a jaundiced eye: dark fiber
for monday, august 18, 1997.

Remember Tiny Applications?

I had some fun the other day. A friend had discovered that she still had a copy of the original 0.9 beta version of Mosaic Communications Corporation's new Netscape browser for Windows. Packed into a zip archive, the browser (which includes the ability to send mail and even read news, albeit via an ugly browser-window interface) weighs in at a hefty 380K. So I downloaded it from her FTP site, marveling at the speed, and played around with it, remembering the nifty "spinning chimes" logo/animation, the Sartre quote at the bottom of the about:authors page, and the general freshness of the attitude.

All human actions are equivalent ... and ... all are on principle doomed to failure.
    Jean-Paul Sartre (Being and Nothingness, Conclusion, sct. 2)

It is now over three years later, and Microsoft has announced the latest beta edition of FrontPage 98. The product introduction and download information estimates that the 22MB download will take over six hours. If you want the bundle, which includes an image editor, you'll have to wait over ten hours for download. Their Internet Explorer for Macintosh, 4.0 preview 1 weighs in at a hefty 11.6MB. Of course, you can always order the CD, and give Microsoft your name and address and the cost of the media.

Not that Netscape's latest browsers are much better, but compare IE4P1 with Communicator 4.01 - the difference? About 5MB, in Netscape's favor. More than fifteen times the size of the Mozilla 0.9 beta mentioned above - and that's just the difference between the two.

In any case, I'm thinking it's time to return to the glory days of smaller software, where the byte count doesn't increase exponentially in relation to the functionality. Maybe they set a target size based on the amount of marketing blather generated about the product?

Of course, this is silly. It is, to some extent, our own fault, for being excited about things like Java, Javascript, plugins, additional image formats, and so forth, right? Our frenzied downloads have driven the hype to new levels, bringing more and more code bloat to the browser. How much of this stuff do you actually use?

Netscape, in a surprise move, listened to feedback from users recently and decided to reverse the bloat trend. They are going to return to the glory days of trim clients by issuing a browser-Netcaster bundle, without Mail, News, an HTML Editor, and so forth. I asked them for this at the second Dev-Con, since we were using the browser as a help platform on a production system without news, where we had already trained the operators on Sun's mailtool. The response was short and negative. It seems having competition has changed their tune.

I downloaded the Opera browser recently. It is a modular, extensible, and fairly small browser, as they should be, and I'm really excited about having a reliable third-party testing platform for my sites. More on that later...

Steven Champeon

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© 1997-2001 Steven Champeon. All rights reserved.
All slights reversed.