72 persisted largely because I couldn't get Internet Explorer to work right on NT 4.0. I am still trying to scrape off the wierd utility processes the failed IE installs injected into my system. Why does my PC listen on port 8888 all the time? Is it IE? Has it been turned into a zombie by some brat in Poland? I don't know, but at least I was happy with my Netscape 4.72 plus Proxomitron combination which eliminated all ads and popups. Happiness was not to last however because little by little sites just stopped working. At first it was just IE-crazed corporate sites that were using Microsoft-special DHTML to I don't know try to take over my whole house. It's hard to tell what they were doing, but it sure was not HTML. In most cases Netscape 4.72 would crash and burn. As far as I was concerned this was a Good Thing because the last thing I wanted was some super-powered ActiveX control running on my machine. The crash was my assurance that MS was not having its way with my box.

In time the non-compatibility spread to other advanced sites that were not MS junkies. I think it was when the newer CSS stuff started becoming more common. A lot of sites that I actually wanted to visit like Motorola's became unviewable. I started casting around for a replacement. First I tried an old Mozilla build that didn't really work that great but last spring I switched to Firebird 0.7 and never looked back. Firebird runs almost any site and has built-in ad blocking and tabbed browsing. I would not in my wildest dreams even think of trying IE anymore. IE has been leapfrogged. The browser wars are on again.

One of the really cool things about Firebird are all the advanced extensions available for it which all install instantly and seemlessly. It is clear that IE is stagnating but the Mozilla group is just running wild with new ideas and innovation. A good example is the HTTP headers add in. I used to use (and still do occasionally) a telnet client to view the control headers for web sites and for our development purposes on OPeNDAP servers, but you can get a Firebird extension called "HTTP Headers" that makes it much easier to view and modify headers. For example, when I go to my own website, this is what the extension displays in a separate window:

GET / HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; WinNT4.0; en-US; rv:1.5) Gecko/20031007 Firebird/0.7
Accept: text/xml,application/xml,application/xhtml+xml,text/html;
Accept-Language: en-us,en;q=0.5
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
Accept-Charset: ISO-8859-1,utf-8;q=0.7,*;q=0.7
Keep-Alive: 300
Connection: keep-alive
If-Modified-Since: Wed, 10 Dec 2003 19:08:34 GMT
If-None-Match: "1a5bd2a0-1d42-474b080"
Cache-Control: max-age=0

HTTP/1.x 304 Not Modified
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2003 20:59:53 GMT
Server: Apache/2.0.47 (Win32)
Connection: Keep-Alive
Keep-Alive: timeout=15, max=100
Etag: "1a5bd2a0-1d42-474b080"

The first block is the request headers and the second block is the response block from my Apache server. There are a whole bunch of other extensions that are useful for both developers and ordinary people.

Just to clarify the difference between Mozilla and Firebird. Mozilla is a suite of stuff including a browser, email client, news reader etc. Firebird is the browser only. Also, Firebird is a more advanced version of the browser than is found in Mozilla.

If you are not using Firebird you should and here are the reasons why. Personally I think that the key reasons are the ad-blocking and the security. Firebird is a much more secure and private environment than IE.

Fortunately the rest of the world seems to be waking up to the reality that IE as it stands is obsolete so the browser wars are on again which is good for us consumers because the competition will get good products flowing.

Developer Diary · · bio · Revised 11 December 2003 · Pure Content