This article is a pre-cursor to an article I'm publishing tomorrow that alsorelates to Mozilla and the newly released Netscape 6. Hopefully by providingsome background on Mozilla project separately, some points in my piecetomorrow will make more sense.
In January of 1998, Netscape made href="http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-325840.html?tag=" target="_new">theannouncement that it would stop selling its Communicator software andwould open up the source code to its entire Communicator suite of applications,including Navigator, the application which displays and renders Webpages. At the time, this was a revolutionary annuoncement and marked one ofthe first times that a company would release the source code for software thatit had previously sold to consumers. This in turn led to increased interestand acceptance in the 'open source' model of successfull products likethe Linux operating system and the href="http://www.apache.org" target="_new">Apache webserver. The move was applauded by open source / free software advocates around theworld, and on March 31 1998, the 8Mb of source code was released to the worldfrom the newly formed Mozilla group. This groupwould be responsible for managing the open source effort and coordinating thework of internal Netscape (and down the road, Sun, AOL, and RedHat) engineersand independant developers. In retrospect, it was a veryexciting thing to be a part of. I remember staying up all night on IRC waitingfor the word that the source was released on the servers, along with many manyother people just like me. It felt like we were making history, and that thismove would redefine the way people used and developed for the Web.After the hysteria calmed, people started to realize just what a huge projectthis was going to be. It was rather chaotic with everyone trying to figure outjust where to start digging in the code. It was a big deal when someonefinally got it to compile about 2 or 3 days later.Over the next year, things went pretty quietly. Netscape href="http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1003-200-328469.html?tag=" target="_new">announced thatGecko, its new and improved rendering engine - the piece of software thatturns HTML into a readable webpage - would fully support HTML 4.0,CSS1, limited CSS2, XML, and the Document Object Model(DOM) as specified by the W3C. This was a bigannouncement because it showed that the open source influence had some effecton how standards-compliant this software would be. Web developers wereextremely pleased to know that they would finally have a rendering engine in amajor browser that was fully standards-compliant. Things got heated whenNetcape hinted they would release a 5.0 browser without the gecko engine,ensuring that developers would have to wait another generation beforethey'd get standards-compliance. Thanks to pressure from groups like the href="http://www.webstandards.org" target="_new">Web Standards Project, Netcape putoff the release of a 5.0 browser until it could include the gecko engine.America Online also made it clear that it was looking intopurchasing Netcape Communications Corp., which raised fears among many that AOL would either killoff or limit resources (by cutting engineers, money, etc.) that went towardthis free, open source project. To its credit, AOL quickly made its href="http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-335990.html?tag=" target="_new">intentionsclear that Mozilla would continute on as planned.That spring was plagued by delays and questions asking if Netscape wouldrelease a product under the Mozilla flag by its one year anniversery.April 1st, 1999 was the one year anniversery of the birth of the Mozillaproject. It also proved to be a rather sad and uncertain time with leadevangelist Jamie Zawinski href="http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-340670.html?tag=st.ne.1005-200-341225-1005-200-341225." target="_new">leaving the projectand no 'product' shipped after a year's time. However, life moved on and thesummer of '99 proved to see some major improvements in the Mozilla browser.During this time, Netscape also href="http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-387924.html?tag=st.ne.1005-200-808813-1005-200-808813." target="_new">releasedminor upgrades to the 4.x series of the Communicator suite including theWinamp MP3 player, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), and higher profile shopping links inthe Netcenter portal. Time rolled by, new milestones were reached. Thousands of bugs were squashed.Some shrugged off Mozilla as a 'Never-has-been' technology, but still the workcontinued.Yesterday, the preview release of Netscape 6.0 was released to the general publicamid fanfare and Steve Case's predictions of href="http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2522291,00.html" target="_new">AOLAnywhere. Indeed, AOL's top man predicts that the company's new strategywill revolutionize the way we use the Internet. Much of Case's predictedrevolution will rely on Mozilla technology - which is a revolution in itself.