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Commentary for: 6 April 1998
Last Week's edition

Greatscape or Flakescape?
award logo Netscape finally released the source code for their browser last week and you can find it at www.mozilla.org of you really want to.

Is this a good or a bad thing?

Well I've got mixed feelings about it. As someone who has to support sites that are already accessed by a variety of different browsers from Netscape and IE2 through to the latest version 4.x browsers, I can't say I'm looking forward to the inevitable emails that start out:

I've just downloaded the "xyz" version of Netscape and I'm having trouble with your site...

I suspect many other webmasters will be in a similar position.

The reason for this is that we're probably going to see a plethora of different versions of Netscape appearing on sites around the Web. Each will have some "fabulous new feature(tm)" added by someone. In some cases this might be good - like the version with 128bit encryption that has already appeared out of Australia. Yes folks, now we undeserving non-US residents can at last use a browser with *real* security. Be careful though... both the NZ and US governments seem intent on considering strong security to be a kind of armament, just like a mortar or bazooka. So girls and boys, remember to keep treat all browsers as loaded, always keep them pointed in a safe direction and never log in if you've been drinking.

Joking aside, what's going to happen when Johny come-lately adds a gee-whiz(tm) feature to his copy of Netscape and then puts it on his Web site?

What if that gee-whiz(tm) feature is actually a trojan that could read or erase the entire contents of your hard disk drive?

Sure, sensible people will only download copies of Netscape from a known reliable source where they're made available only after stringent checking. But then again, sensible people don't fall for those chain-letter emails that are still claiming tens of thousands of new victims every day.

The Netscape threat to Java
Netscape's source code doesn't include Java support and this could be very bad news for Sun. Suddenly Netscape has changed from being one of Java's strongest players to a company which is now shipping code that forces developers to create a non-Java browser. Sure, users can download the Java plug-in from Sun, but that's not the point. One of the main reason for Java's success on the Web to date has been that it eliminates the need to download and install plug-ins. What chance does it have now that Netscape hybrid browsers won't have it and Microsoft have decided to follow their own agenda; an agenda that doesn't require them to support or be compatible "real" Java anyway.

Will Java still be around on the Web in 12 months or will we all be forced to use Microsoft's vision of the best Web-based programming language?

There can be little doubt that Sun's vision of Java will survive as a general programming language - it already has "critical mass". Microsoft's J++ will also be a success but will attract more C or C++ programmers than it will existing Java programmers. As with so many things in this industry, Java has an almost religious following and nothing short of Bill Gates proving to be the second coming will lure them to J++.

The silly thing about all this is that despite the fact Microsoft's browser doesn't support all the features required to make it true Java, it's a damned site better at running Java applets than Netscape's offering and has been almost since day 1. I fear that on the Web at least, a better product and dominance in the browser market will win the day and leave Sun still tying its shoelaces while Bill Gates breaks the winner's tape at the other end of the track.

Sad but true.

Update NOW to 4.05
By the way, if you're currently using Netscape 4.04 or older, you really should update to the latest version from Netscape which is 4.05. This update fixes a security problem and a few other annoyances - plus, being a "factory" version, it still has Java support.

You might have to use their ftp site to get the new version because the Web site hasn't been updated to reflect this latest update.

Is Java doomed?

Know what you're getting into!

disinGENTMuous hosting?
Another Beware!
I've received a Right of Reply regarding my warning about Big Planet and the arrival of its disciples into the New Zealand market so have a read.

Another warning this week: be wary of GENTM.

A reader sent me a copy of an advertisement they saw in the Infotech Office publication back in February. It reads:

SMALL Business Web-Site Starter Pack. Four web-pages, three hours' personal tuition, one month's subscription to GENTM, the global business network and web-hosting service for small businesses; advice on how to promote your web-site; and ongoing support. All for $695. Contact Dr. Nicole Bishop.
Phone 04 570-0226
Email: 508577@ix.gen.com

Now there's nothing wrong with what she's offering. For your $695, she'll knock you up a web site with four pages, give you some training and subscribe you to GEN who will host your Web site and (allegedly) give you a whole range of other services.

She's also quite open about the fact that the $695 doesn't include your hosting costs - except for the first month. GEN are going to charge you another US$30 a month for your email and web hosting.

I'm not interested in whether Dr Bishop's work (here's an example and here's her GEN home page) is worth the $695 she's charging - that's a simple decision which is somewhat subjective and ultimately up to the consumer.

My warning is as much for Dr. Bishop's benefit as it is for my other readers. GEN has been around for a while and I've *never* heard a single nice thing said about them. Some time ago I received large amounts of junk email from people promoting GEN (yes, you guessed it, they seem to run some kind of MLM structure to their operation) and that's always a very bad sign. In my opinion, products that represent good value seldom need the crutch of MLM to become successful. Strange isn't it how Rolls Royce, Compaq, Rolex, Nike, Sony, or other quality brands prefer to use traditional non-MLM distribution and marketing structures through which to retail their products, I wonder why?

On receiving a copy of the advertisement above I did a little more digging and came up with a reference to this page. Now I know it's not possible to please all the people all the time and regardless of how good a product or service is, there'll always be someone who will find something to grizzle about. However, the experiences of those who have contributed to this page must be considered too consistent and serious to ignore.

If you're thinking of getting a Web site built, either by a well-known local company, an individual such as Dr. Bishop, or even if you're doing it yourself - think carefully before you spend any money tying yourself to GEN, especially if you're going to be giving them your credit card details.

GEN's prices are not competitive in today's market (around NZ$830 for the first year) - shop around for hosting services, it's certainly a buyer's market and there are a lot of vendors with much better track records who are selling superior hosting products at lower prices.

Ads like Dr. Bishop's are bound to start appearing with increasing frequency as some people take the offerings of organisations such as GEN at face value without even bothering to do a quick search on AltaVista to see what others are saying about them.

If you do decide to get Dr. Bishop (or anyone) to build your Web site - ditch the GEN option!

Spread the word, tell a friend about Aardvark
Aardvark's popularity continues to grow steadily and I thank all my readers for their regular visits. I would like to take this moment however to ask you to mention Aardvark and give the URL to a friend or a work-mate this week. There are still tens of thousands of Net users who don't know about Aardvark - maybe you'd like to help them out (But please, no usenet postings or unsolicited emails or chain letters ;-)
The Listener's Web Site
Well the correspondence continues to flow in regarding my views on The Listener's Web site - and without exception it's all supportive of those views.

If you missed Peter Sinclair's comments in last Tuesday's NZ Herald, try and find a copy somewhere - it's in the Business Section and well worth a read (as Pete's column always is).

Likewise, if you didn't catch Paul Reynold's regular fortnightly spot on National Radio with Kim Hill on Friday Morning, drop into his web site and listen to the RealAudioTM archive.

I also hear on the grapevine that I've put a few pony-tails out of joint and soured a few latte's with my comments - but if that's the price of calling a spade a spade, so be it.

Credit where credit's due however, the designers have made some changes - no doubt based on the avalanch of complaints that have been aired. The forums have been made somewhat better - albeit still a long way from optimal - it could be argued that even Matt's free WWWBoard perl script is better than what they're offering on their second attempt.

They've still failed to explain that annoying 30 second delay that it takes for the page at www.listener.co.nz to transfer to the page at www.listener.co.nz/FrontPage.asp - which is the main page of the site. Try it - see what I mean.

Still - let's give them another week to try and fix some of the problems.

The designers of two Web sites have availed themselves of my offer from last week and received a free 15 minute site survey. Both sites were already pretty good and one in particular was simply excellent, the only thing I found wrong being a single broken spacer graphic. What's more, this was an in-house design by a group of people who openly admitted that they were new to Web design. Well they did a damned good job and have obviously been prepared to learn a lot before getting started. I'll give this site a mention next week.

Calling a spade a spade

This Week's Featured "Aardvark Enabled" Site

NZ Horses Online

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The I.C.B.I.T Award
I Can't Believe It's True!

Hang up your modem and pick up your phone this week.

We've all seen Quick Tips numbers in the Yellow Pages directories haven't we? They're a great idea - you can dial up and listen to a pre-recorded message that tells you all about some subject or another. Great little bits of info for the average phone user - or are they?

Check out the one titled "Accessing The Internet" on page 1198 of the Auckland directory (other areas may be different).

In Auckland, the number is:

3771515 then 3451

It starts out okay but rapidly dissolves into geek-speak and immense detail that will undoubtedly confuse your average punter no end.

Right of Reply.

Someone involved in Big Planet practises his pitch through the

Right of Reply

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