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The Icon Bar: News and features: Browser Wars, or How To Stop Fearing Competition and Love Th

Browser Wars, or How To Stop Fearing Competition and Love The Upgrades

Posted by Richard Goodwin on 01:13, 24/8/2001 | , , ,
This article did start out as a straight news posting about R-Comp's WebsterXL upgrade, but as the analysis went on I decided it was too long for the front page of The Icon Bar. However, here's the original facts...

R-Comp have announced an upgrade to WebsterXL, so that it ...now ships with Flash support, MIDI handling... and PDF handling "out of the box". This is due to a plugins disc, allowing users to quickly install several key add-ons which significantly improve the RISC OS web experience. The price of WebsterXL remains unchanged.
Advert over, let's take a look at what's on offer. The MIDI handling is "hardware/software permitting", which presumably means that it's an interface to whatever existing MIDI player you already have. If you don't have one... well, R-Comp sell one. The other two pieces of software are available free on the Internet, although that's not to say the versions in this pack are the same ones. If they are, well, Andrew Rawnsley and myself have had several conversations on the topic of using free software in commercial offerings in the past, and after much debate I'm of the opinion that so long as the commercial doesn't impede the free then offering them along with the web browser is adding value to the customer - even if it's achieved at little or no cost to the publisher. If a financial incentive is offered to the developer then it might actual spur them on with the free version, which is a Good Thing.
Let's look at the timing though. Firstly, WebsterXL itself has not been updated, and many would say that it does need a re-write from the current BASIC version to something faster like C. The speed of WebsterXL has been criticised - some saying that it's only really suited to a StrongARM machine - although some fine points such as being the only RISC OS browser to handle tags, the first to offer JavaScript support, and when Fresco was its main rival it quickly added full 24bit font colour support, something Fresco still can't do properly (try adding more than 14 different font colours into a web page and then view it in Fresco...). It's a pretty good browser, but needs some work to make it a very good browser.
However, this month has also seen the Oregano mailing list stating that we could see Oregano 2 finally seeing the light of day - perhaps even this week. Of course, this has been said many times before and has never come to pass, despite assurances from the programmer himself, so be sure to stock up on pinches of salt. On first release it showed much promise, praise was given in an Acorn User review (okay, guilty as charged), and it looked like RISC OS was finally to receive a top notch browser with new features like cascading style sheet support. Although it has since failed to live up to early promise - broken printing support, and a seeming loss of stability and speed in the upgrades after the review version - version 2 might finally put this to rights, and offer built-in support for things like Flash.
What is a little disturbing about Oregano is the apparent abandonment of some of the RISC OS staples - font handler, window handler, even the current plugin standard seems to have gone out of the window - and work on the Flash plugin for Oregano 2 could actually have an impact on development of Flash for "the rest of us". Maybe R-Comp are getting in while the getting's good?
So, conspicuous timing or complete coincidence? You decide. What is interesting is that we might actually be seeing the first shots in a browser war which, although recent history outside the RISC OS field makes this sound rather negative, might actually be beneficial. One thing that RISC OS seems to lack at the moment is internal competition, and competition often leads to progress. Could we start to see more innovation in the crucial and oft-lamented field of RISC OS internet software? I for one hope so - but let's keep the casualties to a minimum.
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The Icon Bar: News and features: Browser Wars, or How To Stop Fearing Competition and Love Th