WebDAV and the Troubled "Microsoft Way" of Implementation

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History

Micro$oft is currently the single most influential corporate force in the global computing industry. Their success has been based on building the Windows platform APIs, development tools, and libraries with corresponding business and marketing relationships used to further the distribution and power of the franchise and their follow on application products. They have recruited some of the best minds in the industry and sometimes aggressively raided talent from their competitors (CNN/fn, Borland/Inprise, etc.). They have had a tremendous success in building a robust development platform and development community.

Because they are the sole owner and executor of the Windows platform, they do not usually need to adhere to any standard outside of their own pedigree. This franchise is their lifeblood and they use monopolistic business and technical practices in order to extend their reach. This is a finding of fact by the U.S. Government.

Enter the global Internet into the computer industry. Enter Netscape, the web, and Internet standards. Enter Java, Linux, and the great expansion of the old open source movement. Enter XML as the Rosetta stone to all computer data. All of these technologies and the companies who use these technologies either compete, augment, or overlap the Windows platform. Multiple threats force Microsoft to adapt and to embrace many of these technologies. They do so, but there is always an embrace and then extend any Internet initiative. They see fit to extend in a semi-proprietary way with implementations that do not work well with other software or requiring licensing and this is often claimed to be innovation until customers demand a better product.

WebDAV is the standard that Microsoft, Netscape, Adobe, and many other companies and institutions brought forth to work on as they phased out their own proprietary implementations for an Internet standard. Normally, one would assume a standard means that all problems are solved, but this is hardly the case when it comes to Microsoft's implementation of WebDAV.

Situation

Windows 98, Second Edition bundles Internet Explorer 5.x. Internet Explorer has a component called "web folders" which is a WebDAV manner of mounting a network drive. Out of the box, Windows 98SE/IE5 WebDAV works perfectly well with our WebDAV server (mod_dav in Apache). This is also the case for: Windows 2000sp3/IE5.

Then things changed for the worse. Somehow Internet Explorer 6, Windows XP, Office 2000, and Front Page 2000 and all of the software packages onwards - have WebDAV problems. How could a decent implementation of WebDAV worsen? Microsoft's agenda is to implement WebDAV - but to their interpretation of the standard which works best with their own servers (IIS).

Problems and Solutions

So we have many problems, let's begin to sort through some of the reference material contained in the Microsoft Help and Support Knowledge Base:

  1. 195851: How to Install and Use Web Folders in Internet Explorer 5
  2. 221600: Working with Distributed Authoring and Versioning (DAV) and Web Folders
  3. 220930: Problems Connecting to a Web Server as a Web Folder
  4. 287402: Troubleshooting Web Folders (IE5 and IE5.5 on Win 98,NT,2000)

What do we learn?

Postscript: How to Install IE 5.x

There is a workaround for WebDAV with IE6 on Windows XP Home, but IE6 it is not necessarily supported and available for all operating systems, nor have we tested the workaround on Windows 2000/ME/98/etc.

IE 5.x support has been discontinued, so you can no longer download anything but the current version of the browser (IE 7.x at the time of this writing) from the web site. However, thanks to the folks at evolt.org, they have a fairly complete Browser Software Archive. Most folks will want to download and install the ie/32bit/5.5sp2 release.

Since IE has consistently proven to be insecure, we does not recommend using it as your default web browser after installing it for WebDAV components. We recommend that you use a good software firewall (such as Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm) to prevent IE from using the Internet or LAN. We recommend using the Mozilla Seamonkey web browser instead of IE for it's stability, security, speed, and features: it is the parent of Firefox and shares it's rendering engine. The Composer page editor of the Seamonkey Suite is an easy to use tool that supports Internet standards and uses WebDAV for publishing!

You should consider and evaluate all of the other WebDAV software as well.



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