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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Mozilla.org has finally released version 1.0 of Mozilla, the open-source browser project that was once intended to be Netscape's cavalry in the browser wars of the late 1990s. It has taken four years and thousands of developers to get to the first major release,

Kevin Murphy writes

.

Available now for download from Mozilla.org, the software comes in two pieces, an application package and a software development toolkit. The former comprises browser, chat client, email and Usenet reader, while the latter contains Mozilla components, such as the Gecko web rendering engine, and tools to build additional applications.

Mozilla is nothing if not a 'vision thing'. The organization sees that it has created not just a browser to rival Internet Explorer - its initial mandate - but a cross-OS platform on top of which a next generation of standards-compliant applications can be built. In many ways, the vision goes back to Netscape's early dreams of using the browser to kill Windows.

Mozilla.org said the browser package is primarily intended for tweaking, rebranding and distribution by third parties, rather than to be downloaded directly from Mozilla.org by each individual web user. AOL Time Warner Inc's Netscape and AOL browsers are likely to based on Mozilla, and developers such as Red Hat Inc and IBM Corp are looking at the technology.

The toolkit comprises the Gecko browser engine, already used in AOL's CompuServe client, a JavaScript engine, networking libraries, along with programming tools such as debuggers. In addition, Mozilla allows developers to use XUL (extensible user-interface language) to create application user interfaces in web standards such as XML and JavaScript.

Much is made of Mozilla's support for web standards, said to be the best in the marketplace. The Gecko engine supports HTML 4.0, XML 1.0, RDF, CSS1, DOM1, SOAP 1.1, XSLT, XPath 1.0 and FIXptr. Partial support for CSS2, XHMTL and DOM2 is also included. A portability layer allows the software to run on operating systems including Windows, Linux, MacOS, FreeBSD and HP-UX.

Mozilla.org was created by then-independent Netscape Communications Inc in 1998, shortly before it was acquired by AOL. The initial idea was to open the source code to the Netscape browser, and allow the open source community to build the next version of Netscape.

That goal was quickly scrapped, and Mozilla.org decided to build an entirely new code-base from the ground up. The group claims that about 300 programmers not on the Netscape payroll have contributed code to the finished product, though countless others are believed to have participated.

"While this is our 1.0 release, it won't be judged by the standards generally applied to the first release of products," Mozilla.org said in a statement.

"Instead, Mozilla 1.0 will be compared against the latest generations of commercial browsers. So we spent the time necessary to make sure this release would indeed be 'ready for prime time'."

Indeed, in 2000 when AOL released Netscape 6, which was based on an unfinished build of Gecko, it was widely criticized as unstable and "beta-like". Mozilla itself has missed milestone dates almost since the group's inception, and has been on its 0.9 release since May 2001.

© ComputerWire

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