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Re: lynx-dev Q: lynx shopping?

From: Philip Webb
Subject: Re: lynx-dev Q: lynx shopping?
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 04:42:54 -0500
User-agent: Mutt/1.3.25i

[ the story below -- The Register (UK) via Linux Today 020311 -- contains
news re Internet-standards compliance which should interest Lynx users ]

AOL embraces Linux and Mozilla, plans to drop MS Explorer -- Robin Miller

 Sources inside AOL and Red Hat say AOL is making a major
   internal switch to Linux, and the long-rumored AOL default browser
   switch from Microsoft's Internet Explorer to Mozilla -- or at least
   Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine -- is well under way, but AOL will
   probably not offer an AOL client for Linux in the forseeable future.

   According to several Red Hat and AOL employees who spoke to NewsForge
   but asked us not to use their names, recent negotiations between AOL
   and Red Hat that led to rumors about AOL considering a Red Hat
   acquisition were really negotiations for support contracts that will
   help AOL use Linux more effectively.

   AOL is switching to Linux for the same reason most large companies
   make the change: to save money. Thousands of AOL servers are already
   100% Linux, and more are switching over every day. AOL
   number-crunchers figure they can replace an $80,000 box running
   proprietary UNIX with two $5,000 Linux boxes and get a 50% increase in
   performance in addition to the cost savings. "Don't tell our
   competitors", one of our AOL contacts says. "Let them keep buying
   expensive crap".

   We hear that every hardware vendor who approaches AOL is now being
   asked, "How is your support for Linux?" before they are even allowed
   to make a sales presentation.

   Microsoft's server products have never been seriously considered by
   AOL, according to our insiders. "The licenses cost too much, their
   hardware requirements are excessive, they take too much labor to
   maintain, and we have enough security problems of our own without
   adding Microsoft's", says an AOL bean-counter who has access to the
   company's server cost numbers.

   The Gecko rendering engine at the heart of the Mozilla Web browser is
   scheduled to replace Microsoft's Internet Explorer as AOL's default
   browser -- the one in the millions of free AOL CDs distributed every
   year -- in the 8.0 version of AOL's client software. (The current
   version is 7.0.) The Gecko rendering engine is [10]already being
   shipped as a "beta" test product in some CompuServe client software
   packages, and reports from CompuServe users who have chosen to use
   Gecko instead of Explorer have been described as "very positive". This
   customer feedback is an important part of AOL's browser decision
   process. "We hear the question, 'What is the member impact?' whenever
   we are faced with a technical decision", says one of our contacts. And
   so far, it sounds like member impact of an AOL switch from Explorer to
   Gecko will be almost entirely positive.

   "With Gecko, we have control over the client software and don't have
   to worry about Microsoft screwing up our streaming [audio and video]",
   says one AOL sysadmin. There is also concern at AOL about Explorer's
   "poor use" of the [11]HTTP 1.1 Protocol. Our AOL sysadmin says, "HTTP
   1.1 has lots more features than most people use", but AOL can make
   good use of many lesser-known ones like [12]chunking, that are not
   supported by Explorer because, says our AOL sysadmin friend, "MSIE
   doesn't follow the spec correctly".

   Even if future versions of Explorer manage to incorporate chunking and
   other features AOL wants members to use -- because they minimize
   download time and bandwith used per Web page delivered -- another AOL
   techie says, "It's still easier to optimize eveything when we finally
   control both the server and the client, and can make them work as
   smoothly together as possible".

   All AOL tech people we spoke to denied that corporate dislike of
   Microsoft played any part in their preference for either Linux or
   Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine. They said their choices were made
   purely on what worked best in tests they had run; that their concern
   was not corporate politics but to make life easier and smoother -- and
   downloads faster -- for AOL members.

   The only thing that might delay -- not stop, just delay -- AOL's
   change from Explorer to a Mozilla-based browser is allowing time for
   some of AOL's largest and most important "partner sites" to do away
   with any Explorer-specific features they have been using in place of
   [13]W3C standards.

   A browser shift by AOL is going to leave an awful lot of companies
   that assume their Web sites only need to work with Explorer scrambling
   to rewrite their code so that they don't lose AOL's [14]30
   million-plus subscribers, or about 30% of all U.S. Internet users.

   AOL for Linux users? Don't hold your breath

   The basic problem with Linux support, says one of our AOL insiders,
   "is that AOL ALWAYS provides support for free. Hence the client is
   rather primitive/conservative in its feature set. This makes the AOL
   client reliable (relative to the software industry standards), because
   every 800-number support call comes right out of our profits. There
   are 15,000 AOL employees. Roughly 10,000 work at the Call Centers. We
   really, really don't want more phone calls from members.

   "Now think of a Linux client. Either we completely disavow support for
   it (which is a very un-AOL thing to do), or we try to support every
   reasonably-up-to-date Linux config in the world. Even with the
   reasonably-up-to-date caveat, that is a hard thing to do. Where is the
   market and the demand?"

   There was once a Linux-based AOL client "[15]pseudo-computer" on the
   market that generated very few support calls, but that was because
   hardly anyone bought it. It was one of those "Internet appliances"
   every computer company was hot to sell a couple of years ago, but no
   consumers seemed to want it in place of a "real" computer.

   Perhaps there will be an "AOL-compatible" Linux computer on the market
   one day, but chances are that it will be sold and supported by a
   company like OEone, Lycoris or even Lindows, which would probably just
   try to run the AOL client for Windows under WINE, anyway.

   But don't hold your breath. No AOL employee we have talked to, at any
   level, claims knowledge of any current or future plans to offer AOL
   client software for Linux users.

   Obviously, a major AOL support contract would be a big win for Red
   Hat. It's not in the bag yet; negotiations are not complete and are
   still "very touchy", says one Red Hat person, and that's why Red Hat
   is still keeping mum instead of shouting joyfully from the rooftops.

   If AOL's techies have their way, the contract will go through without
   further delay. One of them seems to think it is already a done deal,
   with only a little i-dotting and t-crossing left before it becomes
   final. "We get to bitch to Alan Cox about kernel problems now", he
   says exultantly.

   On the browser front, once AOL switches to the Mozilla rendering
   engine, Netscape and Mozilla users -- and possibly Opera, Galeon and
   Konq users as well -- will no longer find themselves staring angrily
   at "Best viewed with Internet Explorer" or "You cannot access all
   features of this site unless you use Internet Explorer" tag lines --
   except, possibly at MSN, which already requires Explorer and Windows
   Media Player to listen to music. This may be bad for Microsoft, but
   more Web sites following industry-wide standards is good for everyone
   else. Maybe the [16]Web Standards Project will finally get some of the
   respect and cooperation it has deserved all along.

   As far as an AOL client for Linux, one Linux-using AOL employee says,
   "How many Linux people do you know personally who would sign up for
   AOL if we had a Linux client? I don't know a single one, myself. I
   have an account with another ISP I use at home with my Linux box, and
   probably wouldn't use AOL from home even if I could".

   The only way AOL could provide a cost-effective Linux client, given
   its "total support for free" policy, would be to market a real,
   full-featured personal computer (as opposed to an "Internet
   appliance") that runs Linux and is preconfigured for AOL. The target
   market for this computer would not be sophisticated Linux users, but
   current AOL subscribers who want to replace their current boxes, and
   it would need to be a very low-cost item to succeed in that market.

   Perhaps one of the world's many stalwart Linux entrepreneurs will
   eventually convince AOL management that an AOL-branded,
   consumer-priced Linux box is a good idea. Otherwise, AOL will probably
   stick to the current corporate operating system pattern: Linux in the
   server room, Windows or Mac on user desktops -- except that AOL-ized
   desktops will run the AOL browser and its Mozilla rendering engine
   instead of Microsoft Explorer.

SUPPORT     ___________//___,  Philip Webb : address@hidden
ELECTRIC   /] [] [] [] [] []|  Centre for Urban & Community Studies
TRANSIT    `-O----------O---'  University of Toronto

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