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The Great Reckoning Comes Around: August 2021

Are the Browser Wars Back?

My latest research focuses on the Browser Wars, which of course, weren’t wars at all, but simply a fight to wrest control of a market by a tech giant. Looking back, Microsoft “winning” was always an inevitability given their size and influence. I’ve been reading an incredible profile of the Microsoft antitrust case that alleged that the company used its operating system monopoly to eliminate competition in the browser market. It was written in 2000 by John Heilmann, and is an incredible retelling of all the players and twists of the tale.

I was struck by how connected it is to the tech reckoning of our present moment. Zuckerberg and other tech CEO’s current defiance is almost an exact duplicate of the petulance and aggression seen from Gates at the time. And the mounting, and quickly turning, public opinion against large tech companies is clearly happening right now as well. A point of difference : it took the relatively small but still large pockets of Silicon Valley upstarts—Netscape, Sun, Apple, AOL—all working in concert to pay large law and PR firms to finally take down Microsoft. I’m not sure there is a similar groundswell this time around.

Some are wondering if the browser wars are happening again. It certainly seems that way, with Google’s monoculture resulting in drastic and sudden changes to the web. The web platform has a lot of places to go right now.

Turns 30

This month the web turns thirty. Of course, the web has already turned thirty a few times before (thirty years since the web’s initial proposalsince the first browsersince the first webpage, etc.). But this month marks thirty years from when the web was first announced to the public; in a Usenet group by the web’s founder, Tim Berners-Lee.

A number of people have reflected on what that all means, As NPR recalled the first webpage, the W3C highlights the profound impact the web has had on all of usDesigner Matthias Ott has his own reflection on the web, by recalling its founding principles and situating it in the same context as other mediums with 20th century roots, such as the cinema (“what if the best is yet to come.”).

Another Anniversary

Last month was another anniversary worth celebrating. The Internet Archive turned twenty-five. Its creator, Brewster Kahle, wrote a retrospective on the web archive blog well worth your time. Kahle is a person who is fascinated with the way in which the web facilitates the transmission of information. He has been fighting for his whole career to make sure that that tradition continues.

A Documentary worth watching

I watched Project Code Rush recently. It’s about the founding of Mozilla and the extreme conditions the programmers worked under to get it complete on time. If you want to geek out about the inner workings of a Silicon Valley startup at the height of Netscape Time, watch it.