Saving the Browser
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Some months back I became aware of the patent US 5,838,906 and the Eolas lawsuit against Microsoft, and followed a bit of conversation on the Net related to it. As many, I believed the issue would quickly go away because of ample prior art. Regrettably, this seems not to be the case.
It now seems that perhaps the browser itself and the browsing experience may have to be nontrivially modified as a result of the judgment. Although a bit late, if some of us perhaps dust off our old code, is there a chance that we could still save the browser through demonstration of clear prior art?
For my own interest, and for the record, I recently spent a little time pursuing my intuition that Lotus Notes R3 might be viable prior art relative to the patent in question. I am not an attorney, and I am surely not well versed in the nuances of the case, but it seems to me after initial investigation that there is indeed quite a bit of relevance.
I pursued this with the assistance of my brother, Jack Ozzie, and with another of my employees at Groove, Rob Slapikoff. Both Jack and Rob worked for me at Iris Associates in the development of Lotus Notes. Although I am personally responsible for a good deal of the "browser" code in question, I asked Jack to help because he specifically did all of the work related to our “object linking and embedding” technologies - first a Lotus technology referred to internally as DIP, (Document Interchange Protocol), and later in loose collaboration with the Windows & Excel teams on what was referred to as either CDP (Compound Document Protocol) or OLE (Object Linking and Embedding). I asked Rob to help because he was, in essence, a Lotus Notes “solution developer” at the time, and was very familiar with how one would quickly weave together a solution involving multiple applications.
When I began this investigation, I thought that it might be challenging to recreate a scenario, given the feature set available Notes R3, that was close to what was described in the patent. In fact, however, the hard part was only in putting together a computing environment that ran Notes R3. Once we had Notes running, it only took about 15 minutes to reproduce what I’ve shown below, and there was no programming involved. Meaning, everything done was done with just the out-of-the-box UI of both Notes and Excel.
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In 1993 or thereabouts, we saw the emergence of TCP/IP, HTML, HTTP, Mosaic and the Web. From our perspective, all of these were simplistic emulations of a tiny subset of what we’d been doing in Notes for years. TCP/IP instead of Netbeui or IPX/SPX, HTML instead of CD records, HTTP instead of the Notes client/server protocols, httpd instead of a Notes server. And we were many years ahead in other ways: embedded compound objects, security, composition of documents as opposed to just “browsing” them, and a sophisticated development environment. I am quite embarassed to say that we frankly didn’t “get” what was so innovative about this newfangled “Web” thing, given the capabilities of what had already been built.
| ||© Copyright 2003 Ray Ozzie.|
Last update: 9/13/2003; 10:12:27 PM.