Oliver Joppich, iCab Company
If you want to surf the waves of the world wide web from a Mac you have two choices: Internet Explorer from Microsoft and Navigator/Communicator from Netscape. Given their long history of development, neither of them is really impressive. A newcomer from Germany promises to change the situation. iCab, developed by Alexander Clauss and the iCab Company, is currently available as a free preview release http://www.icab.de. It offers a small, fast, and stable browser without compromising on the features of the “big ones.” ATPM Managing Editor Daniel Chvatik had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander’s partner Oliver Joppich about iCab’s past, present, and future.
ATPM: How did you get the idea to write another Web browser, especially given the competition from two giants in this market?
Oliver: I know. Many people told us that it would not be a good idea to make a product in an area where two giants already have good solutions—especially if their products don’t cost a penny.
But we asked ourselves why Communicator and Internet Explorer were free. Microsoft wanted to crush Netscape and made their browser free. Netscape had to follow. But there are big software teams behind these browsers, so they must make their money in other ways: Microsoft is selling content (with links, bookmarks, channels) and Communicator will soon become a program that solves the wishes of AOL. And AOL is not for free. They have interest in selling their AOL content. Only 10%-20% of the AOL users are working on the Internet. The rest are working inside AOL. And this will be Netscape’s focus in the future.
So last year we decided to make a browser that would be available for a small price on the Mac (for free in the preview version) and where everyone can decide what he wants to see in the Internet without commercials and based on standard HTML. I believe this is the better solution for all (not Bill Gates). We will deliver a free version in the future. Only the professional version will have a (small) price. On the Internet the size of a company doesn’t play a role (look at Yahoo!). We didn’t want to start an English version at the moment, but many people asked if we could do this. And we will have one ready next week, accompanied by an international Web page. In the future, the German and English versions will be updated at the same time. We don’t need anybody in the US to sell our product. Everybody can load it at home on his computer or send us an e-mail.
We have been doing software in Germany for ten years. Starting with Atari, the last projects were emulators for Windows PCs and Mac (MagiC Mac, MagiC PC). Last year we decided to switch completely to the Internet and did two projects. One is AktienMan (a stock program for the German market), and the other is iCab for the Mac.
ATPM: Besides offering an independent solution that is free of content specifications from AOL and Microsoft, what are your plans for future features of your product? It is amazing how Netscape and Microsoft, after years of product refinements, have been unable to deliver stable and powerful solutions that are consistent with all Internet standards. And both are still missing essential functions. Netscape, for example, still lacks a history or a download manager. From looking at your preview version, I found that it was both stable and had many advanced features. Do you plan on actively developing the program further once it has emerged from the preview state? The problem that many people had with Apple’s Cyberdog is that it was a good idea, but didn’t implement many of the advanced features of the Internet. Are you planning on staying ahead of the rapidly developing online environment?
Oliver: Our idea is simple: we want to make a browser that has the features we want to see in browsers. We want to make a browser that supports the actual HTML specification. We don’t want to make our money selling content (like Internet Explorer or Communicator). In the future these browsers will sell the content of Microsoft and AOL. They are not really for free. We want to make a small and fair price for the final version of iCab and give a small, fast, and content-free browser to the people of the Internet. We will use Kagi or something simple for getting the money for iCab. We are just interested in paying our development costs for iCab. And they are small. We didn’t want to pay for marketing or big fluffy boxes (we did that for ten years). That was also the key for Linux. We like this idea. And all the big companies are afraid of it. If many people share this idea it will work and we can continue the development of iCab for a long time and make a good browser.
ATPM: How long have you been working on iCab so far?
Oliver: We’ve been working on iCab for ten months. But its predecessor, Cab, took a few years. The main work in the ten months was the process of porting the program from Atari-Pascal to CodeWarrior and the Mac OS. But now we have a clean and modern CodeWarrior version of iCab. The biggest problem was the Mac OS and CodeWarrior. Alexander had to rewrite pieces of the CodeWarrior libraries, because they didn’t operate as expected. The last two months we had an online problem that really was hard to find.
ATPM: What do you think about Mac OS X (Yellow Box and/or Carbon) and how will it impact the
development of iCab?
Oliver: Not our problem. If Apple delivers Mac OS X for all (not only a server version) we can quickly make a Carbon version for it. iCab has a very modern design at the moment. A transfer to Mac OS X will be simple. From Pascal/Atari to CodeWarrior C/Apple was more difficult.
ATPM: Given the extensive time and commitment you put into this project, how to you plan on distributing the software? You mentioned a free version as well as a professional version. How much will the professional version cost? How will it be different from the free version?
Oliver: We like the idea of a free version of iCab for all, available in the Internet. The “commercial” version will have a small price—about $20-$29. This version will be more advanced than the free version (we’ll have to see exactly how in half a year). The small license price should give us an opportunity to continue developing iCab in the future and we believe many people will support us.
Don’t worry, we are not new to the software business. We sold commercial software for many years. But the idea is new. The software companies think that they can make big software packages and sell everything with marketing. That is true; look at Microsoft.
But we believe that there are also many people who will honor a good product with a small price. Many people will support this, and it is new and easy with the Internet. This is the way we would like to go. Linux is just the start (we prefer the Mac), but look at the big companies. They believe they can control Linux and offer their software for free in this market. Guess what? They cannot control it, and they don’t understand that. Many other good products will follow. These products will not be from Microsoft or other big companies. They will come from individuals.
Everyone can install a program from the internet. And the whole world can profit from this program. I hope we will be one piece of the “new order” of this Internet world. It must be done by people, not by companies. Many companies don’t understand that the rules have changed. They understand that the Internet is important, but they don’t understand that they need new ideas and concepts.
ATPM: What features are you planning to add in the near future? Support for cascading style sheets (CSS) seems to be missing at the moment. Do you intend to add that soon?
Oliver: At the moment we are reading tons of feedback e-mails, to see what is asked for most. I think this will be a dynamic process and we will try to fix the problems most people have first. In the future we will look at new directions in HTML and implement things which we see as useful. We are interested in a good browser for all. Just new techniques are not enough. We will try to implement things that make sense. CSS is a thing that will be important in the future. We’ll try our best.
ATPM: If you compare iCab to Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer, you will notice that it is rather small and speedy. How did you achieve that? Also, do you plan to implement their deviations from the official HTML standard, or do you intend to strictly stay with official HTML?
Oliver: It’s a new program, not evolved over time like Netscape. Microsoft never had an interest in
making a small and fast program. We will try to load many Web pages, but we are not really satisfied
with the deviations. We will find a way between strict HTML and interesting Websites. We mainly will
support strict HTML. But if you look at the smiley in iCab, it’s hard to find pages that completely
conform to the HTML specification...
ATPM: Do you have any plans to port iCab to another operating system besides the Mac OS? What do you think about Apple’s direction right now and their new products?
Oliver: We really like the Mac. It would be no problem to transfer it to Windows 95/98/NT, but we really don’t want to. Our other program, AktienMan, is in Java and running on both systems. This year we will make a good (small and fast) browser for the Mac. It’s a problem in Germany (the Mac’s installed base is about 3%) but if the Mac people around the world will support us, we can live with it. Isn’t it nice that iCab is coming from Germany? Many friends of ours moved to the US (Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle). We will do it from Germany, and that shows that where you live is not really important in the Internet world. We like Apple, and we don’t see a better system right now.
ATPM: Glad to hear that you will stick with Apple! They are having a tough time in Germany right now. You are the second group from Germany that brought out a piece of software that seems to have a deep and lasting impact on the Mac platform (together with GraficConverter). This is probably the wrong time to ask, but have you made any plans beyond iCab? The Mac market could use a lean and mean e-mail client as well! Just out of curiosity, what is your e-mail client of choice?
Oliver: E-mail will be a thing for the future. The e-mail support for iCab at the moment is for just small messages. We are using different e-mail systems. I prefer Eudora Pro. Alexander is using Claris Emailer 1.1.3. I started with Emailer 1.1.3, but wasn’t really satisfied with 2.0. For the MagiC Mac/PC platform ASH has an e-mail program, but it isn’t translated for the plain Mac platform. Maybe the author will switch in the future.
ATPM: Can you tell us a little more about yourselves? Where in Germany are you from? How old are you?
Oliver: iCab Company was founded in Braunschweig. Alexander is working from Darmstadt, and I am living in Heidelberg. But in the Internet age the place you live is not so important. We are communicating over a few thousand miles. Does it make a difference to people in the states? I don’t think so. Alexander is 30 and I am 34. We will put these data on the iCab site soon.
ATPM: No, it doesn’t make a difference to us, but it is nice to see that it works so well! Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Oliver: In a few days, we will release Preview 1.2 in English. I hope we will find a few friends in the US...
ATPM: I am sure you will find a lot of friends here! Thank you very much for the interview!
Oliver: That would be nice. We would like to do an English/German version of iCab that is good for real Internet users.
If you or your company would like to be interviewed here, please drop us a line at email@example.com.
Also in This Series
- Heather Sitarzewski, Graphic Designer · September 2010
- John Hart, ModYourMac.com · August 2005
- Jonathan Gales, MobileTracker.net · May 2003
- Frank Vercruesse (author of Application Switcher Menu) · January 2002
- Daniel Knight, Low End Mac · September 2001
- Dan Bailey, Fontosaurus Text · June 2001
- Gerry Beggs, Gerry’s ICQ · July 2000
- Chuck Fox, FreeMac · October 1999
- Oliver Joppich, iCab Company · March 1999
- Aladdin Systems, Inc. · September 1997
- Complete Archive