One Browser Many Names
Posted on 09 Jun 2002
by Peter-Paul Koch (ppk)
Rated 3.39 (Ratings: 22)
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Now that the world has been enriched by both Netscape 7 Preview Release andMozilla 1.0 Final,many people have lost track of all Netzilla/Moscape releases.The naming and versioning system (if any) is completelyincomprehensible and becomes stranger with each new name and release. PersonallyI feel that this confusion is a deliberate policy of both the target="_blank">Mozilla project and title="NCC corporate info">Netscape Communications Corporation,since both are very consistent in their inconsistency.
So it's time for an overview. What are the names of the various tries to produce a viable Netscapebrowser? Do these names mean anything?
In 1998, Netscape released the source code of its (then still popular) Netscape 4 browser. The goalwas to make the production of the new Netscape 5 browser an open source project, involving thousandsof programmers from all over the world.
Pretty soon, theproject decided to start all over again: the old Netscape 4 code engine was too complex and couldn't forma stable basis for a new Netscape release (in fact, it didn't form a stable basis for Netscape 4either).
So a new browser would be written.Eventually this brave new browser would become Netscape 5. So far so good.
Netscape 1 ran Mozilla 1, 2 ran 2, 3 ran 3 and Netscape 4 ran Mozilla 4. Remember that back in thosedays a new version number actually meant something: each new Netscape version could do far more thanits predecessor.
Almost every browser identification string still starts with the name Mozilla,even those of non-Netscape browsers. The reasons behind this are target="_blank" title="An explanation of the use of the name 'Mozilla' in non-Netscape browsers." >another story.
When the project to write a new Netscape code engine started, it was namedtarget="_blank">The Mozilla Project. One would expect the goal of this project was toproduce Mozilla 5, being the fifth version of the Netscape code engine.
Not so. In the beginning each code engine release was named Gecko for reasons I'veforgotten. (Well, a gecko is a lizard and a godzilla is, too, so there might be some obscure point in giving itthis name.) To this name was added an M for Milestone and a version number. So the Mozillaproject delivered Gecko M1, then Gecko M2 and so on.
From the very earliest releases, the browser identification string started with Mozilla/5.0,indicating that the browser would eventually become Netscape 5.
So eventually Mozilla 5 would form the core of Netscape 5, and until that time web developers wouldbe entertained by the various Gecko releases, numbering their Milestones from 1 onwardsuntil the Nirvana of standards-compatible browsing would be reached.So far so good (well, OK-ish).
Not so. The project took too bloody long. Microsoft had had a working Version 5 browseralmost since the start of the Mozilla project, which would mean that the new Netscape 5 would be seenas a laggard, appearing on the scene while Microsoft already prepared its Version 6 browser.
So, unbeknownst to us web developers, marketing geniuses inside Netscape (or its corporate ownerAOL) decided the new Netscape would be Version 6. So when, on 14 November 2000, a previewbased on Gecko M18 was released, it was proudly named Netscape 6.0 Preview Release. So Netscapehas altogether skipped Version 5.
Nonetheless the browser identification string still proclaimed it to be Mozilla/5.0,in keeping with the old Netscape tradition. So technically it was a Version 5 browser, marketing-wiseit was a Version 6 browser.
Keeping track of the names started to get confusing, but it could be managed.
Therefore the Mozilla Project decided the situation wasn't vague enough. When Netscape 6.0, basedon Gecko M18, had been released, the Gecko name was altogether dropped. Instead, the new goal of theproject became the production of Mozilla 1.0.
One wonders why the new code engine wasn't named Mozilla 5.0, the only name that actuallymakes sense: the fifth version of the Mozilla code engine.
But the Mozilla Project was not to be denied.In quick succession Mozilla 0.6, 0.7, 0.8, 0.8.1, 0.9, 0.9.1, 0.9.7, 0.9.8, and 0.9.9 were released.The Project was working towards 1.0, no doubt about it.
Then, when everyone expected Mozilla 1.0, the Project came with a new subtlety: Release Candidates.Mozilla 1.0 Release Candidate 1, Mozilla 1.0 RC 2 and Mozilla 1.0 RC 3 were released. Personally I'dexpected even more confusion, culminating in something like Mozilla 1.0 Release Candidate 2.1 beta 3,but the Project has unexpectedly become sensible and given us Mozilla 1.0 Final.
Mozilla 1.0.3 Preliminary Review 3.5a ?
This latest release in fact seems to be a pretty good browser (though I've only done some preliminarytests). So the Mozilla Project has done what it has promised so many years ago. Cause for celebration,certainly, but personally I don't feel like it at all: I'm too confused.
The Project has already announced Mozilla 1.1, which makes sense, but I'm afraid we'll have todeal with Mozilla 1.0.3 Preliminary Review 3.5a and such arcana first. Then again, I might be wrong(in fact, I hope I'm wrong).
Of course the browser identification string still starts with Mozilla/5.0, and not Mozilla/1.0,which would cause people to confuse it with ancient Netscape 1. To make it even more complex, Geckois also mentioned in the string. I don't know what all this means. Just nod wisely and pretend it's completelylogical.
So from Mozilla 0.6 onwards it was clear where the Mozilla Project was heading. Therefore freshconfusion initiatives had to come from Netscape, or rather from its corporate owner AOL.
It succeeded admirably. The latest Netscape release is not Netscape 6.3 but Netscape 7.0Preview Release. So the browser version number has once again been raised. Why?
Rumour has it that AOL is considering the use of the Netscape browser in its newest AOL 7. Thisrumour may be true, it may also be another ritual move in the eternal dance of Microsoft and AOL, athreat that might cause Microsoft to make some concessions. No way to tell. Fact is that AOL subsidiaryCompuserve does use a modern Netscape as its browser (I forgot which version exactly).
In any case, to make sure its users understand what's going on, AOL has decided on the combinationAOL 7-Netscape 7. Not the worst of ideas, from a corporate point of view. The suffering of web developerstrying to keep track of the various versions is less important, of course.
I have no idea what will come next. I'm reasonably sure a browser named Netscape 7, based onthe Mozilla 1.0 code engine will be released fairly soon. This will be a Version 5 browser(hence Mozilla/5.0 in its identification string).It might even be that AOL will start using this browser in its own setup.
As you see version numbers have become completely void of all meaning. Where, up until Explorer 5,you could be reasonably sure a new version number meant the support of exciting new technologies,nowadays it means no such thing.
The past cause of events has shown both Netscape and the Mozilla project are completely unreliable andunpredictable in the assignment of names and version numbers. So the situation will continue to be confusingand I suppose I'll write an addendum to this article in half a year.