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So, Netscape is dead?

by chunlou (Curate)
on Jul 17, 2003 at 21:05 UTC ( #275396=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

AOL is laying off its Netscape developers and stopping its development altogether.

AOL blames Microsoft for that. But I feel AOL surely has its fair share of responsibility. After all, Netscape was number one before AOL laid hand on it.

Microsoft tried to make Java its own. But Sun had the financial and legal muscle to fight it. (Now MS came up with C# instead.)

That makes me think (a scary thought), what stops a big corporation from acquiring/devouring Perl? The sheer size and diversity of the Internet and the Open Source make it impossible and unprofitable for a single organization to dominate them. But what about Perl? What practical barrier does it have?

Update: As a comparison, O'Reilly has a sales figure of $75 million; AOL, 40 billion.

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Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by tilly (Archbishop) on Jul 18, 2003 at 02:32 UTC
    Why shouldn't AOL stop Netscape development?

    The value of Netscape to AOL was to provide a viable alternative so that they can avoid lock-in to Microsoft. It served that purpose, in recent negotiations it was obvious that AOL could choose to use it rather than IE, so on their recent 7 year deal Microsoft had to give them much nicer terms than they would have otherwise. Mission accomplished. (Mozilla never had to make a dime to be worth it to AOL, it just needed to be a viable bargaining chip. And open source was so much the better because it allowed them to spend less and get a more solid chip.)

    Furthermore the browser market today is much healthier than the one in the late 90's. AOL executives look around and ask why they should fund a browser for 7 years so that they are better placed in the next round of negotiation. It is possible that Mozilla can survive without them. It is definite that Konquerer will (and it is getting support from Apple). Opera is chugging along and is already serving as an IE alternative in a lot of PDAs. AOL is running a business, not a charity. Browser lock-in doesn't look like a serious threat right now, and if it does in a few years, AOL can just get behind the most promising alternative browser of the day again.

    Of course I would hardly be shocked if Microsoft's terms to AOL explicitly did include dropping Mozilla support. However AOL sees things, Microsoft would like to create serious browser lock-in when IE 7 comes out in a few years. Because if Microsoft can't, then their desktop monopoly will be more vulnerable. There is room for AOL and Microsoft to agree on this because they have different views of the likelyhood of success, and Microsoft's success is worth more to Microsoft than AOL loses in the same scenario. Besides which, AOL has had an internal management shift towards Time-Warner people. Who wouldn't necessarily think it the end of the world if AOL shed its currently less profitable online business and focussed on content (which they understand better).

    Welcome to an example that illustrates the schism between open source and free software. Companies, like countries, don't have friends. They have interests. Sometimes those interests lead towards open source. Sometimes not. Which means that open source results in more free software, but won't get to RMS' dream of a free software world.

    Oh, and about Perl, as long as a large enough population of people who care about Perl exists to be able to maintain it going forward, Perl is safe from being wiped out. That is the open source guarantee. It is not a completely solid guarantee, but it is better than nothing. For instance suppose that AOL had been carrying out this second supplier strategy without using open source, and you had become dependent on the second supplier. With AOL pulling out, you would be hosed. As it stands, you might not like it but are still OK indefinitely if Mozilla is good enough for you already.

    If you want to understand the strategy decisions that AOL is making here (which are related to strategy decisions behind some other prominent support of open source - IBM's support of Apache and Linux comes to mind), I can highly recommend Information Rules.

Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on Jul 17, 2003 at 22:35 UTC
    After all, Netscape was number one before AOL laid hand on it.
    "Laid" it hands on it? Well, it wasn't that Netscape was as dominant as they used to be, and that it wasn't clear they were going to lose against Microsoft when it comes to marketshare. And it wasn't that Bina, Andreesen and Clark started Netscape with any other objective than to make some big bucks. From the start, Netscape played the Microsoft game of not following the standards for the sake of gaining marketshare. Do I feel sorry they lost? Not at all. Does it make me snicker? Certainly.

    That makes me think (a scary thought), what stops a big corporation from acquiring/devouring Perl?
    Many things. First of all, from whom would they acquire Perl? Perl isn't owned by anyone in particular. Secondly, what's there to gain? It's not that everyone uses Perl. I bet 90% of the computer users haven't even heard of Perl. There wouldn't be a big enough market for Perl. If suddenly people had to pay a fee for using Perl, the already relatively small amount of people using Perl would decimate; people would flee to python, Ruby, C, Java, etc.


Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by hsmyers (Canon) on Jul 17, 2003 at 21:42 UTC
    Just because AOL no longer wants to play, doesn't mean it's time for the funeral. See The Mozilla Foundation


    "Never try to teach a pig to wastes your time and it annoys the pig."

      All netscape was anyways was mozilla code with the good stuff taken out and bloat added in. This is a victory in the browser market, mozilla is now the official opposition.

        All netscape was anyways was mozilla code with the good stuff taken out and bloat added in.

        So true. You lose the control over images and popups and get all kinds of add-ons shoved down your throat (like Flash, which I intetnionally cripple on any system it shows up on).

        his is a victory in the browser market, mozilla is now the official opposition.

        This I don't wholly agree with. While AOL had netscape, at least up until the recent complete sellout/deal to MS, there was a chance that they'd be ditributing netscape or mozilla to their millions of users. Now it looks like it will be IE all the way. But that decision was already made - today's announcements are just the denouement(sp?).

        --Bob Niederman,
Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by sauoq (Abbot) on Jul 17, 2003 at 21:29 UTC
    what stops a big corporation from acquiring/devouring Perl?

    The Artistic License, the GPL, The Perl Foundation, and the community.

    "My two cents aren't worth a dime.";

      Actually, no.

      The GPL and Perl Foundation aren't going to stop anyone from 'Acquiring Perl.' The community can have a limited influence in that they can have a minor boycott of the new language (until their boss says use it, at which point they'll throw their stance out the window, like always). That leaves the artistic license. I don't want to be too critical, but a good license is hard to write. Loopholes can easily be displayed with enough lawyers (and when it comes to holes, the artistic license is to OSLs as swiss is to cheese :(.

      So really, if $some_big_company wanted to make Perl its own, it probably wouldn't have much trouble doing so. This is very unlikely though. Perl (<= 5.x) isn't designed as a language major companies would use for large-scale development. In addition, they'd have resources to rewrite it themselves and make modifications as they see fit. Another point to consider is that Perl's an open source language, so they can use it already without charge, they only reason they'd have to acquire it is to sell it to others which wouldn't be a good business decision.

      To conclude: they could, but they won't.

        The GPL and the Artistic License make it consistently possible for anyone to acquire perl. The issue is exclusivity. A company can't get exclusive rights to perl. They could conceivably make changes to it and call it theirs, but who would use it?

        Maybe a lot of people if the company could add a lot of value to it... and that's where the community comes in¹. We don't just use perl... we make it better. We could have more than a "minor boycott" of the new language. We could boycott its use, maintenance, and development. There are few companies that could muster the resources that regularly go into developing perl, not to mention all the modules available on CPAN. And keep in mind also that there are many companies in the perl community. There are corporations both big and small with huge parts of their day to day operations that are dependent on perl².

        The Perl Foundation (and YAS) is the least of the factors I mentioned, but it represents a non-profit corporation that is willing to support Perl's continuing development. I.e. unlike most open source initiatives, Perl has a money man. (Not one with real deep pockets, but it's a start.)

        To conclude: they could try, but they wouldn't get far. And that's why they won't try.

        Update: Added footnotes.

        1. The community, in this case, is both the market and the competition. It would be crazy to try building market share under those conditions. ;-)

        2. My point being that those companies would have a vested interest in preventing the privatization of perl

        "My two cents aren't worth a dime.";

        To conclude: they could, but they won't.

        As far as I know $some_big_company has already poured lots of cash into the Perl5 project, and didnt try to steal it. The oneperl effort and GSAR's/ActiveState's work on Perl 5.6 was at least partially funded by $some_big_company.

        So I think the evidence indicates you are totally correct that they won't.


        <Elian> And I do take a kind of perverse pleasure in having an OO assembly language...

        Update Well, I guess I shouldn't give out legal advice anymore... ; )

        Some company couldn't sell Perl, the GPL prevents that. Unless Larry and everyone who has ever contributed to perl (the interpretor, etc.) agreed to release Perl under something other than the GPL, Perl is safe from being sold by companies.

Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by Dog and Pony (Priest) on Jul 18, 2003 at 01:45 UTC
    As outlined in posts above, this is hardly something to lose any sleep over. But as a fun thought experiment, one could draw up an "ain't gonna happen"-scenario:

    Microsoft decides that C# was an altogether bad idea, and instead decides that Perl would be the way to go for developers on the Windows platform. So they take the existing codebase, embraces and extends it with lots of Windows specific features and some other non-compatible stuff and calls it Perl# or something silly like that. Maybe they'll make it compile to .NET or something instead of Parrot.

    They create a Visual Perl part of their Visual Studio (maybe buying some stuff from ActiveState... or buying ActiveState for that matter), creates the SDK, and start banging on the big propaganda drum, and they get a lot of Windows developers to switch to this new exciting platform. They don't release any code, but the SDK is a free download.

    Can they do that? Sure, I think so - the Artistic license probably allows such a fork. In my feeble understanding of such issues anyway.

    So what would that mean for Perl 5/6/X? Not much in it self. Development would continue as before. People would still use Perl. Maybe it would even be a good thing in many ways - people that already knows Perl would probably have quite an easy time learning Perl# - no reason why you couldn't do both. Lots of people do both C# and C, Java or whatever other language they did before. The bad stuff would mainly be some confusion about which language is which, when code examples don't work on one or the other. OTOH, noone I know of confuses C and C# even though they have such similar names.

    Maybe a few core developers would be bought over, and maybe (probably) they would even be forbidden to work on the "competition" on their spare time, but I'm willing to wager that those would be quite few, and that there would still be plenty of great replacements to take over.

    My conclusion would be that such a corporation could very well adopt (embrace and extend) Perl, but they could not "acquire" it as such. When the Java fight was on, Java was also a much younger language, so it was still very new - developers could have been persuaded to follow one path or the other. Perl already has its followers and the community established, of which few would switch. Learn both maybe, but not go to the other side completely.

    Note that I was only using MS as an example. I'm sure there are lots of other scenarios, but I am hard pressed to think of any others that could actually do such a move. And I don't think even they ever will. :) Also note that MS has sponsored ActiveState in their development of their version of Perl, and IIRC there are a few articles on Perl on MSDN as well. Not their language of choice, of course, but they do like to have it on Windows. Something which I am thankful for, because it sure has helped bringing it outside *nix-land. :)

    You have moved into a dark place.
    It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Jul 18, 2003 at 03:01 UTC

    I think it would probably be a 'good thing' if there was a mechanism by which the heroic efforts of Mr. Wall et al could be rewarded so that they didn't have to deplete their mortgages, worry themselves in to ulcers etc.

    As a private individual I would willingly pay a token amount for my copies of perl.

    If I was running a company which was using perl to make money, I would think it totally aceptable to be expected to contribute some token percentage of my profits back towards the R&D of Perl 6. I would also consider a subscription to a "Perl R&D Interest Group" a completely justifiable and desirable business expense if it allowed me to have a 'vote' on the development processes. This wouldn't need to be a real vote, but if my (commercial) concerns were given at least equal weight with those of the academic/hobbiest/purist views, then paying to ensure that my voice was heard would be a commercially viable thing to do.

    To explain what I mean a little scenario: Say I had built a commercial system using perl that used (for example) v.strings. Ignore whether this would be good technically for a moment. My system uses v.strings as the basis for the handles of some OO-DB. The whole thing is predicated upon being able to use the v.stringiness to work. I have successfully sold my system to a few customers that are very happy with it. My company employs half a dozen programmers, an office administrator and a salesman. Noone's making a fortune, but despite hard times, were all keeping food on the table.

    Whoot! Whoot! Whoot! "I just read that they are dropping support for v.strings from 5.10. But the latest set of features we've promised XYZ PLC are predicated upon the feature X which isn't going to work properly until 5.10".

    I know it is (badly) contrived, but the point is clear. It would be worth this companies dollars, which wouldn't harm the perl R&D process either, to pay a reasonable sum to ensure that this feature remained inplace against the wishes of those who wish it to be removed.

    As someone whos, far from outragous, income for the last 20 years came from the sale (directly or indirectly) of the software I wrote, I do not understand why Perl programmers feel that Perl should be free?

    I understand the antithesis against closed-source, mega-expensive, monopolistic software, but is it necessary to throw the baby out with the bath-water?

    This is a purely personal and probably unpopular opinion, but I would be prepared to pay (in advance) for my licence to use P6. I'd be prepared to pay more to have an influence in the development process.(Note: Development NOT design!). I'd be even more interested if I felt that my fees contributed directly to sustaining the R&D process. If there was a mechanism by which I could contribute time to offset against future fee's that would be nice.

    I was recently informed that I am unlikely to be able to go out to work (or even much beyond my back garden) for another 6 months and possibly longer. I'd dearly like to utilise that time to contribute to what I feel is going to be the most remarkable language yet developed. If that effort was 'rewardable' in the sense that it made my (currently bleak) future work prospects more viable, that would be a definite bonus.

    One mans opinion, nothing more.

    Examine what is said, not who speaks.
    "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
    "When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." -Richard Buckminster Fuller

      Nothing is stopping you now :)
      Perl Foundation Donations

      If I had a $100 right now, I would have a hard time not giving it to them.


      I know it is (badly) contrived, but the point is clear. It would be worth this companies dollars, which wouldn't harm the perl R&D process either, to pay a reasonable sum to ensure that this feature remained inplace against the wishes of those who wish it to be removed.
      Well, yes -- but so what? I think there's a good chance that Larry and many others in the core aren't necessarily concerned with what's worthwhile to a specific company. It sounds horrific, pardon me saying so if you would, to have various companies bidding on new features, especially based on the bonehead decisions companies make sometimes.

      I mean, a stupid feature is added based on "contributor needs" here, and another feature is dropped for the same reason there, and eventually we've got the movie industry of the 40s-60s. (The possibly apocryphal anecdote concerning a movie set before electric razors and backed by a razor company comes to mind. (Roughly, that the film was required by the company to include an electric razor if someone were filmed shaving.)) "Producers" driving development into the ground because they cannot make smart decisions. (If they could make smart decisions, they wouldn't be producers; producers by definition are prized for their money and nothing else. If they had talent, they'd be in the show...working for a producer. :\ )

      While it would be nice if some company felt all warm and fuzzy about Perl development in the short run, I like to think that Larry looks at Perl as another child of his. He wouldn't get a Nike logo tattooed on his human child's forehead, and he wouldn't make Perl into something it "shouldn't" be, in his terms.

      Not saying it couldn't be done. I'm saying it wouldn't, and that the positive effects are not as significant as they might seem.

      You are what you think.

        Agreed, absolutely. You don't get a good design from just adding in a list of features that people care about until you reach something sufficiently complex. You get it in good part from having someone with technical knowledge standing there and telling people, Sorry, that feature would wreck the logical coherency that we are aiming for. It doesn't go in.

        An example that comes to mind of this process in action is the following "discussion" on a feature-request in Linux. (That one picked because in one place it manages to an undue fraction of phases/issues that come up all of the time in real life. It also sticks out in my mind because I learned something useful about the philosophy of Unix from it.)

        I'd only point out that in the example I gave, the influence was not for the inclusion of a new feature, but the prevention of removal existing one. I also explicitly precluded the idea that contribution would buy influence on design when I said "(Note: Development NOT design!)". I've worked with, and decried, enough systems that were 'designed by committee' in the past not to want to see those experiences replicated.

        In your movies analogy, the benefit derived by the sponsers is in direct-to-customer promotion of the sponsers product, in this case the razors. This is analogous to the current trend toward advertising supported "free demos" and lite versions. These, along with advertising supported websites are, in my opinion, a flawed mechanism for financial support of an endevour, as personally I find that I am turned off of products when they are rammed down my throat in this way. It was almost 6 years before I watched the original Jaws movie because of the (at that time, unprecedented) hype that surrounded it. When I eventually saw it, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the effect of the advertising blitz that came with it's release on me, meant that makers lost out on the premium rate of income they would have derived from my paying to see it on the big screen because I was turned off from doing so by their advertising techniques. The same holds true for the in-your-face advertising techniques being applied to software and the web currently. I would never purchase anything from the X.10 family of products because of my philosophical objection to their advertising campaign from a couple of years ago. For this to be an accurate analogy to that I was describing, perl would have to pop-up an advert on my screen for the sponsers product every time I ran a perl script. I am (obviously?) not suggesting anything like this.

        However, there is some precedent for the kind of 'contribution for consideration' mechanism I was describing. Many large companies pay for a seat upon special Interest Group commitees. The money benefits the language or standard in question and the company benefits by having some influence in the future directions those languages or standards take. The presence of several competitive company representatives with equal status on those committees prevents any one taking undue or disproportionate influnce.

        I have no axe to grind on this, nor personal benefit to gain. I'm just expressing the opinion that until world evolves to the point where we can all get a guarenteed supply of food, energy to keep us warm, education for our kids, and medicine is free, so those involved can afford to contribute their efforts on projects like perl on the basis of altruism, those efforts need to be funded. That means a source of revenue. In the absence of a product that is sold or leased, the next best way I know of is through sponsership by interested parties.

        Perhaps I'm too optimistic in thinking that there are people that would be prepared to contribute, to have a little influnce, with requiring control?

        Examine what is said, not who speaks.
        "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
        "When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong." -Richard Buckminster Fuller

Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 17, 2003 at 22:05 UTC
    AOL blames Microsoft for that. But I feel AOL surely has its fair share of responsibility. After all, Netscape was number one before AOL laid hand on it.

    AOL doesn't "blame" Microsoft for anything. They just made a deal with Microsoft to use IE for 7 years, and probably don't expect the Netscape browser proper to survive that length of time. Frankly, neither do I.
    Besides, Netscape was not number one when AOL bought it. The first nail in Netscape's coffin was Microsoft packaging IE with Windows, and Netscape has been losing market share ever since, AOL or no.

    That makes me think (a scary thought), what stops a big corporation from acquiring/devouring Perl? The sheer size and diversity of the Internet and the Open Source make it impossible and unprofitable for a single organization to dominate them. But what about Perl? What practical barrier does it have?

    What exactly would get "acquired" or "devoured"? Netscape got bought--it was a company (and a limited one at that). Java belongs to Sun. Who owns Perl? I don't think even Larry would claim to own Perl. Microsoft could come up with their own bastardized perl-ish, package it with Windows, or sell it with MSDN stuff. What would that accomplish? There's no notional market share to be lost here.

      Microsoft could come up with their own bastardized perl-ish, package it with Windows, or sell it with MSDN stuff.

      Actually they did.

      The Windows NT 4.0 Resource Kit (a product with a price tag) included a distribution of Perl. I seem to recall it was 5.001 and Microsoft paid Hip Corporation (later to become ActiveState) to port it to Windows. I for one have benefited from that coporate investment in open source software - thank you Microsoft.

Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by greenFox (Vicar) on Jul 17, 2003 at 22:39 UTC

    "If you love something set it free"

    I don't think AOL have abandoned Mozilla at all. It's (finally) big enough to stand on it's own. Have a look at the accolades on the Mozilla Foundation "World Class: Best of 2003, Web Browser - PC WORLD Magazine". Plus Micro$oft haven't developed IE for some time and don't look like doing so for some time either. Mozilla lives and I suspect Mozilla has won, Micro$oft may buy some time but if they can't ship a competing product they've lost.

    As to Perl, without the Perl community a commercial fork could exist but certainly couldn't replace Perl -what company could make a better Perl than the Perl community? To succeed they would need to somehow "buy" the community and its leadership in which case it would still be Perl :)

    Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought. -Basho

Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by simon.proctor (Vicar) on Jul 17, 2003 at 23:04 UTC
    Any corporation that is savvy enough to even notice Perl will realise that its best left alone. Perl has run very well for years without outside influence. If a company even attempted to take ownership of the Perl mantle then the userbase would fight back.

    To me this is the defining point. You can't really compare Netscape to Perl. The userbase already exists for Perl yet Netscape was trying to steal/maintain a userbase. Plus Perl is a language and not an end product like a browser. Commercial versions of Perl exist (such as Activestate) but they have a vested interest in making their products work like all other versions of Perl (GPL or otherwise) as the users won't even consider their work otherwise.

    Comparing Netscape and Perl is like comparing the fight between Netscape and IE and the fight between (for example) Java and Perl. However it just doesn't work. No one programming language is right in all cases so trying to force that issue just won't happen.
Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by chunlou (Curate) on Jul 18, 2003 at 02:42 UTC

    Many good arguments have been presented. I just would like to add some different perspectives.

    Open Source is not unlike natural resources like the forests or the oceans, "free" and taken for granted. But you all have seen what impact the commercial world has on them, once people figured out some operable business models to make money out of them, even at the irreversible expense of those resources.

    Could dot-com craze happen to Open Source? I don't know. But the dot-com craze was certainly made up of many unhappy stories. Total stranger investors not caring anything about what a dot-com companies was doing just wanted to invest and make money out of it.

    The problem? Those companies became run by traders, rather than managers. They just wanted to buy and sell companies as commodities, not to manage them. Quite a few companies ended up with shallow, shaky business models. Basically, there's a profound gap between the owners and the workers.

    Traders don't always make sound business decision. The long term health of a company and its products is not necessarily among their concerns if they can buy and sell something quick and make money, even if it leaves what's left in ruin. It did happen. Probably still will.

    After a long detour, I just hope the dot-com craze won't happen to Open Source, at least not the corrupting influence. Everything free and good need to be actively defended, or someone will take advantage of it for his own good.

      Um, the dot-com craze did happen to open source as well.

      Or didn't you see the roller-coaster ride that Red Hat and VA Linux' stock prices took?

      But the odds are that there will not be a stock bubble of that size again in our lifetimes. So I wouldn't worry about seeing that ride happen in the near future in stocks. (Real estate is a different question...)

        Speaking of VA Linux's IPO, this is an interesting read now that we know what happened (hope he had some money by the end :).

        But the odds are that there will not be a stock bubble of that size again in our lifetimes.

        Are you going to live 35-40 years more? I'm guessing most around here will, so I wouldn't doubt we'd see it again, it is a cycle that keeps repeating itself.

Re: So, Netscape is dead?
by mrd (Beadle) on Jul 18, 2003 at 09:30 UTC
    You didn't say whether you mean "Perl, the language" or "Perl, the interpretter". There is a *big* difference.

    If "Perl, the language" would remain free and there would be more than one implementation for it, we wouldn't have to worry about who owns "Perl, the interpretter".

    But this involves submitting Perl, the language, to a standards body, and it seems that some proeminent community members are *strongly* against it.

    Too bad, in my opinion.

    "A determined individual can write garbage code in any language." -- Alan Holub

      Too bad, in my opinion.

      There's lots of more stable (as in, not changing) options out there if that's your thing. Perfection isn't going to be achieved through a standard ;-)

        Well, I'm all for "change" if it's ... "stable" :)

        Meaning, I don't fear "change" if it's consistent across platforms/programs, etc. and if it makes sense. But that's not the reason I mentioned the "standards body".

        Anyway, I hope you will elaborate on the alternatives. I'm really curious.

        A determined individual can write garbage code in any language. -- Alan Holub

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