Netscape founder laments that browser innovation is dead

Reported by Yahoo, Marc Andreessen laments that innovation on the browser is dead, has been dead since five years and nothing good is to come for the next five years:

Navigation is an embarrassment. Using bookmarks and back and forth buttons -- we had about eighteen different things we had in mind for the browser.

Well, if they were all comparable to the Javagator (a browser entirely written in Java) he fancied at the time, I'm dubious about the other 17! And it looks like, for Marc, innovation stopped around Netscape 4.5 and the launch of the Mozilla project (take that, Mozillans!). Why did he kept those innovations locked in his trunk at a time where Netscape, struggling against Microsoft but still enjoying a visible market share and notoriety, could have used them to regain ground?

For a second I had a nightmarish vision of the web seen through the "innovative Netscape client and its marketing portal" -- the only way to decipher the proprietary (but innovative) Netscape tag soup. Read between the lines and think about the importance of standards and compliant tools that secure universal access to information. One may not rank pop-up blocking and tab-browsing as innovations -- and that is debatable -- but I certainly do appreciate the time that browsers developers have taken to embrace web standards, proving that useful innovation is the full delivery of a simple promise appealing to all, not a half-baked dream appealing to a few techno geeks.

May be El Reg is right, Andreessen might be a secret IE user. I like their epitaph:

Andreessen left Netscape after its merger with AOL in 1999. Having once derided Windows as a poorly debugged device driver loader, Andreessen this Spring saw Netscape's parent AOL sign a seven year deal with Microsoft for the right to continue using Internet Explorer as the core of its client software.

5 Comments

I think Marc was referring to true innovation, not the incremental trifles we've seen in most browsers. Something like www.irider.com

What Hal said. Comparing “web standards” with innovation is ludicrous — if Netscape hadn’t gone beyond those specifications we wouldn’t have tables, cookies, or the DOM, and if Microsoft hadn’t gone beyond those specifications we wouldn’t have CSS. Comparing popup blocking and tabbed browsing with innovation is also daft — the former consists of not opening windows users never asked for in the first place (oh, gee, how grateful we should be!), and the latter is only of interest to a tiny geek minority.

Why didn’t you address what Marc actually said? Having to browse the Web with Back and Forward buttons is really crappy. Even browsing through a book is easier than that.

Sorry Matthew, but I beg to differ.

Andreessen seems to keep complaining that there is NO innovation in the browser space but shows NOTHING (and certainly he didn't save Netscape with innovations I would have loved to see while there!) Why did (does) he keep those innovations locked in his trunk?

As for the appreciation of what's innovative or not, you seem to think that anything that is not earth-shattering isn't innovation. I beg to differ here too.

And I did not compare web standards to innovation. If innovation there is, it's their implementation in browsers and the end of the proprietary web and the browsers war. As for saying that following standards prevents innovation, I know a few people at the W3C who will find this very amusing.

I also happen to know a few non geeks who love tab browsing. Wasn't the web only of interest to a tiny geek minority for a long time?

Hopefully, I did write "One may not rank pop-up blocking and tab-browsing as innovations", too bad you missed that too...

  1. No, Marc doesn’t “keep complaining”, he made the comments in one (1) Reuters interview.
  2. After version 3, Netscape weren’t in a position to introduce meaningful browser innovation. They’d added so much HTML/JavaScript/Java stuff so quickly that their code architecture was spaghetti. Microsoft had the progamming and management resources to rewrite much of their browser (twice) without slowing down; Netscape didn’t, so they got screwed.
  3. “Locked in his trunk”? You keep using that phrase … I do not think it means what you think it means.
  4. Marc may be blowing smoke about all the ideas he had, but if he wasn’t, it would be foolish to make such ideas public without having the programming resources to beat Microsoft to market with them.
  5. Innovation doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, but being non-stupid (not opening unwanted windows) or appealing to geeks (tabbed browsing) hardly even registers on the seismograph.
  6. You compared Web standards to innovation on not one but two occasions:
    1. “Read between the lines and think about the importance of standards…” (That was a non-sequitur, since Marc hadn’t even alluded to standards at all.)
    2. “…I certainly do appreciate the time that browser[] developers have taken to embrace web standards, proving that useful innovation is…”
  7. No, the W3C have very little idea of the ecological consequences of their actions. By making Web standards more complex they make producing new compatible browsers more difficult, which in turn makes innovation less likely.
  8. No, the Web spread remarkably quickly, compared with other applications such as e-mail and spreadsheets.
  9. No, I didn’t miss it. You offered no other examples, and complying with existing standards is (almost by definition) not innovation. So if you wish to demonstrate Marc’s wrongness, I think you need better examples.

if Microsoft hadn’t gone beyond those specifications we wouldn’t have CSS

CSS1 was authored by Bert Bos and Håkon Wium Lie, who both worked for the W3C at the time, not by Microsoft.

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