Netscape 8 Beta, the IE Platform, and the IE Browser


The information published in this post is now out-of-date and one or more links are invalid.

—IEBlog Editor, 21 August 2012

I haven’t tried the Netscape beta yet, but I have read that it allows users to switch between the Gecko rendering engine (the one used in Firefox) and Internet Explorer’s rendering engine. I think this a good opportunity to write about the Windows Web Browsing Platform (the IE Platform) and its counterpart, the IE Browser. 

The Browser is easy to explain. It’s the blue e. It’s a nice presentation (with toolbars, a Favorites menu, etc.) of the IE Platform. The Browser is meant for end-users; the Platform, for developers.

The Platform is the stuff “under the hood” that every Windows application can rely on to (among other things) navigate to and render web pages. One of the goals of the Platform part is to make using the Internet with Windows applications easy for software developers.

The Platform offers a lot of power. Applications can host the rendering engine in order to display rich web content as an integrated part of the application.  When I read HTML email in Outlook, or see pages in Windows Media Player or MSN Explorer or the AOL client (among many, many other clients), or read RSS feeds in RSS Bandit (or many other aggregators) that’s the IE platform at work.

The Platform also allows developers of client applications to use the rich HTML rendering capabilities even when full Web browsing capabilities are not needed. For example, many software developers who want to offer their customers an attractive “web-like” first experience after inserting the CD choose to author HTML Applications (HTAs) rather than write a more traditional Windows application.  I’ve seen many product tutorials and the like written with this approach.

Another great thing is that about the platform is that when we deliver an IE security update, all of the experiences that build on the platform are updated as well. This makes life easier for both developers and end users.

Applications on Windows have been able to use the IE platform components since IE3. Here’s some sample documentation from 1997 that shows how easy it is to write a web browser in Visual Basic that uses the IE Platform.  Of course, many different languages and technologies can host IE platform components.  Here’s a sample application from 2004 that uses C# and Visual Studio Express to create a simple tabbed browser.

I look forward to trying the Netscape beta and having pages work the way they do in IE. I’m happy to see another browser built on top of the IE platform to go along with NetCaptor, Maxthon, and these other ones. I’m also looking forward to what Blake and Joe say about the beta.

(The Platform has a lot more to it that I won’t get into here, but it is extraordinarily flexible and extensible. I gave some examples back here. Expect Chris Wilson and Dave Massy will post more about the platform.)

Dean

(edit: editing error removed)

Comments (38)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would think that at this point, using both rendering engines would be unproductive. Aren’t we trying to strive for one standard? Being able to write one set of code, and having it display, and act the same in ALL browsers? It seems to me that this is a step back from this goal.

    Maybe I am missing something, or not understanding what is meant exactly. If that is the case, please fill me in.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t even try any Mozilla based systems until they rendered stuff like IE. Turns out…FireFox far surpassed that, infact I found out that IE was rendering everyone wrong all along. My basis of comparison was wrong (need standards support to have proper layout in xhtml/css).

  3. Anonymous says:

    Adam, exactly. The entire point of standards are for…um…standardization!

    Microsoft, while an amazing company in 99% of it’s endeavors, has failed, probably due to it’s own arrogance, by trying to create a "Microsoft way" instead of admitting the existence of standards. I understand why they did that and in certain areas of my life I fall into the same sin. No one is perfect. When it comes down to it, however, it is the standards that are the basis for comparison.

    It isn’t FireFox and Netscape which are the rebels in this regard, but rather Microsoft. This is extremely ironic because usually Microsoft is the basis for comparison, and the rebels are the Linux weirdos. Like I say though, Microsoft seems to have fallen into the exact sin they preach so harshly against. The tables have completely been turned.

    Nonetheless, my loyalty is to Microsoft…just don’t even think about making me use Internet Explorer.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Paragraph 4:

    You can write a basic web browser

    seems out of place. This point of view is further supported by the lack of punctuation.

    I will take this opportunity to make a snide comment – the IE team seem like the CAN’T write a basic web browser. I hope IE7 won’t come with serious feature bloat.

    I want fast accurate rendering, and nothing more. Make both the platform and the browser fast and lightweight.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Imo, the Netscape beta is unprofesional garbage. Besides the color scheme (green + orange + white), Netscape will download ~150K worth of files off of the net for use in the ui if the cache is cleared (confirmed via Fiddler). The RSS stuff is understandable, but 31 requests for ping, gif and css files!? Yes, I’m ranting. :)

    Back on topic: As far as the dual rendering engines, I think it sounds good on paper, but doesn’t work so well in reality. Not counting any standards stuff, any added extention/plug-in/ActiveX functionality that deals with one engine won’t work very well in the other. Firefox extentions like Spellbound and Linkification won’t be able to access data inside Trident, and IE enhancements like IESpell won’t work with Gecko in the same manner. The only real way around this is for the two engines to add some sort of cross-engine hooks or for the add-ons to be remade for both engines. I doubt either is likely. In the odd event that one does exist for both: it may need to be installed twice to work. Wonderful, isn’t it? :)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for pointing out the editing error. I fixed it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Actually, I see his point. Any one can write a basic web browser. That’s not a big deal. I remember when intro programming books used to have that as one of their sample projects.

    IE as a platform for other applications to partake is a great idea and works like clockwork most of the time. I totally love it for that. Personally I cannot staaaaand PDF e-books, waaaay too hard to use. I love my CHM books…of course they is built upon what he is referring to as the "IE platform". Of course, a platform in THAT regard needs to be fast and lightweight totally…that’s why I love my CHM e-books.

    As a browser, it’s a joke. It’s completely inappropriate for usage in a professional or private environment. A web browser should provide a base system with allowances for extensions(i.e. FireFox).

  8. Anonymous says:

    <blockquote>Another great thing is that about the platform is that when we deliver an IE security update, all of the experiences that build on the platform are updated as well. This makes life easier for both developers and end users.</blockquote>

    Not necessarily. Things break and change between updates. Yet because IE is built into Windows you can’t have different versions of the rendering engine for different applications. Because I can distribute Gecko (or Presto after licensing) with my app I get to control the upgrade path and compatibility issues.

    This (largely) shifts the burden of compatibility onto the IE developers rather than the application developers. This burden hamstrings you when you want to make changes.

    It also prevents sysadmins in large enterprise environments deploying IE more quickly. They have to test each web app, instead of just letting webapps use the old engine until ‘proven good’ in testing and letting the browser use the new engine.

    It’s an awful, terrible design decision, and you unfortunately have to live with it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Bruce, will IE remain ensnared in the OS until the end of time or will IE7 be somewhat of a break from tradition?

  10. Anonymous says:

    I tell you, using side-by-side (WinSxS) for all future IE components would be great…

  11. Anonymous says:

    The second point by ! is a telling one.

    However great the development process at Microsoft is, and however fast the turnaround for patching vulnerabilities, sysadmins can’t push out new updates for the _browser_ quickly because of the huge testing burden for _non-browser_ applications.

    This makes it a _security_ problem.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It’s a shame the Netscape developers think they have been forced to implement the IE rendering engine as a fallback mechanism to cope with all the awful built-for-IE pages out there. I guess that’s the result of the monopolistic approach Microsoft took during the browser wars, which we are all paying for dearly.

    However, IMO, sites that are built like that don’t desrve my business anyway. I’ll take my business elsewhere with Firefox or Opera before I, or let Netscape, open IE for me.

    Having said that though, it is at least good to see more competition coming back, which will greatly benefit the web as a whole in the future.

  13. Anonymous says:

    On one hand, yeah, it’s great to leverage MS’s base code as much as possible. It means less coding for me, and I get to take advantage of as much of MS’ billions of development budget as possible. However, it also makes me a slave to MS’ release schedule, which in the last couple of years has been abysmal. Let’s say 3 years ago, I’m writing a web page that has some TIFFs. I tell myself, "Well, the IE renderer that I want to embed in my app doesn’t support TIFF, but they’ve *got* to add support relatively soon, since MS does add functionality to their products at least once between national censuses, so I’ll bite the bullet and make it IE with no TIFF now, but I can enable that pretty soon." Well, guess what? Hasn’t happened. If I banked on MS to come through for me with a nice, clean functionality upgrade, I lose…by several years. I’ve had to learn the hard way the last couple of years not to count on a reliable schedule of improved functionality for free this way; I’ve had to write equivalents to future MS tech too many times to trust promises and/or hopes.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Can we get some more information regarding any updates planned for the editing facilities within the platform? For example, source code preservation while editing?

    Thanks and please keep the information coming!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Blake Ross on Firefox and Beyond &raquo; The more things change&#8230;

  16. Anonymous says:

    Gecko is not only embeddable like IE, but also portable platrform.

    There are applications using Gecko and browser clones same as with IE.

    Identical post about Netscape can be written from Gecko point of view, with the same benefits highlighted + some more.

    Opera7 and KHTML have same capabilities and are also embedded/cloned in some applications, although less popular.

    Again, wake up IE team! Things that were nice in IE3 aren’t anything extra in times when IE9 should already be released.

  17. Anonymous says:

    It has been nearly five years since I developed the visual themes for Netscape 6 and 7. I remember how

  18. Anonymous says:

    > As far as the dual rendering engines, I think it sounds good on paper, but doesn’t work so well in reality.

    I think the method in which it has been implemented is a little short-sighted. By catering to broken web pages in this manner, they aren’t doing anything to resolve the issue, thus making themselves dependent upon the Internet Explorer platform.

    If they logged each URI that the Internet Explorer compatibility mode was used on, they could compile a list of the most popular broken sites and make the Mozilla standards advocacy far more effective, because they could spend their time targetting the most appropriate places. This would eventually reduce the need for this feature.

    They already have the code to do this; the quality feedback agent already "phones home" (at the request of the user, of course).

  19. Anonymous says:

    Autism blog, web design blog. Left Brain/Right Brain

  20. Anonymous says:

    The double engine thing is a great help to developers – now we can just load a page in 2 tabs with both engines and flip back and forth between them to see how much of it IE’s rendering engine breaks and where we need to add CSS hacks and workarounds to make them look the same!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Actually this brings me to a question maybe the someone on the IE team can help me with.

    I have actually done this a long time ago. I built my own little app that actually has both browsers in a tab control way back in netscape 4. That way for developing web sites I can easily see what the page looks like in both browser.

    Now I am trying to do this again with .net IE, firefox etc.

    However the web browser control has a lot of trouble in .net specifically getting info on the DOM. Yeah yeah I know there is a browser control in 2005 but I need to do this in non beta code.

    Ok I have created wrappers for everything using the aximp and tlbimp

    ala

    aximp c:windowssystem32shdocvw.dll

    tlbimp mshtml.tlb

    Now the document I can cast it to multiple items but trying to get the RAW items out of the DOM I just can not seem to do. How can I get all the images on a web page. Like to put in a picturebox control.I have tried and tried and tried I tried casting the document out to different IHTMLImages and what is wierd is if I do a count on there it shows the count currectly like the correct number of images on the page are there but trying to get each image out of there escapes me. I can not seem to do it, I tried getting it into image and I can save an image out to file but the image can’t be read by anything else. I tried sending the image to a picture box and it does nothing. Doesn’t even throw an exception. So maybe a blog post on using the browser controls more programatically would be a great benefit. The actual Browser control itself is ok to work with it is the DOM that is the pain to try to work with.

  22. Anonymous says:

    "It also prevents sysadmins in large enterprise environments deploying IE more quickly. They have to test each web app, instead of just letting webapps use the old engine until ‘proven good’ in testing and letting the browser use the new engine. "

    No. As a sysadmin I can tell you it’s a damn site easier fixing it in one place and testing elsewhere than trying to fix it all over the place *and* test it everywhere.

    The recent GDI+ vulnerability was a classic example of this. Having to patch the same problem in countless places and then never being entirely convinced that you found every one is a far worse security problem.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Just a friendly reminder Dean, you _did_ promise us a post on: "Standards, standards, standards… say something!"

    I await eagerly. Thanks.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Hey creativeHavoc, thanks for the friendly reminder. Sorry for the delay.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I just love the security warning that pops up in Netscape 8 when you manually switch to the IE rendering engine.

    "You have chosen to view this web site using the Internet Explorer display engine. Your setting will be remembered the next time you visit the site. Please be aware that there are known security vulnerabilities with the Internet Explorer display engine."

    (Note this doesn’t happen when changing it within the standard options dialog, only for the site options that come up by clicking the yellow shield on the tab)

    However, I think it’s ironic that the default options set netscape.com (and a few other sites) to use the IE rendering engine!

  26. Anonymous says:

    I think this is a great idea. Until IE becomes standards complient, this browser gives the users the choice to to choose at will what browser they are using. Personally I don’t like the way IE renders pages, so I can use Gecko, and when I come across a page that was obviously made for IE and doesn’t work with Gecko, I can just switch. Likewise, all of you loyal IE users can switch to Gecko if you want to see what a page would look like if it was being rendered with proper CSS2 and such. Good call on Netscapes part.

  27. Anonymous says:

    IE engine and ActiveX in Netscape. It will be death of the Internet.

  28. Anonymous says:

    "I think the method in which it has been implemented is a little short-sighted. By catering to broken web pages in this manner, they aren’t doing anything to resolve the issue, thus making themselves dependent upon the Internet Explorer platform."

    True, but that falls under the catagory "Standards Stuff." :) However, there’s one problem with your idea. If a user primarily goes to sites that need Trident to look right, a large amount of his history can get sent to the evangelism folks via talkback. That could end up as a big privacy issue if the data is misused. Do you trust AOL or their outsourced developers to to use that data correctly? I don’t.

  29. Anonymous says:

    > That could end up as a big privacy issue if the data is misused.

    I did consider that, which is why I mentioned that similar things already happen. The important thing is to keep the user in control of what happens – this is the case for talkback at the moment, I see no reason why something like I suggest would be any different.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I was a strong believer in the concept of standards. As a website developer, as so many have previoulsy mentioned, rendering compatability between browsers has been a nightmare. With such a dominent market that IE has/has had, I always supported those standards and just learned to live with the rest. Then I looked around and realized that the word "standards" itself is just another way of saying "wishful thinking". How many of you have not had to choose on the telephone "press 1 for this language . . . press 2 for another. If we can not even create standards within our own social and business lives, how can we expect more from the computer industry. To that I applaud any attempt, even using multiple rendering engines, that will help websites look the way I designed them to with my tools of choice. Not worry about how they look for those that choose to think/live out of box.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I have a problem implementing a css for netscape 7.02.I tried using the same one which i wrote for IE.But it does’t work..

    Kindly help..Its URGENT..

    THanx in advance

  32. Anonymous says:

    "I look forward to trying the Netscape beta and having pages work the way they do in IE."

    The reverse would be much more preferable, no?

  33. Anonymous says:

    D O N O T T R I E D NETCRAP v8 (BETA). Its full of unuser friendly, crapy graphics, no help, and a bootleg copy version of IE mixed into Firefox.

    AOL should just sell Netscape out right now!

  34. Anonymous says:

    "I’m happy to see another browser built on top of the IE platform to go along with NetCaptor, Maxthon, and these other ones."

    This comment sounds like a backhanded complement. I use Firefox, so I haven’t used Netscape’s new beta version, however, I doubt it is "built on top of the IE platform" in the way other skin browsers might be. If Netscape is based on Firefox then this ability is probably implemented as an extension.

    In Firefox they have a "View in IE" extension that lets you use a real browswer and pop-up IE when you arrive at the pages that don’t render according to standards. Netscape has just taken this idea a step further.

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  36. Anonymous says:

    No one posted anything about Windows Update. That’s the whole point of Netscape 8, to use a Gecko browser and allow a Gecko browser to access Windows Update without being forced to change the actualy browser application being used.

    I agree that regardless of the rendering engine that all browsers should render according to the W3 standards.

    I REALLY dislike the W3 though when they pull crap like… well you CAN follow this small portion but only if you want to.

    Right now my pages support IE6 but are bloated. Because IE won’t support many things including :hover I have to use javascript to get the menu rollovers to work. This alone bloats every single page with 3-4KB or in regards to the actual visitor another second they have to wait on dial-up.

    When IE7 comes out I will not use backwards compatability for IE regardless of whether it supports such things as :hover (for CSS). If it does great but I’m not going to bend over backwards much longer as Microsoft has both the time and money to fix what they haven’t fixed.