Mozilla, the long-awaited open-source version of the Netscape browser, is to release its first beta-test version aimed at a broad audience in the next few days.
The three-year-old project has begun to finalise a version of the Mozilla code for wider testing release, which could lead directly to the release of version 1.0 of the software. Previous beta, or test, versions have been aimed at the developer community.
Because it is an open-source project, individual programmers who view the source code over time and suggest their own changes have done much of the development. That's made for a slow process and has led many even inside the open-source community to lose faith in Mozilla's relevance.
Mozilla has created a branch of the ongoing repository of code, or "tree", which will turn into Mozilla's first release candidate, RC1. "The Mozilla 1.0 branch has been cut," said a message on the Mozilla.org Web site, posted on Tuesday. "Depending on the results of this testing we will follow with the final Mozilla 1.0 release or an RC2."
RC1 may arrive as soon as the end of this week, with Mozilla 1.0 arriving in the next few weeks.
The open-source project has gained some wind in recent weeks as reports surfaced that America Online, the corporate parent of Netscape, may start shipping the Netscape browser to its AOL members instead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. AOL has been testing parts of the Mozilla code inside its software and inside its CompuServe service, prompting speculations that it is considering a release of the software to its subscribers.
The latest versions of Netscape have been deeply intertwined with Mozilla, originally built on source code released by Netscape in 1998. The Netscape 6.0 browser was based on early versions of the open-source Mozilla code, but it drew considerable criticism for bugs and unwieldy operations. Netscape fixed many of those problems in subsequent versions.
Netscape has lost some adherents to the dark horse Opera browser, which has slowly grown a substantial user base populated by people unhappy with market leader Internet Explorer.
News.com's John Borland contributed to this report.