Linux and Web Browsers
Back in LJ issue 20, I wrote about how Netscape said they intended to drop Linux from the list of supported operating systems. To most of us this wouldn't have been a surprise as Linux has never been supported by Netscape—only an unsupported version of Netscape has been available for Linux.
Well, things haven't changed much. Netscape 3.01 for Linux exists and is still not supported. In that same article I suggested that if we could write a complete operating system as a community effort that we could do the same for a web browser. Then I went on to suggest that starting with Arena, the W3C's test platform, and building the best web browser for Linux from it was a reasonable idea.
It probably was a reasonable idea, but it never seriously happened. We all continue to use Netscape or Mosaic and hope for the best. Another thing happened recently that makes me nervous: the Mosaic 2.8 team was moved to another project, so we really are pretty much at the Netscape or nothing stage.
I was thinking about this yesterday while reading the Linux newsgroups looking for a possible topic for this column. The answer was there. There was a press release from Yggdrasil Computing that announced that they would be working on development of Arena. To quote the announcement,
The World Wide Web Consortium has approved Yggdrasil Computing to coordinate future development of Arena, a powerful graphical web browser originally developed as the Consortium's research test bed.
All the work will be under the GPL, meaning that it will be available to anyone—commercial or non-commercial. This isn't a Linux-only effort. Yggdrasil also plans to make it available on other Unix platforms and MS-Windows. The MS-Windows version will be accomplished by joining forces with Pearl Software which offers an X-Windows emulator.
I suggested this topic to Margie Richardson, LJ's Managing Editor and also the Editor of Linux Gazette, our on-line Linux magazine (http://www.ssc.com/lg/), and she handed me information on another effort called the Linux Browser Project. I went off web searching and found that there is another alternative to Netscape in the making.
The first thing I found was that the project has been renamed to Mnemonic. This is because, while Linux is the development platform of choice, the goal is to produce a free browser available for many different operating systems. To start, here is the “What is” from their web page:
The basic goal of Mnemonic is to produce a free, usable and maintained World Wide Web Browser for many different operating systems. The intent is to make the browser as modular as possible, to make it easy to add new features and to port to different interfaces and platforms. The base browser will most likely support HTML 3.2 and Cascading Style Sheets, with support for things like Java and HTML Extensions being distributed as add-on modules. Other proposed features include IPv6 support, the ability to auto-download modules when needed, and a highly customizable user interface.
Sounds good so far. But, why another project? Well, they have a page that addresses that on their web site. They suggest that configurability and a modular architecture is what has been missing from other browsers. This was certainly true of Mosaic where a virtual re-write was started.
This modular approach includes the user interface. That means that those who love Motif will be able to use a Motif UI, those who love Tk will be able to use a Tk UI and so on. They also have a projected release date of July 14, 1997, which makes you think that they are serious.
Both of these projects are for free software. And Linux has proved that developing in a free environment can produce viable products. In fact, the Arena project predated Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer and some innovations in Arena were later used in these commercial products. If you have interest in the Web and are looking for a project, check these out.
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