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June 9, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 12:33pm

PUSH STANDARDS – MORE LIKE A 45 THAN A BETAMAX

By CBR Staff Writer

By Gary Flood

The ancient IT joke: We love standards because there are so many to choose from. And we’ve seen in Information Technology that can be true; take Unix, which is kind of standard but not really. Now we have an emerging standards war-ette with browsers and push technology, that stuff designed to make your PC (or thin client) into a network hog by letting you get updates to the nanosecond on how the Dodgers are doing. It seems these past couple of weeks that Microsoft Corp and Netscape Communications Corp were all set to launch just such another standards broohaha. But no! Microsoft Corp told Reuters Thursday of last week that it intended to play the nice guy and would make its push technology compatible with Netscape’s client push product by a change in its recently announced (CI No 3,119) Channel Definition Format, supported by PointCast Inc and America Online Inc, so that software content publishers can write in a single format that will with work both companies’ forthcoming push-extensible browsers, Internet Explorer version 4.0 and Netscape’s Netcaster client software. Push in this case, of course, is really a shorthand way of saying pull, since the user has to make a request for certain information to be downloaded rather than abstract, intelligent pull, which is based on the idea of the server deciding on its own what needs to be sent to the client browser. In any case, Microsoft had previously been championing the format idea so that content would be more closely aligned with the channels it is creating in Explorer, while Netscape has loudly pooh-poohed such an idea, saying that push effects can be created using existing (i.e. non Microsoft) standards, primarily JavaScript. The move is essentially a backing down on MSFT’s part. Or is it? Microsoft hasn’t abandoned CDF – it’s simply extended it to support Netscape – and the Microsoft implementation will still, shock, work best with Explorer rather than the other sort of Coke. For example, you will only be told how often a web page you have asked to have pushed at you is being updated with Explorer, not with Netcaster, so it will be less slick a process for you to tell it how often you want the thing refreshed. (However, the extensions do mean a Netcaster user can get the same table of contents for a web page using CDF as with the Netscape approach.) And Big Green hasn’t exactly told the news and content providers it recently (CI No 3,167) paraded as having signed up for its push-y ways, like Dow Jones Markets’, Dun & Bradstreet Corp, First Call Corp, Pointcast Inc, Forbes Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal, to join their confreres ABC News and Knight- Ridder as Netscape followers. So what we have is two standards that kind of work together, with everyone saying they’ll do what’s in the customer’s best interests. In this case, that cliche will come true – but not in the way Gates or Barksdale think. Push technology is more of a consumer standard than a technical standard at the end of the day, and the way around incompatible standards in the consumer electronics industry is more often a philosophic shrug of the shoulders and an encompassing of the two, rather than the oft-quoted Betamax versus VHS conflict (which was a one-off due mainly to Sony Corp’s pigheadedness). For example; most people don’t remember that the reason you used to play your vinyl records at either 45rpm or 33.3rpm was not so much that one was for singles and one for albums (these words are already as out of date to anyone under 30 as ‘radiogram’ or ‘high-fidelity’ were to my generation) but because two different record companies had competing standards, actually making only one or the other sort of disc, and the solution was just to make players that could cope with either (and even the previous standard of 78rpm). Or fax machines; internally they cope with a zillion different standards, some of them only relevant to the technology’s company of origin, Japan, and hence Group 4 faxes are just a communications version of the flexible old radiogram’s three- speed motor. Explorer and Netscape will not drive each other out of business – they will have to co-exist, like it or not, as will their push-ier aspects.

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