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TBTF for 1995-10-24: Postcard from Netscape 2.0 beta; privacy bellwethers

Keith Dawson (dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com)
Tue, 24 Oct 1995 23:54:33 -0400

Have you got your copy of Netscape 2.0 yet? I downloaded mine at 1 in the
morning from a site in Japan; it's not easy. To say that Netscape has
raised the bar is an understatement. It's an exasperating piece of soft-
ware. Not because it crashes all the time (it doesn't). Let's put it this
way: if N2 were a friend of yours you'd oscillate between shaking your head
in disbelief at its brilliance and striving to get your hands around its
scrawny neck. Some salients:

It's growing. Soon it will be a full-blown Internet application suite. The
email and Usenet newsreader support have put on weight, but neither threat-
ens the best-of-breed freeware. There's a new plug-in architecture with
support for Adobe Acrobat, QuickTime, and Java (the latter not yet present
in the Macintosh beta).

It's faster. Cache handling has been smartened up so the program starts
faster and stops faster. On my home 68030 Mac, running with a 3-MB cache,
Netscape 1.1 takes fully a _minute_ to quit and give me back control of
my machine. N2 beta shuts down in under 5 seconds the way a well-behaved
application should.

It's more secure. N2 supports the VeriSign digital ID system (see
<http://www.verisign.com/pr/pr_ns2.html>) for secure email, digital signa-
tures, and transaction non-repudiation.

And it's more non-standard. Netscape has again sprinted ahead of the HTML
stnadards process by offering useful and seductive features that webmasters
employ at their peril: progressive JPEG and Frames.

JPEG format offers 24-bit graphics and better compression for photographic
images than GIF format, which is limited to 8 bits and anyway is under the
cloud of a software patent fight. But until N2, JPEG pictures couldn't do
one useful trick that GIF images could, that of progressive downloading.
Netscape has incorporated support for a new way of storing JPEG images
that allows them to load crudely at first and then to refine. The company
has not yet released specs for this feature (their page still says "Check
back soon for more information about creating" them; see this link).
There is disputation on the Net as to whether
progressive JPEGs actually load any faster. It's unarguable that they do
give the viewer an earlier sense of what the picture is about, so that
s/he can follow another link or interrupt the load if desired.

Frames are the prize new feature. Netscape has devised an elegant set of
extensions to HTML that make it possible to use frames without penalizing
users of non-frame-aware browsers. Frames allow the designer to carve up
the user's Netscape window into a number of panels, some fixed, some re-
sizable and/or scrollable. The webmaster can put constant, per-page items
such as navigation bars in a fixed window. Or s/he might put a TOC in a
left frame and cause its links to change the contents of a different frame.
The cost to the webmaster who succumbs to the temptation, however, is yet
another bifurcation of the HTML source (after s/he has already split the
source for graphical / textual presentation, and possibly for Netscape /
non-Netscape users). Because, of course, it turns out that you want slighly
different HTML for the frame and non-frame cases.

A privacy rebellion? Straws in the wind

- -Here's one:
At the start of National Consumers [sic] Week yesterday, the Commerce De-
partment asked telecomms/computing firms to get consumers' permission before
using personal information for any purposes other than that for which it was
collected. In a report the department also called on the telephone, computer
online, cable, and satellite TV industries to spell out to users of their
services exactly what personal information they gather and how it is used.
(Couldn't find the report online, it's not up yet on <http://www.doc.gov/>.)

- -But here's another:
>>From EPIC Alert 2.11 (1995-10-16):

> A Virginia resident has filed suit in state court against US News &
> World Report, challenging the right of the magazine to sell or rent his
> name to another publication without his express written consent. Ram
> Avrahami argues that USN&WR has benefited commercially from his name,
> thus violating the Virginia law which protects every person from having
> his/her name being used for commercial purpose without consent.

For the full story see <http://www.epic.org/privacy/junk_mail/>. EPIC is
treating this like a major test case; and it's been picked up by some
national media.

- -And here's a third:
>>From TELECOM Digest (by Patrick Townson):

> Subject: Attention Spammers: The War Has Started

> I don't know about the rest of you, but all this spamming in recent months
> has really started to get me irritated. I think one solution worth looking
> into is that of *spamming back at the spammers*.

There follows a long discussion of strategy and tactics for jamming the
mailboxes, physical and electronic, and wedging the fax machines of the
folks who willfully perpetrate Usenet and mailing-list spam (see TBTF for
1995-09-14; also 1995-10-18).

How real are these indicators? How many billions does the junk-mail indus-
try represent now? The Commerce proposal is for voluntary compliance; this
Congress would never go along with such a rule if it had teeth. (Remember
they're trying to reduce the Commerce Department to zero.)

But I take heart from these straws in the wind.

TBTF alerts you twice a week to bellwethers in computer and communications
technology, with special attention to commerce on the Internet. See the
archive at <http://www.tbtf.com/>. To subscribe send the
message "subscribe" to tbtf-request@world.std.com.
Keith Dawson dawson dot tbtf at gmail dot com dawson@atria.com
Layer of ash separates morning and evening milk.