As we all know, Linux is what it is today because of the Internet. Without the international communications made possible by the Internet, such a development effort would not have been possible.
In addition, Linux is returning much to the Internet. Hundreds of Web servers (including our own) and Internet Service Providers (including the one we use) are based on Linux systems. To their credit, many commercial vendors have jumped on the Linux bandwagon. Some just sell hardware pieces, some sell complete Linux systems and some sell software for Linux. Looking at the ads in this magazine will give you a pretty good feel for which companies have decided to jump on the Linux bandwagon.
SSC has seen the connection between Linux and the World Wide Web and is starting a new magazine, WEBsmith. If you are an LJ subscriber, you will see the premier issue of WEBsmith bound into your January, 1996 issue of LJ. While there is a lot more to the Web than Linux, we want to promote the Linux/Internet connection.
Now, for the bad news. As I am writing this, the new version of Netscape, the most popular Web browser, was just released. Although a Linux version of Netscape exists, it is not supported. Also, while Netscape has secure server software available for other platforms, it is not available for Linux.
I don't know how you feel about this but, to me, it makes me think we are being treated as second class citizens. It's not that Netscape doesn't work on Linux. It's just that apparently Linux and the Linux community is not being taken seriously.
We are a community of activists. We have made Linux go from nothing to the operating system of choice for hundreds of thousands of people around the world. And we have helped Linux make inroads into the commercial world. I think it is time we do a little activism with regard to Linux and Web browsers.
We don't have to start from scratch. Arena, available on many Linux distributions and archives, is a work-in-progress browser for HTML 3.0. While not complete, Arena offers some very nice features. My favorite is that it actually verifies that your HTML is correct. The first time I ran Arena on our Web site I found that about 90% of our pages produced the bad HTML error message. It's not that I am proud of this, it's just that I see having a tool that checks your work as being valuable.
Arena is from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an industry consortium run by the Laboratory of Computer Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In Europe, it is a collaboration of MIT with CERN, the originators of the Web, and with INRIA, in France. Arena is built using the library of common code called the W3C Reference Library. It is currently available as a binary for most major Unix platforms (where, in this case, major includes Linux).
To quote the W3C on their plans for Arena
Arena will continue to be a testbed browser for HTML3 and style sheets. We do not have the resources nor the intent to make Arena a full-featured web browser, but welcome initiatives to help add functionality.
I haven't talked to anyone at W3C but, if there is interest in the Linux community, I am willing to spearhead an initiative within the Linux community aimed at developing further functions for Arena.
One such initiative comes from David Bonn, of Mazama Software Labs, who suggested writing what you might call browser tools that would make it possible to easily embed an HTML browser in your application. This has the advantage that you could build systems where browsing HTML was just a part. For example, you might want to build a system for your office where it would be possible for clerical people to access procedures that were in HTML format. You could include this in the application that they commonly ran instead of having them learn about a new program in order to read these procedures.
I am sure there are lots of other ways to go. At this point I am just sending the idea of a new development effort up the flagpole to see if Linux community members are interested. Let us know what you think. Send us mail or, better yet, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.