AOL/Netscape: Open-source advocates not thrilled with deal

Financial analysts may like the deal. Some users may find it appealing.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Financial analysts may like the deal. Some users may find it appealing. But the open source advocates at Mozilla.org are none too happy about Netscape Communications Corp.'s pending absorption into America Online Inc.

Mozilla.org is a small group of individuals dedicated to shepherding Netscape's browser and other open-software projects through the open-source process. The group works closely with the 100 or so full-time Netscape employees who are developing the code base that is passed on to Mozilla.

Netscape, which made its browser open source a year ago, is free to take the changes made by open source backers and reincorporate it into its browser. Jamie Zawinski, one of the Mozilla faithful -- a self-described evangelist, gestaltmeister, representative of the net and Webmaster -- has posted to the Mozilla web site an open letter entitled "fear and loathing on the merger trail." In the letter, Zawinski attempts to assure the open source community that "mozilla.org is not Netscape. And it is not now, nor will it ever be, AOL."

During a press teleconference on Tuesday in which officials from AOL, Netscape and Sun Microsystems Inc. commented on the potential impact of the $4.2bn (£2bn) AOL-Netscape merger, Netscape's Netcenter General Manager Mike Homer downplayed any negative impact the merger could have on Mozilla.

Zawinski, in his online letter, insists that it is the people doing the coding, not Netscape, who are setting the agenda for Mozilla. (Zawinski did not respond to a request for comment by press time.) The best-case scenario for the open-source backers at Mozilla? AOL just ignores them and lets them continue on their merry way.

"It's hard to imagine that they [AOL] would spend $4 billion dollars on Netscape just to throw away the client," Zawinski writes. "It is not unreasonable to assume that they [AOL] will adopt the same attitude that Netscape has: that open source works, and that the best way to have a top-of-the-line Web browser is to keep it open."

In the worst case, if AOL decides to try to return the Netscape browser to its former "proprietary" state, Zawinski notes, the code is already out there and will continue to be available via an open-source license.

Take me to the AOL/Netscape page.

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