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IBrowse 2.5: Interview with Oliver Roberts
The release of IBrowse 2.5 - 13 years after the latest update of the only web browser specifically created for the Amiga that is still in development - started an argument in the german comments section of our related news-item with regard to its price/performance ratio. A good reason for our editor Daniel Reimann to talk about this to the main developer of IBrowse, Oliver Roberts.

In the preliminary talk to the actual interview found below, confronted with a certain disappointment of our readers regarding the features of version 2.5 and their critique of the price, the developer expressed his understanding in both cases, but pointed out that it had always been made clear what IBrowse 2.5 was going to be - and that it had been never promised to include CSS or HTML5; instead the plan had just been to deliver an AmigaOS 4 native version. And regarding the price, Oliver Roberts would like to advise users to only think about paying for what is available at the time of purchase and not the hope of something which may or may not be added in the future. (AN): Are you satisfied with the keys sold so far for IBrowse 2.5? Can you give some figures? Does the future development depend on the number of sold keys?

Oliver Roberts (OR): Not necessarily - no keys were sold the last 12 years, yet development did not stop. I won't give figures, but I am both encouraged and pleasantly surprised at the sales so far. Particularly for new licences, as I had assumed most people had purchased 2.x by now and we were mainly aiming 2.5 as an upgrade for existing customers.

I'm very grateful for the many positive messages I have received and the general excitement that many IBrowse users have expressed with the release of 2.5. It reminds me of the good times I had around 2.3 and 2.4 releases. In the immediate future, I plan on continued development and more regular updates to 2.x, but this probably won't include HTML5/CSS.

AN: Why is the price quite expensive for a new 2.5 licence, comparatively, although no current internet standards were implemented?

OR: Depends which way you look at it, I guess! Sorting out the pricing structure was highly complex, mainly because of the addition of the AmigaOS 4 native version and I primarily wanted to be fair to our loyal existing customers, not devaluing what they have already paid for 1.x and/or 2.x in the past. So, I decided to freeze the price for a new license at the same price IBrowse has always been (in the real world, prices increase with inflation). In 1996, I paid the equivalent of 55 Euro for IBrowse 1.x and this was a lot of money back then - 23 years on, not so much comparatively. Also, all the development on the whole 2.x line since the late 1990s should be considered in the price - 55 Euro for thousands of hours development time.

I fully realise that IBrowse 2.5 is not for everybody. I'm not forcing anybody to buy it and encourage everybody to try the demo before paying for it. People are entitled to their opinions and if people don't like 2.5, or don't have a use for it, then I'm fine with that - just move on. On the flipside, some users have been eagerly waiting for 2.5 for ages, knowing full well what the finished feature set was, having been published on our website and discussed on the mailing list.

As I've tried to make clear on the website over the past few years, 2.5 was never about CSS/HTML5. Initially, it was just going to be rushed out as an AmigaOS 4 native 2.4 with only important bug fixes thrown in for AmigaOS 3.x users. Obviously, things did not pan out that way, for many, many reasons, and 2.5 is so much more than it originally was going to be, with continued development over the past 13 years. Unfortunately, only our beta testers got to experience the progress first hand. It is impossible to convey from the history logs exactly how much time was spent on 2.5, since some entries will have taken 10 minutes, whilst others have taken 100+ hours!

AN: When can users expect a version of IBrowse which has CSS, HTML5 or an updated Javascript implemented?

OR: I make no promises that this may ever come, but if it does, it will be in IBrowse 3.0. Some work was done on the CSS parser even before IBrowse 2.4 was released, but most likely this is itself in need of a major update. To be honest, I've not thought much beyond the release of 2.5 yet, as I had been concentrating my efforts on bringing everything together to get 2.5 done.

IBrowse 2.5 still has a pretty good Javascript core engine - what is completely separate and lets it down now is the lack of access to browser/host-side elements. But, this more an issue with the current old restrictive internal DOM implementation, rather than a Javascript issue per se.

AN: With regard to the previous question - is it possible at all to add those features to the current IBrowse without having to completely rewrite it?

OR: Not at all. The GUI side of things wouldn't need rewriting, but the HTML engine would need a complete rewrite from scratch. Firstly, there are the HTML/CSS parsers which turn the source text into the internal DOM structures, and those structures are then read by the layout engine to properly display them in the browser. You can't change one of these things without the other - it is all intertwined. You can't just add bits of CSS support to the existing engine as you go along, for example. Everything has to be rewritten.

IBrowse 2.x's HTML engine was designed in a time when essentially it was mainly images and form elements that were accessible via Javascript, whereas now it is much more complex and Javascript needs to be able to interface with every single element on a page, visible or not. This design really does not fit the current requirements of HTML5/CSS and DHTML, hence there is no way around it but to rewrite or port some existing solution. IMHO, Javascript is used way too much and to unnecessary extremes these days, but that's another story!

AN: How much money future versions of IBrowse will cost if a user has bought already a 2.5 key?

OR: There are no plans for any further charges for updates to the 2.x line. Free updates/fixes for 2.5 will be coming soon, maybe even 2.6. Should 3.0 ever happen (and there is no guarantee or immediate plans for this), bringing a new, more modern HTML engine, this would not be free. IBrowse 3.0 was always going to be a paid for update, with AmigaOS 4/PowerPC support and a new CSS capable HTML engine - IBrowse 2.5 is essentially what IBrowse 3.0 would have been without a new HTML engine. Hence, those who buy or upgrade to 2.5 would get a better discount upgrade price to 3.0 than those upgrading from earlier versions. I can't give figures on something that may never happen, but as I hope the upgrade discounts on 2.5 prove, any 3.0 upgrade prices would be just as fair.

AN: Do you have some special desire or expectations to the remaining Amiga users?

OR: Not sure I understand the question, but I'm just as much an Amiga user as a developer. Past years prove that the Amiga community will never really change, apart from getting smaller :(. As long as Amiga users are happy to use their Amigas, there is nothing wrong with that and there are still many things that Amigas can do better. I'm pleased that some Amiga users are happy to have IBrowse 2.5 at last.

AN: What are your expectations concerning the future development of Amiga hardware?

OR: I don't really have any expectations at this stage. I'm still happy using my AmigaOne XE as my main Amiga, but also want to try to get my Amiga 1200 motherboard fixed somehow. It will be great to see new hardware out there, although I tend to get the impression that recent efforts have not gone so well (unfinished/broken software and hardware). It all seems rather confusing to me and recent hardware efforts leave a nasty taste of unprofessionalism (makes the Eyetech days seem perfect). (snx)

[News message: 08. Sep. 2019, 10:36] [Comments: 0]
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