Dan Kohn (dan@teledesic.com)
Thu, 6 Mar 1997 17:58:26 -0800

Wow, based on the far left leanings of this article alone, (wasn't=20
"the collapse of government intervention in computer standards"=20
horrible?!?), I just unsubscribed to enode.

At least they agree with the FoRK consensus that the W3C is just=20
Netscape's pansy.

- dan

-----Original Message-----
From: Nathan Newman [SMTP:newman@garnet.berkeley.edu]
Sent: Thursday, March 06, 1997 3:04 PM
To: Nathan Newman

Vol 2, No. 2
February, 1997

To subscribe to this monthly newletter on information
technology and society, send the message "subscribe" to
=B7 by Nathan Newman, Progressive Communications,=20

With the World Wide Web, the Internet broke into national headlines=20
and the national consciousness. And it was Netscape Communications=20
which would become the central firm around which a slew of new Silicon=20
Valley companies would form. However, before business hype overwhelms=20
history, it's worth remembering exactly how Netscape stole the Web and=20
became a billion-dollar company.
Netscape began its life with a direct assault on the original=20
government-based web standards created by the National Center for=20
Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in Urbana-Illinois and Europe's=20
CERN research laboratory. In working to take over control of those=20
standards, Netscape would play a three-cornered game against both the=20
NCSA and against Microsoft, who Netscape executives knew would quickly=20
be coming in with its own controlled standards. Netscape's success=20
would be based on a cutthroat sense of business timing and some quick=20
technical ingenuity.
Its success would also be based on the virtual withdrawal of the=20
government from any serious intervention on behalf of Internet=20
standards. Instead, Netscape would develop a distinctly regional=20
economic strategy around standards, drawing on the expertise of a wide=20
range of Bay Area companies in a fight that would start over standards=20
around Web software but would explode into a battle for the very=20
architecture of future computer hardware and software.
The initial Web "browser", Mosaic, was created at the University of=20
Illinois at Champaign-Urbana where the National Center for=20
Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) was located. The National Science=20
Foundation had officially funded the NSFnet "backbone" of the Internet=20
to link five major supercomputing centers, including NCSA, and NCSA's=20
software development group had concentrated for years on=20
high-performance information-sharing and collaboration software. Even=20
before Mosaic, the NCSA had back in 1985 created software "clients"=20
for PCs and Macs, called Telnet, to use the Internet to access and use=20
computers connected to the Internet as if the user were locally based.=20
A different computer center at Illinois was responsible, as well, for=20
the popular Eudora client for electronic mail on PCs and Macs. The=20
NCSA had worked to create a graphics-based collaborative tool for=20
sharing documents called Collage, so it was natural for them to create=20
a team to develop a graphics-based version of the Web "HyperText=20
Markup Language" (HTML) protocols created by CERN in Europe. The=20
result of this forty-member team was Mosaic, first introduced on the=20
UNIX platform in January 1993, with Macintosh and PC versions=20
introduced in August 1993. Copyrighted by the University of Illinois,=20
Mosaic could be downloaded for free by individuals and by companies=20
wishing to use the Internet for internal communications.
However, the NCSA did not want to become a help desk for commercial=20
applications, so in August 1994, the University of Illinois assigned=20
future commercial rights for licensing NCSA Mosaic to Spyglass, Inc, a=20
local company created by NCSA alumni to commercialize NCSA technology.=20
The goal was for university researchers to continue developing=20
longer-term technology and standards to be incorporated into browsers,=20
while Spyglass would help license the technology to companies=20
addressing immediate customer needs such as support, speed, and=20
security. Spyglass began widely licensing Mosaic to computer=20
companies including IBM, DEC, AT&T, , NEC, and Firefox Inc,, who was=20
working to integrate Mosaic standards into Novell networking software=20
for the personal computer.
With the licensing agreement requiring Spyglass to closely share=20
technology with the NCSA, Spyglass President Douglas Colbeth noted=20
that the benefits of the commercial version of the viewer, dubbed=20
Enhanced NCSA Mosaic, would be a "stable and standard" product across=20
multiple computer platforms. And the combination of license fees to=20
the university and the potential economic development benefits to the=20
surrounding community made it appear that the Urbana-Champagne region=20
might be about to experience the same government technology-driven=20
boost that Stanford and Berkeley had given to the Silicon Valley=20
region. "This is the classic example of technology transfer that=20
Congress envisioned in setting up the supercomputer center in 1985,"=20
argued Larry Smarr, director of the National Center for Supercomputing=20
Applications, at the time. Stable standards and technology transfer=20
to the community made it appear that Urbana-Champagne would be=20
appearing on the map as an upstart technological rival to Silicon=20
But it was not to be. Watching Mosaic from the Bay Area, Silicon=20
Graphics CEO Jim Clark, a veteran of the workstation UNIX standards=20
wars, understood how much money could be won if a company could take=20
control of the standards of this new Internet tool. So Clark left his=20
company and set out to destroy Mosaic and replace its=20
government-backed standards. He met with Marc Andreesen, a member of=20
the Mosaic team who had been hired at a Bay Area Internet security=20
firm called Enterprise Integration Technologies. Out of that meeting=20
in April 1994 was born Mosaic Communications Corporation (later to be=20
called Netscape). With Clark putting up the capital, Andreesen=20
recruited five other Mosaic team members from NCSA to design what they=20
called in-house Mozilla, the Mosaic-Killer. In six months, Clark's=20
team had created a powerful browser, which the team called Netscape,=20
with easy-to-navigate features and which loaded graphic images faster=20
than NCSA's Mosaic.
But Netscape Navigator did something else-it included the ability to=20
display text formatting that did not even exist in the HTML standards=20
embedded in the NCSA Mosaic browser. This meant that Web pages=20
designed to work with Netscape would not be readable by all the other=20
Mosaic-based browsers. This would encourage people to use Netscape=20
browsers and, as Netscape developed them, would encourage Web=20
designers to pay Netscape for the server software that developed Web=20
pages using their modified standards. It was this later market of=20
selling Web design tools costing from $1,500 to $50,000 where Netscape=20
intended to make their money.
And then Clark and Andreesen compounded their fracturing of the NCSA=20
standard by giving their version away for free over the Internet. The=20
University of Illinois had demanded that Clark's company pay for a=20
license fee before selling their version. Clark later said that he=20
refused because the university was demanding an ongoing per-copy=20
royalty: "I didn't tell them, but we had intended to allow people to=20
download it, and they were going to charge me. The amount varied, but=20
nothing is innocuous when you're talking tens of millions of people."=20
The point of the licenses by Illinois had been, along with collecting=20
a little revenue, to control the standards and make sure that the only=20
free version available was the official NCSA standard. NCSA was=20
working with a broad network of government and private industry=20
Internet professionals on the HTML standards and the free Mosaic=20
version was to exist as the freeware software standard that would help=20
keep all Web software on a stable, public standard.
Netscape's strategy, though, was essentially to "dump" (in the=20
economic sense of selling below cost to destroy a rival) its version=20
onto the Internet, thereby undercutting the rest of the commercial=20
browser companies who couldn't duplicate Netscape's actions because=20
they were fairly paying per copy license fees to NCSA. So Netscape,=20
being the sole enhanced commercial browser flooding the Internet, was=20
able to destroy NCSA-led standards and take over standards creation=20
Unlike in earlier days of the Internet when the government had worked=20
creatively to assure open publicly accountable standards, the federal=20
government did nothing to support NCSA's standards. Other companies=20
and analysts would immediately condemn Netscape's actions as a=20
monopolistic move, but there were no investigations into possible=20
monopoly practices, no lawsuit by NCSA alleging intellectual property=20
infringement, no announcements that the federal government would use=20
only NCSA-approved codes in government Web sites, no announcements=20
that it would refuse to buy any Web servers (i.e. Netscape's) based on=20
such non-standard formatting, and no signal from the government at all=20
that they would oppose Netscape's takeover of the standards.
Instead, the University of Illinois, after a bit of public grumbling,=20
threw in the towel. They signed an agreement with Clark in December=20
1994 that allowed Netscape to be sold without a license for the minor=20
concessions that the words "Mosaic" be removed from the firm's title=20
and that no mention of Mosaic be made in marketing the browser. Given=20
the moves towards privatization of government Internet functions in=20
preceding years, the failure of decisive policy is not surprising.=20
Criticism had already been leveled against the University of Illinois=20
and NCSA for their commercial relationships, and, in the context of=20
December 1994, the month after Newt Gingrich's anti-government message=20
had stormed to a majority in Congress, there was probably even less=20
appetite by government officials to defend the wisdom of government=20
regulation of standards.
In a perverse way, Clark and Netscape would justify their destruction=20
of the government standards based on the expected weakness of the=20
government in defending them, noting that Microsoft would have soon=20
have used its dissemination of the operating system to take control of=20
standards if Netscape didn't do so first through free distribution.=20
Argued Clark:
At some level, standards certainly play a role, but the real issue is=20
that there is a set of people, a set of very powerful companies out=20
there, who don't play the standards game. For the standards game to=20
work, everyone has to play it, everyone has to acknowledge it's the=20
game. Companies such as Microsoft aren't going to sit around and wait=20
for some standards body to tell them, You can do this. If your=20
philosophy is to adhere to the standards, the guy who just does the de=20
facto thing that serves the market need instantly has got an=20
And once Netscape had taken control of the standards from NCSA, in=20
order to gain trust in its management of the Web standards, the=20
company drew on many of the collaborative practices and resources in=20
the Bay Area in gaining trust in its stewardship of standards, much as=20
a key partner, Sun Microsystems, had done in building trust in its=20
UNIX operating system standards in the early 80s. Netscape would=20
build the possibility of "plug in" architecture into its browser, so=20
an explosion of new firms could easily follow Netscape in Internet=20
distribution of new products that could instantly be incorporated into=20
individual's desktops. Netscape, having seized leadership of Web=20
standards would continue to work with the old Internet fellowship of=20
engineers embodied in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and=20
the more recent World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C) based at MIT and run=20
by Berners-Lee, who came to MIT in late 1994 from Europe's CERN. And=20
as Microsoft entered the game with its own Internet Explorer browser=20
to appear on every Windows desktop, the grumblings over Netscape's=20
occasional forays into proprietary advantage would lessen as the=20
alternative fear of Microsoft taking over the whole computing world=20
In a the end, Netscape would argue that the beloved public village of=20
standards was threatened by Microsoft, and Netscape had only destroyed=20
the village in order to save it. And if saving the village made Jim=20
Clark's Netscape a $9 billion company (at least on paper at its stock=20
market high) and snatched leadership of Internet development away from=20
Illinois back to Silicon Valley-well, in this case, the collapse of=20
government intervention in computer standards was just returning=20
regional leadership of Internet-based computing to the region=20
government support had made the leader of networking in the first=20
However, leaving the public in the position of watching the=20
Netscape-Microsoft struggle over standards is a bit like watching=20
Godzilla fight Megalon: it's fun entertainment but you worry how much=20
of the city will be left after they're done. And the subtext of the=20
nuclear-inspired monster movies and the Web standards war is the same:=20
if the government had been doing it's job right in the first place,=20
we wouldn't have ended up with the problem. People fear that more=20
government involvement in standards will slow down the adoption of the=20
newest cute 3D enhancement of web sites, but it's worth remembering=20
that there were plenty of private commercial networks and none of them=20
created the Web until the government got involved in the first place.=20
For the initial twenty years of the Internet, a loose band of=20
government experts around the Advanced Research Projects Agency set=20
standards and managed to make them stick, thereby creating the global=20
network that is delivering this column to you today.
That group of experts, still existing in various forms if weakened=20
through government privatization of the Net, should be reempowered by=20
the federal government to knock corporate heads together and create=20
consistent standards. The fate of the Web should not be left up to=20
the economic self-interest of Bill Gates or Jim Barksdale, anymore=20
than city planning in Tokyo would be better left up to Godzilla and=20
----- end ----

----------------------------------------------------------------------- =

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