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Web Standards Project: Deliver on your promises, Netscape!

by Edd Dumbill -- 2000/07/21

Voicing the thoughts of many web standards advocates, the Web Standards Project has heavily criticized Netscape for taking so long over Mozilla, its next-generation web browser.

In pledging thorough support for W3C standards in Mozilla, Netscape has won the praise of many who wish to see a web free of proprietary lock-in and custom technology. However, in the last two years while Microsoft has shipped three browsers, Netscape has shipped none.

This delay is making life increasingly difficult for those who want to prove that standards-based implementations are good for the web. The Web Standards Project (WaSP) complains:

Netscape, you have placed W3C standards advocates in the unenviable position of supporting plans instead of products. After two long years of endorsing your goals - and barely mentioning the fact that your existing product is the least standards-compliant browser on the market - we've begun to question our wisdom, if not our very sanity.

The WaSP go on to argue that Netscape's delays may be attributed to the difficulty of implementing standards support, and thus validate Microsoft's position to only implement the finer points of standards on deman from customers. WaSP writes that "The perception that standards are somehow to blame is enough to cause harm."

Meanwhile, Netscape's main browser is still Netscape 4, which has very poor standards support, and is actually holding back standards-compliant web authoring.

The best solution for the web, says WaSP, is for Netscape to withdraw the Netscape 4 browser immediately, whether Netscape 6 is ready or not:

Beyond that, if you hope to remain a player, and if you expect standards advocates to keep cheering you on, you must ship Netscape 6 before its market evaporates - along with the dream of a web based on open standards.

The WaSP's challenge to Netscape echoes feelings held by web developers, many of whom wish to use Mozilla as an application platform, but are thwarted by the uncertainty of the release date, and the still-shifting sands of technologies like XUL. The desire to get the "platform" right, however, is holding up the release of a straightforward browser application.

As projects like Galeon show, Netscape should have been able to ship a standards-compliant web browser in the first half of this year, were it not for the encumberance of the (albeit promising) Mozilla platform.

Update: Chris Nelson of MozillaZine has written a response to the WaSP's article. Entitled "Astounding comments from the WSP", Nelson's article rebukes the WaSP, saying it "so easily turned its back on Netscape and the Mozilla effort":

The WSP has taken exactly the wrong attitude. Instead of heaping scorn on Netscape (and, by association, the Mozilla effort), you should be supporting -- nay, advocating -- the standards compliance that Mozilla and Netscape 6 will bring to the market. You should be advocating for Mozilla's standards goals that you so quickly took credit for a year and a half ago.

Further discussion is taking place in MozillaZine's Talkback pages.