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Bumpy road(map) to Mozilla browser

As the rest of the world awaits the arrival of Netscape 6, Mozilla.org enters the critical final phase of developing an open source browser

According to the latest Mozilla roadmap, progress, albeit slow and steady, is being made. But the roadmap, posted to the Mozilla.org Web site earlier this week, also indicates that Mozilla.org is ready to move beyond the demands of America Online's Netscape division.

In April 1998, then-independent Netscape Communications decided to rewrite its popular Navigator browser to be based on the "Gecko" rendering engine and to turn it over to an open-source development organisation. Mozilla.org found itself facing tough scrutiny in the intervening months, with everything from key coder defections, to feature bloat, blamed for the seemingly never-ending browser development process.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer has zoomed to popularity since then due, in part, to the vacuum left by no major new release of Netscape Navigator. At the same time, Mozilla.org has attracted some surprising new allies, including, most recently, Sun Microsystems. Sun officials recently said that 50 of its developers are working on Mozilla-related tasks.

Based on the latest roadmap, beta release "Milestone 18" of the Mozilla browser should be made available to testers in October. Most industry watchers sill expect the final Netscape 6 implementation of the Mozilla technology to ship before the end of 2000. "Mozilla needs performance, stability, and correctness," said Mozilla.org team member Brendan Eich in the roadmap document, posted 18 September. "We are near the last ten percent of the 'Mozilla 1.0' project, where the going gets tough."

As of preview release 3 of Netscape 6 -- which seems to be dependent on Milestone 18 -- Mozilla.org is proposing the creation of two code branches for the Mozilla browser: the Netscape 6 branch and the Mozilla "trunk".

Going forward, America Online's Netscape division will manage the Navigator 6 code base, while Mozilla.org will continue to add features and fixes to the trunk implementation. In keeping with open source practices, Mozilla.org expects those who make changes to the vendor-specific branches of the code to submit those changes to those overseeing the trunk.

The updated roadmap calls for Mozilla.org to release "Mozilla 1.0 in the second quarter of 2001. The roadmap distinguishes this 1.0 release from the Netscape 6 implementation of the Mozilla code, but doesn't elaborate on the differences.

The Mozilla.org team also is continuing to work on projects beyond the browser, including an LDAP-based directory, instant messaging/chat facility, email reader and other open source deliverables.

Mozilla.org sources did not respond to a request to further elaborate on the roadmap by this story's deadline.

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