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Wednesday 22 February 2006

Interview of Kevin Lawver, AOL

Kevin Lawver
photo (c) 2004 Daniel G. Budiac
This is the second interview on the Glazblog. Kevin Lawver works for AOL as a Principal Software Engineer and is one of the most proeminent voices pushing Web Standards inside the ol'giant that used to be Netscape's parent company. Read his words on Web Standards, blogging, MSIE and more !

Continue reading...

Thursday 24 November 2005

AOL Explorer

There's always a first time. Today, for the first time, I am going to say something good about AOHell...

The new version of AIM, Triton, comes with yet-another new Web Browser called, how imaginative, AOL Explorer. It's based on MSIE, I guess nobody is surprised here...

So, yes, it's plagued by MSIE6 bugs and security holes, but I have to say AOL did a quite nice job:

  • the whole UI is a bit too blueish for me, but it's far better than past AOL products. Less bloated, more concise, less "fun" and useless stuff.
  • tabbed browsing is of course here, and it's possible to reorder tabs just by drag and drop. Hovering over a tab shows a thumbnail. I love the "Tear off tab" context menu entry on a tab.
  • there are sidebars, with a vertical tablist of available sidebars on the left hand side of the window. That's quite cool I must say. In Firefox, you have to either use the View menu or know the keyboard shortcut. Well, I'm sure there is an extension adding some sort of tab list somewhere, but AOL Explorer's feature is not very intrusive in terms of UI, simple to use, and useful. Why should it be an extension ?
  • AOL Explorer is able to detect RSS feeds in a page and subscribe to them. There are a few bugs there unfortunately : when you manage you feeds list, the panel is not refreshed. Some blogs feeds are not detected (it could not auto-detect MozillaZine's feed for instance)
  • The Exposé mode is very well done, triggered by the little icon just below the AOL logo on the top-right hand side of the window
  • When you select a tab in the Exposé mode, you can pick up any step in the History Timeline of your tab - and that is very well done...
  • Page Effects will please accessibility lovers
  • Utilities are also cool, but since there's not a single keyboard shortcut for them, I find them rather unusable... Probably just a teaser
  • There are also a little group of totally useless stuff, precisely "just for fun". Right, it's bloat and it should go away. But it shows what the team can do with graphics effects on a page... In that screenshot, everything still works like in a normal browser, application of the filter does not result into a bitmap.
  • It's possible to add your own bookmarklet to that Power Browsing menu !
  • Here's the Settings dialog. Tabs, Popup blocking, Sidebar Manager and Spyware Scan !!!

Again, yes, I know, it's crappy-MSIE inside. AOL made the biggest strategic mistake on earth when they dropped Gecko and Firefox. Too bad the layout engine is a big piece of crap, the Web standards support is lame, the app is not skinnable, the extensibility is close to zero. But the AOL Explorer team deserves some kudos. Their app is, well, a nice browser.

Note to the AOL Explorer team : guys, you have a nice bug somewhere in your c++ code... See the main window's title in this screenshot. It's the title for about:blank, but this string comes from my MSIE browsing history !!!

Saturday 12 November 2005

Nice time for geeks...

Beginning of 1997, you could feel the first deep internet bubble effects in the Bay Area. Prices were increasing at an incredibly fast rate, companies were popping out like young mushrooms in the sunlight, salaries were exploding. But all in all, the good roles were already distributed. The gurus were already hired since 95-96, working for one of the largest software companies around or another. The 1998-1999 hires had missed the first train of opportunities and were somehow delighted to find the internet bubble on their way.

Bubble ? You said bubble ? Oh, oops, yeah a bubble can explode. Most of the late hires went away, and all the jobs not deeply related to technology went away too.

Seven years ago, Opera was a young company still far from making money ; Netscape was on a bad slope with AOL standing in its back ; Microsoft almost stopped working on Internet Explorer after the end of BW1 (First Browser War).

2005, Opera is growing and growing, and its visibility in the mobile market is a fact. Mozilla is growing and growing, its market share in the desktop browsers' segment (and I don't forget Minimo...) increasing every day. Microsoft is about to ship IE7, and still hires. Google releases incredibly cool and well done software. Everywhere around us are popping out technology-based companies, not quite the 1998 dot-coms. These companies have nothing in common with pet.com, they don't show a burn-rate as their sole company fact, they have brains, and use them to write code. The product can fail, the value of the company is the value of its brains. Technologies that people expected to appear in dad's browser in 2000 become only mature - or widely accepted - now : markup-based vector graphics (SVG), gauges and other complex form elements (XForms), graphic widgets (canvas), per-site stylesheets and scripts (CSS and GreaseMonkey), scriptable plugin APIs, and so on.

The last time the Web needed so many implementors was seven years ago. Definitely a nice time for geeks....

Sunday 29 May 2005

A'dam #3

Click on the link below to read the last bits of my trip to Amsterdam and attendance to the Xtech2005 conference. Photos included.

Continue reading...

Thursday 27 May 2004


  1. eWeek : Is the Netscape Browser Being Reborn or Just Stabilized?. Our friend Stephen Donner agrees, apparently :-)
  2. MozillaNews
  3. According to Moosh, Nvu was mentioned twice recently in the "Cybercafé 2.0" show on the Belgian french-speaking national TV (RTBF)

Simon Montagu, MozillaZine, BlogZiNet, Tristan Nitot

Click below to see the full text of my email eWeek interview

Continue reading...

Tuesday 3 June 2003


What's in a deal

Let's take together a closer look at the two recent major news that broke our world:

  1. AOL-Time Warner and Microsoft signed a deal together. AOL-TW gets $750,000,000 in cash from MSFT and the right to use MSIE for 7 more years, AOL-TW drops the case against MSFT.

  2. Microsoft announced that MSIE 6SP1 is tha last standalone version of Internet Explorer.

If the deal can be easily understood from AOL-TW top management's point of view - for these guys, it's only about money after all - it's completely mad in terms of long run strategy, in terms of technological evolution of the product, and in terms of competition.
  1. AOL will continue embedding the IE layout engine, just like MSN does. But we will probably always be behind MSN in terms of embedded layout engine. When a new Windows system is purchased, the user has, according to the deal, the choice between MSN and AOL. Ok. But what happens when the user wants to upgrade the browser ? A few possibilities here:

    1. Upgrade Windows and feel your wallet hurt,
    2. Upgrade an MSN subscription,
    3. Upgrade an AOL subscription.

    It is clear that 1 and 2 will imply an upgraded browser layout engine but what about 3? An upgrade of the AOL client will hardly be able to upgrade the layout engine since, for development roadmap reasons, we will probably always be one cycle late.

  2. The AOL client is going to have to deal with two sets of systems: MSIE6SP1 or below, longhorn or above. It means that the feature set provided by the AOL client will be different for our customers depending on the OS!!! What is the expected OS turnrate of our customers when longhorn is going to ship?

  3. We are more dependant than ever on the feature set of a competitor. What's the point being a member of the World Wide Web Consortium if all we do is embed the competitor's engine? How can we control what Microsoft is proposing and implementing in its layout engine? There is only one answer to that: that's not a competitor any longer.. It's a possible buyer, and that's a world of difference.

  4. We are more than ever dependant on the good will of Microsoft to implement (or not) the technical add-ons we need. Oh, it won't be free of charge, of course. A part of the cash we got can be immediately reserved for contracting deals with MSFT...

  5. Some rumors, true or not, (see first comment below this article) say that the new version of MSN for Windows is faster and smaller than the standalone Internet Explorer. Anyway. I seriously wonder if MSN both on Mac and Windows is not going to be based on Tasman. This could explain a lot of things, including why only new versions of Windows are going to take advantage of it, and why my friend Tantek Çelik was so preoccupied/upset some time ago. The model of World Wide Web that Microsoft is preparing for us, based on the work he did, is a model I don't like at all. It's a model where the publishers are going to be FORCED to use the highest common denominator and not a model raising the bar above the lowest common multiple. Why?

    1. because the Internet, as a market, is more mature than it used to be. Kids know how to configure a computer, access the Internet and the Web without MSN or AOL. The early adapters have nothing to do with closed models like MSN's or AOL's. That's why AOL-TW's Road Runner division is so successful in front of AOL...

    2. because we spend a lot of time at work, really a lot. Big companies are not upgrading systems as fast as individuals do with their personal computer. It means that the installed base of IE6SP1 is going to last for at least 4 to 6 more years. It means that companies are going to have to deal with a mix of IE6SP1 and new versions. And of course, they will develop their web sites for both. So they'll stick to IE6SP1 feature set. Did I say feature set? Ooops, sorry, bug set. This implies that we are NOT going to be able to implement/release new services for out customers. Or only what IE6 is able to do.

    3. seriously, are you going to upgrade your OS (and pay for that) just to get a new version of the browser? I can already hear the hot discussions in Mr Smith's kitchen: "Oh, darling, MSN12.1 implements white-space-treatment, let's upgrade to Windows 2007, that's only $199"... Nah...

  6. The impact on Netscape division and employees is, of course, tremendous. A lot of us have just no interest in working on MSHTML, that's not the work we dream of. So these people will probably accept a temporary reassignment, just to get a paycheck and see if their feelings were right or not. And they'll leave. And AOL is going to lose its best think tank. But again, the top management is too far away from us to see it. "Frankly, it's worked very well". Bwahahaha.

  7. In the long run, Instant Messaging interoperability (part of the deal) will make AOL users move to MSN Instant Messenger. That one is more powerful, more sexy, better done. Even Yahoo! IM is better done than AIM.

My conclusions go then far beyond what all the so-called journalists wrote on the subject. Netscape engineers think that Netscape was sacrified last week. This is only partly true... AOL was sacrified last week. It now seems clear to me that the TW part of AOL-TW who gained all the power during last Board Meeting sees the AOL part of AOL-TW as a dead weight. If there is any opportunity to make some money with it, at the risk of jeopardizing its future, that opportunity should be taken. AOL can't be sold for the moment, but still brings in cash, a lot of cash. All occasions to cover the costs are taken, whatever is the future, period. That's a very short term view. I don't say it's a bad strategy. But even a very short term view should think about the future. A think tank like Netscape is worth preserving it. Because innovation is where WE are. At some point, the board will consider Steve Case's idea of a spin-off or a sale. Oh come on, that's obvious. Can we compare the money generated by Matrix Reloaded and AOL8?... That day, Netscape can weigh in the balance, not because of the name or the product, but because of the brains. Making everything possible to make these people leave is counter-productive.

Microsoft played very well this game, as usual, even if I am not sure that the battle is won for them. In particular, the highest common denominator problem exposed above will hit them hardly. Information providers will have to decide between features and customers. Of course, they'll choose customers. MSFT has only one option here: an MSN client allowing both subscriptions to specific content/services and free access to the Web (I can already see the ads and the "click here to accept" section saying that you agree to receive ads for free access, and so on).

An important side-effect of this lowest common denominator hits the W3C, in my humble opinion. I firmly belive it is great time for W3C to open membership to OSS organizations like Mozilla.org. The status of Invited Expert that OSS contributors have in many groups is not enough in this new world. The annual fee could be non null but symbolic, like $50. One important condition to membership should be the existence of a "board of drivers", like in Mozilla.org. An invited expert to a Group, recommended by that board, could then officially represent the organization as a Member in the Group. The AC-Rep of the Organization would represent its org just like other AC-Reps represent a company and vote on its behalf. Representatives of an OSS org should be able to miss more conf calls than other members since they'll will probably have to pay phone calls to W3C on their own budget. Oh well. A few conditions and constraints are easy to write I guess.

B2C = business to consumer. B2B = business to business. B2R = back to reality... Go Opera! You're right. That's really a very bork bork bork world.

Thursday 29 August 2002


CNet.com is sooooo ridiculous.

7.0 PR1 7.0
We got our hands on Netscape 7 Preview Release 1 and were pleasantly surprised. This browser keeps the best of the recent Mozilla builds, including the browser itself and the e-mail client, while adding some useful tools, such as an integrated, full-featured version of AOL Instant Messenger. If the final release (due out later this summer), stays this solid and scores high on our official performance tests, it might finally outsurf Internet Explorer. We had high hopes foar Netscape 7, but we're sorely disappointed, especially by the missing pop-up suppressor. There's no practical reason to switch from either IE or Mozilla.