Article by Kevin Savetz

First Published:
Date Published:
Copyright © by Kevin Savetz

Question: Whose push client is better? Netscape Communicator's or Microsoft Internet Explorer's?

Neil Randall: I'm guessing, Kevin, that you don't much like the whole idea of push. For the most part, I do. But let's not spit at each other over whether or not push is any good. Instead, let's assume it's here to stay, and an important medium for information. The question is, who gives us a better push client: Netscape or Microsoft? I guess we should explain, first, that the two of them are based on different semi-standards. The push client in Communicator runs on JavaScript, while the one in Internet Explorer depends on CDF, the Channel Definition Format. Neither is actually a standard, but JavaScript is closer. Still, CDF is based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language), which is supposed to be the next groovy thing.

But unless you're a developer, you don't care about that, so I'll start with this instead. I think IE4 is lots better at handling push channels than Communicator. The whole thing is smoother, it's built nicely into the browser itself, and it offers more customization options because of the greater power of CDF. In fact, now that I think about it, it blows Communicator out of the water. Or, should I say, out of the channel ...

Kevin Savetz: You're guessing right, Neil. I'm dubious about whether push is really worthy of all the time, attention and bandwidth that people are giving to it. It can be cool, and cool counts for a lot, so I agree that push is here to stay. It may not be not moving in for good, but it will surely be hot for at least a few more months -- until either we Internet users realize it's not so useful, or push proves itself as a useful medium. Either outcome is a possibility.

But your statement that Explorer's Push client blows Netscape away -- pure blasphemy. Netscape's push client, Netcaster, is sleek and fast. It's even easy to use (although I'll admit that it took me too many tries to get it running the first time.) Netcaster offers innumerable "channels" with a wide variety of push information. It even works beautifully for offline browsing of plain old non-push sites. Netcaster rules the water.

Netcaster runs not just with JavaScript but also with Java. As you point out, it's not married to the Channel Definition Format. Why should it, when HTML and other popular tools can handle the job just fine? I know you, Neil, you're eager to adopt any bastard child of a protocol that Microsoft leaves on your doorstep. Not me, buddy. I'll stick with HTML. I understand HTML. And so do developers, whom I assure you don't want to learn yet another markup-language-definition-format-whatzit just because Bill says it's groovy. Bill's been wrong before.

Neil Randall: Very true, but there are about 30 billion reasons to pay attention to what he does. But really, Kevin -- "bastard protocol"? Last I heard, there was oodles of support for XML, and that's what CDF is. But I couldn't care less who leaves it on my doorstep, the fact is that it gives us lots of control over what we get.

The first time I ran Netcaster, I could hardly get the damned thing to shut down. I mean, what's with the dorky control panel way down in the bottom right? At least IE4's channel thingie (whatever the hell it's called) uses the interface of the rest of the browser! What a concept, huh? You learn one interface, and you can get Web sites and channels alike. Netcaster may rule the water, but only the water it's passing.

Oh, and one other thing -- Webtops suck worse than Active Desktop items do. They're ugly, they don't work half the time, and they don't offer enough control over updating. Note that I said it sucks worse, though: I can't stand putting these bloody little browsers all over my desktop, and unless you're a control-freak IS type I can't see why you'd want them. But I actually suspect you and I might agree on this one; we just have to decide who's solution is worse. (Wait, did I say solution? What exactly was the problem?)

Kevin Savetz: The problem is that you don't know what you want.

I'll tell you what's with the dorky control panel way down in the bottom right. It lets you -- stay with me here, this concept may be difficult for you -- control Netcaster. You can choose what channels to receive and how often you receive them, you can choose to see the channels on the desktop or in a browser window. It sounds like you're unhappy when channels are on the desktop, and you're unhappy when they're confined to a browser window. Netcaster gives you that choice, Neil, and that should make you happy.

XML, or CDF, or whatever you call it, may be wonderful, but it's not widely accepted like HTML, and it never will be. Yahoo lists 13 web sites related to XML, and at least 200 ones related to HTML. CDF? Two web sites.

You're amorous over IE because its channels interface looks like the rest of the browser? Of course it does, because the damn browser will take over your entire system: if you give it half a chance, it will make everything in Windows look like the browser. Netcaster's a separate app, and that's the right way: browsing the web is a different activity than receiving information with push. Both activities require their own interface. You've bought into IE4's fundamental, misguided philosophy of uniformity. When the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails.

Neil Randall: I like that. Very funny, in fact. Not as funny as your continuing love for an inferior browser, but credit where it's due. But we're never going to agree on the separate application thing, are we? As far as I'm concerned, the Web is part of everybody's computer, and should be part of the operating system. Channels are part of that. As for XML, just wait a year, and then we'll talk. It's going to be so big that Bill will try to stop it, too. Anyway, happy channeling, Kevin, even if you're using the wrong tool to do it with.

Articles by Kevin Savetz