Mozilla--A Lizard for All Seasons

by Mike Angelo

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Series Introduction

In his current incarnation, the many-faced Mozilla is the application programming framework or stage upon which the Netscape 6 web browser suite is based. Mozilla, itself, is a browser suite as well.

Mozilla also refers to the organization and community of developers who produce the Mozilla code and products. And Mozilla is the Project encompassing Mozilla software development. Here, in Part I of our Mozilla series, we look at the Mozilla organization and the Mozilla project.

In part what makes the emerging Mozilla application programming framework so important is that it is compiled to run on Linux, Mac, Windows and various other platforms. That means Mozilla-based applications, in effect, are cross-platform applications.

To some extent the new Mozilla web browser suite and the Netscape 6 browser suite applications demonstrate the scope and power of the underlying Mozilla applications programming framework. Netscape 6 looks pretty similar to the Mozilla browser suite upon which it is based, with a few minor cosmetic changes. For more about NS6, please see our review of the third NS6 preview release, "Netscape 6 Preview Release 3--Strike 3: Is NS 6 Out?".

Incidentally, the NS6 RTM (release to manufacturers) is expected to be publicly available very soon. That could happen during Fall Comdex, November 13-17, 2000.

Today, we present a quick overview of Mozilla the organization, Mozilla the project and Mozilla the software development plan. In Part II of this series, we take a closer look at the Mozilla applications programming framework. In Part III, we'll examine the Mozilla web browser suite. Look for Part II tomorrow on the Linux Journal web site. Part III will appear on the web site on Monday, November 13.

Part 1: The Mozilla Organization, Product Development Plan and Relationship to Netscape

Mozilla the Organization--It's Not Netscape/AOL

There is a very strong nexus between Mozilla and Netscape. However, they are not the same. The Mozilla organization is responsible for and is in charge of the Mozilla application framework and the Mozilla web browser suite development and distribution. AOL's Netscape division is responsible for and has charge of Netscape Communicator development and distribution. Theoretically, Mozilla and the Mozilla Organization are independent of AOL/Netscape. Simply put, Mozilla the program is not Netscape the browser suite. Nor is Mozilla the organization, Netscape the company!

Mozilla is an independent entity and has its own, small core staff. In addition to that core staff, there are many other people involved with the Mozilla Project. Most of the people working on the Mozilla project are independent (mostly volunteer) developers or employees of companies such as IBM, Intel, Netscape/AOL, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems and Zero-Knowledge, who are assigned to work on the project.

The lion's share of people involved in the Mozilla project is from Netscape/AOL. So even though the Mozilla organization and project are technically independent of Netscape/AOL, as a practical matter Netscape has influence on the Mozilla project, simply because so many developers working on the Mozilla Project are Netscape people. Also, Netscape/AOL does provide some funding for the Mozilla Organization staff and infrastructure.

This alliance does bring into some question just how "independent" of Netscape/AOL the Mozilla project and organization are. However, we can speculate that as more companies and independent developers get involved, the more truly independent the Mozilla organization and project will become.

Mozilla the Software Product

The open-source code product the Mozilla Organization is now developing will be called Mozilla 1.0 when it ships; now anticipated to happen in the second quarter of 2001. The Mozilla source code is fully open and the source code product itself is distributed under several public licenses, including the MPL (Mozilla Public License) and the NPL (Netscape Public License). Please see the Resources section below for links to the MPL and NPL.

Perhaps even more interesting than the MPL and NPL is that the Mozilla development process is an open book too. Each day the source code as it stands is posted for public download on the mozilla.org web site. Moreover, each day updated binaries for the Linux, Windows and Mac platforms are compiled by the Mozilla Organization and posted for public downloading on the "mozilla.org" web site. (Links can be found in the Resources section below.)

Every so often (about every month or two), the Mozilla developers stabilize a selected daily build for a Milestone release. At publication time, the current Mozilla Milestone release is Milestone 18. The interim daily builds leading up to a milestone release have been designated by the letter "M" (for Milestone) and the release number to form the daily release label, such as "M18".

However the milestone and daily build numbering system is changing. After Milestone 18, the numbering system switches from the milestone scheme to a pre-Mozilla 1.0 scheme. So what now are called Milestone releases will be called Mozilla builds starting with Mozill1a 0.6, then Mozilla 0.9, etc. (There will be no Mozilla 0.7 or 0.8.)

At this point in the Mozilla 1.0 development tree, most of the features planned for Mozilla 1.0 are already in the daily builds. The focus of Mozilla development from now until the 1.0 release is "performance, stability, and correctness", according to Brendan Eich, a representative of the Mozilla organization.

For more information about the Mozilla software development plan, please check the "Mozilla Development Roadmap" link in the Resources section below.

Netscape 6 Is Not Mozilla

Although Netscape 6 is based upon the Mozilla browser suite, Netscape/AOL has added its own set of features and products, such as AIM. They have also removed some Mozilla features, such as ChatZilla.

Netscape/AOL is following Mozilla's lead in prodcut development. The Mozilla applications framework is designed so that any developer can build software products on top of the Mozilla applications framework. Moreover, the Mozilla developers have built a browser suite on top of Mozilla-the-framework that anyone may use, adapt, customize or modify as their own browser or browser suite. And that is exactly what Netscape/AOL is doing with its development of Netscape 6.

Product Quality & Marketing Issues

There is an interesting comparison between the way the Mozilla Organization and project appears to operate and the way Netscape/AOL appears to operate. For this comparison, please keep in mind that the Mozilla browser suite (Mozilla 1.0) and Netscape browser suite (Netscape 6.0) pretty much have been running in a parallel development up through NS6 PR3 and Mozilla Milestone 18. However, Netscape/AOL is expected to release its final NS 6.0 to manufacturers before the end of the year 2000. Meanwhile release of Mozilla 1.0 likely will not be until the second quarter of 2001.

The Mozilla organization and the Mozilla project are pretty much developer driven. To some degree, it's almost management by democracy, and the franchised voters are the developers. Actually, it is agreement by consensus rather than a formal voting process.

As one might expect, the Mozilla developers are very much interested in the quality of their product. Product development, not marketing, rules in the Mozilla world which, in part, is why Mozilla 1.0 will have been nearly three years in the making before it is released.

However, Netscape/AOL is profit driven and that makes its development of Netscape 6 market/profit driven. In the market/profit world, rushing product to market is understandably, yet regrettably, more important than product quality. Although Netscape 6 will be distributed without charge to the users, it still is meant to be a moneymaker. The revenue sources are the portal links incorporated into the sidebar, links to Netscape's NetCenter and other products included with Netscape 6, such as AIM and Net2Phone.

It's somewhat difficult to judge how good a product will be until its final release. But our guess here is that the Mozilla browser suite will score higher on the quality scale than the Netscape offering. If that guess holds true, Linux users are more likely to adopt the Mozilla offering instead of Netscape's. Time will tell.

Conclusion

The Mozilla team needs more people to help with the Mozilla Project and Mozilla software development. If you are interested, you can and should volunteer to help by contacting staff@mozilla.org. And if you are involved in computer industry management, you should assign some of your people to help with the Mozilla project.

To chat on-line with the Mozilla developers and others in the Mozilla community, you can point your IRC (Internet Relay Chat) client to MozNet (irc.mozilla.org). Once connected, type /join #mozillazine--that's a good channel for your first visit to the MozNet. There also is a #Mozilla channel on EFnet (IRC) for on-line Mozilla-related chat.

To better understand Mozilla software, please read the overviews in Part II and Part III of our Mozilla series coming shortly on the Linux Journal web site.

Resources

Mozilla Organization Materials & Pages

The Mozilla Organization Home Pagehttp://www.mozilla.org

About the Mozilla Organizationhttp://www.mozilla.org/mozorg.html

The Mozilla Missionhttp://www.mozilla.org/mission.html

The Mozilla Project and mozilla.org by Mitchell Baker, Chief Lizard Wranglerhttp://www.mozilla.org/editorials/mozilla-overview.html

Get Involved in the Mozilla Projecthttp://www.mozilla.org/get-involved.html

The Mozilla Organization Staffhttp://www.mozilla.org/about.html

Mozilla Development Roadmaphttp://mozilla.org/roadmap.html

Mozilla Related Items

MozillaZinehttp://mozillazine.org/

Related Articles

Netscape 6 Preview Release 3--Strike 3: Is NS 6 Out?http://www.linuxjournal.com/article.php?sid=4441

Mozilla & Chatzilla--Real Internet Chatting & Communicationhttp://mozillazine.org/articles/article1430.html

Download Info--Official Mozilla Organization Downloads

Main Mozilla Download Page:http://www.mozilla.org/binaries.html

Mozilla Milestone 18 Download site:http://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla/releases/m18/

Mozilla Milestone Release Notes:http://www.mozilla.org/projects/seamonkey/release-notes/

Mozilla Nightly Builds:ftp://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla/nightly/

NOTE: After installing Mozilla, you should go through all the browser suite preferences before you take Mozilla on-line for the first time. The Mozilla organization has set the default preferences to leave you open security-wise and privacy-wise. For example, the default preferences are set to "accept all cookies" and to enable "JavaScript for mail and news". If you consider those to be risky, you might want to change them to more conservative settings.

Other Mozilla Downloads

Mozilla Portshttp://mozilla.org/ports/

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