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   [stds] browser war - starting over

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  • From: "Simon St.Laurent" <simonstl@simonstl.com>
  • To: WebStandards Mailing List <standards@mercury.projectcool.com>
  • Date: Tue, 25 Aug 1998 16:51:00 -0400

YinSo Chen writes on the Web Standards Project (WSP) List:
>I am not sure if an _independent_ developer will have _any chance in the 
>browser market right now. The browser war is all out, and anyone 
>participating better have a vastly deep pocket to compete. 

The browser war is indeed over, if you require that all browsers be bloated
beasts that support everything an Internet user might want to do, from
<BLINK> to email to news to JavaScript.  

If you don't, there may be hope, and it may be compatible with the goals of
the WSP.  A number of folks been talking on the XML-L list (archives at
http://listserv.hea.ie/xml-l.html) about the possibility of creating a
_small_ browser based around an XML parser and supporting CSS1 or a
reasonable subset. 

Focusing on XML makes this _much_ easier - there's no need to waste
processing cycles on broken markup.  The structure can be built with a
fairly minimal toolset, thanks to the much stricter rules XML places on
documents. Implementing CSS in any significant way will, of course, require
some hard work creating displays that accurately reflect the spec.

While this doesn't achieve all the goals of the WSP, since this browser
isn't going to support every weird dream that's currently possible in the
HTML soup, it might provide an opportunity to show the major vendors that
it's possible to build a browser right. XML + CSS is the easiest way to go
for a lot of XML projects that are just getting started, and which have
been hampered so far by the lack of browser support.  IE5 has some XML
support, but not a simple XML+CSS -> display XML, and Mozilla is still a
long ways from completion. 

What I've got in mind is a simple Java HTTP engine + XML parser and a set
of tools for other code to plug in and handle the display.  Working in Java
will enforce keeping this small, among other things.  The DOM spec could
provide a foundation for reading and manipulating the parsed XML, and Swing
already provides a lot of the interface gizmos needed. Depending on how
well the modularity is implemented, it might not be too hard to plug other
things like JavaScript into the browser.

It's not a perfect idea - Netscape and Microsoft probably won't lose sleep
over it - but it seems like a good way to get things moving, especially in
XML.  Keeping it an open source project would make it easy for the maximum
number of people to examine and fix the implementation.  While implementing
a subset of CSS won't necessarily make designers happy, it would probably
be enough to get XML-based client apps rolling.

If anyone's interested in writing up an initial spec for this or
contributing programming time to it, please let me know.  I've got too many
non-paying projects already, and I'm not enough of a programmer to pull
this off myself, but it seems like an idea whose time has come, and one I'd
like to work on.

Simon St.Laurent
Dynamic HTML: A Primer / XML: A Primer
Cookies / Sharing Bandwidth (November)

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