Image Image Image ImageImage
Creative Services for
Roughly Drafted
Daniel Eran

Image Image

photo Safari Wars V : The Internet Strikes Back
Episode IV looked at development of the Mac OS Finder before the Internet became widely available. How has the Finder changed since, where is it headed, and how does its development compare with others? How does this relate to Safari? Answers await!
As Internet access became commercially available, the Mac was struggling to find its place. It had started out as a simple, single-user appliance. Now the Finder, along with the operating system underneath it, was living in a world of interconnected computer networks, foreign file transfers and collaborative computing that it had never been designed to handle.
Several years earlier, NeXT had moved the graphic simplicity of the Macintosh on top of the more powerful and open internals of Unix. In doing so, NeXT users gained new capabilities without sacrificing the key features and ease of operation enjoyed by Mac users. Rather than replacing the Mac way of doing things, the NeXTSTEP operating system, along with its Workspace Manager interface, simply allowed users additional ways to get their work done. It is little surprise then that the web originated on the easy to use, powerful and flexible NeXT computer system.
Tim Berners-Lee designed the original web server and browser, which navigated interconnected pages of text with hyperlinks to other documents around the world. The NCSA later developed the Mosaic browser, which allowed for the display of inline graphics and the publishing of any media.

Mosaic's principle developer started Netscape, which began inventing other features for web browsing. When Microsoft realized that an open, common platform for network applications would marginalize Windows' hegemony of server and client software in office networks, they scrambled for a way to destroy it.
Microsoft licensed the Mosaic browser code from Spyglass, the commercial NCSA spinoff set up to further the development of Mosaic. The Spyglass product was renamed Internet Explorer, a name that conveyed an extension of the file browser. However, the original 'Windows Explorer' was hardly something that deserved extending. If anything, it had already proven that Microsoft was not worthy of assuming control of the software the world would use to browse the web.

Worst episode ever!
Comparing the progress of graphic file browsers, it's hard to believe that the Finder was already six years old when Microsoft first rolled out the clunky Windows 3.0 in mid 1990. That was the first version of Windows with sales even worth mentioning. Windows Explorer first appeared close to its current form with the late December 1995 launch of Windows 95, more than a decade after the release of the Finder. Even BeOS had been released by then!

Significantly earlier, in 1988, NeXT had unveiled its Workspace Manager which extended Mac concepts and progressively introduced improvements of its own, such as column browsing, the shelf and the dock.

On its own, Apple made very little improvements in the Finder and its abilities. From the release of System 7 through a decade of 7 point releases, including the rewarmed marketing releases of 'Mac OS 8' and '9', Apple's innovations with the Finder mainly consisted of incorporating existing shareware ideas. In the new world created by NeXT's browser, the Finder was retreating from the primary interface to a background utility.

With Microsoft's monopolistic practice of forcing every PC manufacturer to tack on the cost of a Windows license as a tax, even if the PC was to be sold for use with another system, it became clear that NeXT, its child OPENSTEP, BeOS, IBM's OS/2 and other alternative operating systems for the PC simply could never survive. There was simply no air left for an alternative to catch a breath long enough to live and develop the critical mass needed for commercial survival.

Apple's Macintosh proved to be the only competing alternative able to weather the storm. Even so, Apple was dying. Revenues were falling and profits were turning into massive losses. The relevance of the Mac was seriously called into question. It had made so little progress in software for so long, and it was tied to unique hardware designs that were also slipping in performance against the common PC platform.

It appeared that Microsoft would wholly replace Apple as the guiding force of graphical interfaces, the standard in look and feel for the world's most desirable computers. With their new Internet Explorer, the worldwide control of the operating system interface was also poised to take over the web.
1984: Finder 1989: NeXTSTEP 1991: System 7 1992: Win3.1 1996: Win 95a
photo photo photo photo photo
photo Sadly, even with its decade of experience as a principle Macintosh developer, and a well established array of graphic interfaces to borrow from, Microsoft only managed to guck out a very uninspired file browser of their own. Since Windows 95, Explorer has not changed dramatically, and arguably has even become more clumsy.
Despite signing a license agreement with Apple to settle the dispute over copying the Macintosh look and feel, Microsoft managed to neither adequately copy nor improve upon the Finder; they simply made poorly conceived, and one might say 'random,' interface changes to avoid additional lawsuits.

Windows Explorer augmented the DOS command line with a graphic interface so poor that it is often just easier to use the command line. In fact, Microsoft's greatest contribution to the graphical file browser was to jack up the interface so badly that people had to learn how things really work underneath to even use computers at all. By only halfheartedly copying Apple and NeXT, Microsoft impaled the majority of computer users under its control upon a truly wretched stake.

Let me count the ways
Windows attempts to be like Mac OS 9 in pretending all drives exist on a 'desktop,' but then places "My Computer" on the computer's desktop and hides the user's drives inside. This makes for a couple extra clicks on the desktop, but in Explorer, it gets much worse.

Unlike the classic Mac OS' desktop, which hides the details and manages how files get copied intelligently and invisibly in a consistent fashion, Windows only draws its desktop abstraction far enough along for it to confusingly get in the user's way.

Since Windows' desktop is actually a visible directory inside 'Documents and Settings/username,' and appears in two opposite locations in the graphic interface, the abstraction is hosed. Further, there is no well thought out separation between global settings and individual users, so what appears on a user's desktop is actually a combination of the directories in C:/Documents and Settings/All Users/Desktop and C:/Documents and Settings/actual user/Desktop. This is not apparent to the user.

Rather than the Classic Mac's automagical desktop, or the NeXT and OS X's simple and obvious reality portrayal of how drives relate to the desktop, Windows presents neither reality nor a careful fiction; it is an ugly combination of neither here nor there.

Windows' Explorer invented the grotesque interface of cascading disclosure folders, but unlike the Classic Mac OS', opening a folder doesn't show its contents, it only shows the directories inside! To see what is really in a folder, you have to click on it and see its contents in a second pane. This pane also does a semi sort, so folders are sorted from A-Z followed by the files, which are also sorted alphabetically by themselves.

If you are finding this difficult to follow, suffice it to say that Windows Explorer is very, very lame. Unfortunately, the same group of corporate-think marketers that developed this horrible monster also hijacked the web and jacked up the whole world's web browser.
The web browser gets hijacked by idiot hacks
It was therefore truly sad that Microsoft took the world's web browser, the step-father of Netscape, and converted it into an ugly sister version of Windows Explorer. In order to keep web servers and clients under its own control, Microsoft introduced a series of proprietary fluff anti-features to their browser, such as new ways to flash text and marquee boxes annoyingly.

Their Office / Virtual Basic development team helped design Microsoft's infamous anti-security technology into Internet Explorer, so that Windows users can download and globally install viruses, trojans, proxy spam servers, and adware/spyware, all with root access to all system services and without any user intervention, just as easily as Outlook email users and anyone dealing with Office's built-in macrovirus creation and deployment technology.
Additionally, Microsoft tied their web browser into the operating system using proprietary embedded controls. This ensures that the web, which was designed to openly allow free communications between various clients and servers and share information across platforms, would frequently now be largely tied down to a specific browser on a specific hardware platform.

Here's an example of how this played out. When the Feds decided to track money being spent on certain health services in San Francisco, the team building the software decided to build a cross platform, open system using Java and the web to allow various clients on any hardware platform to access the system. As development progressed however, the project retracted down to supporting only a 'cross-platform' selection of Internet Explorer on either Windows 95 or NT.

There was not an insurmountable technical problem; Microsoft simply fostered an environment that made it easy for lazy development to move into its proprietary traps. Only one Information Technology Director in the entire city of San Francisco stood up to demand that developers had to stop, return to the drawing board and figure out a way to support the browsers of choice for the clinics, faculty and employees at General Hospital.

The developers managed to come back with a system that didn't require Internet Explorer. Almost immediately afterward, a separate, privately funded system developed for the same group of users hired another development team who could only manage to create a web interface the ran on Internet Explorer, and on Windows.

Unfortunately, by and large, the will and motivation to insist on interoperability has not materialized in case after case, either from system admins, from the industry, or from ineffectual governments, leaving Microsoft free reign to search and destroy any emerging open standards replace them with anticompetitive, proprietary ones.

Microsoft next 'embraced, extended and extinguished' Sun's Java as a rival platform; they attempted to kill off Apple's QuickTime, and today they are hard at work proprietizing and or attempting to create exclusive control over every existing standard they can, from MIT's Kerberos to MP3 audio to the simple format of their own Office documents.

Are we all doomed to slavery under the Evil Empire's control? Watch for: SafariWars Episode VI.

RoughlyDrafted: it's what's for dinner. Over ten thousand readers served in February 2004.


More Journal Entries | More Tech Articles | Get Tech Support | My Resume | Links | Contact RoughlyDrafted

Articles Copyright © 2006 Daniel Eran. All rights reserved.
Suggestions and comments welcome. Contact RoughlyDrafted.

Read more about:
Click one of the links above to display related articles on this page.