Mozilla 1.0 unleashed

More than four years after its inception, the open-source browser is ready for the public. And its impact could go beyond browsing
Written by Paul Festa, Contributor
Update More than four years after the launch of the Mozilla.org open-source project, Mozilla 1.0 is ready to browse.

Mozilla 1.0 isn't the first browser to market based on Mozilla code. Netscape Communications, a unit of AOL Time Warner, released Netscape 6.0 in November 2000. That release was largely judged to have been premature.

Perhaps because of the negative reaction to that first release of the Mozilla code, and because Mozilla 1.0 is targeted at software developers, the organisation added months and years to the development process.

"Mozilla 1.0 will be compared against the latest generations of commercial browsers, so Mozilla spent the time necessary to make sure this release would indeed be ready for prime time," said a representative for Netscape, which created the project when it opened up its source code in 1998. Since then, Mozilla has operated autonomously.

Mozilla has long claimed support for open standards as a core part of its mission. With Wednesday's release, Gecko supports World Wide Web Consortium recommendations including HTML 4.0, XML 1.0, the Resource Description Framework (RDF), Cascading Style Sheets level 1 (CSS1), and the Document Object Model level 1 (DOM1). Mozilla 1.0 also offers partial support for Cascading Style Sheets level 2 (CSS2), the Document Object Model level 2 (DOM2), and XHTML.

Other standards supported by Gecko include SOAP 1.1, XSLT, XPath 1.0, FIXptr and MathML.

"Mozilla.org is excited about releasing the Mozilla 1.0 code and development tools to the open-source community, and providing developers with the resources they need to freely create and view the presentation of their content and data on the Web," Mitchell Baker, whose title at Mozilla.org is Chief Lizard Wrangler, said in a statement. "As more and more programmers and companies are embracing Mozilla as a strategic technology, Mozilla 1.0 signals the advent of even further dissemination and adoption of open-source and standards-based software across the Web."

A slow start
The Mozilla movement was established in 1998 by then-independent Netscape, which charged the open-source project with creating a compelling Web-browsing technology. At the time, Netscape was battling Microsoft bitterly over market share. It took the risky step of publicly releasing the software code for its Communicator browser, aiming to win over developers to help fight its adversary.

In an attempt to stem the increasing dominance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, Mozilla designed Gecko -- the core browsing engine of Mozilla browsers -- to be used in third-party applications.

Predictions of a Mozilla revolution proved unrealistic, as the project was marred by squabbling, false starts and, most importantly, Microsoft's breakaway victory in the contest for browser dominance.

In all, it took more than two-and-a-half years for Netscape to release its first browser product using Mozilla technology, Netscape 6. Developers unanimously criticised Netscape 6 as an unfinished, bug-prone beta release. Future versions of Netscape 6 have corrected most of the browser's initial problems.

The Mozilla browser's delays were exacerbated after AOL acquired Netscape in 1999. Although AOL continued to support Mozilla as the foundation for future versions of Communicator, many developers questioned the Internet company's commitment to the browser effort.

Now some of those doubts are lifting, as AOL Time Warner is testing Mozilla technology in versions of its America Online and other software, a move that could see Microsoft's Internet Explorer ousted as the default browser for some 35 million Web surfers. The test, or beta, version of Netscape 7.0, Netscape's consumer-oriented browser released last month, is based on the same code as Mozilla 1.0.

AOL Time Warner unit CompuServe also is using Gecko-based Netscape in its CompuServe 7.0 application. Other companies implementing Gecko include Intel, Red Hat, OEone, Nokia, Tuxia and WorldGate Communications, which uses the technology in its forthcoming set-top boxes.

AOL's browser shift, coupled with the release of Mozilla 1.0, has prompted speculation about the prospects of a renewed browser battle with Microsoft, whose Internet Explorer now dominates the Web. AOL Time Warner has also filed a civil suit on behalf of Netscape, which AOL acquired in 1999, that alleges Microsoft engaged in illegal practices.

In fact, the biggest effect of the Mozilla 1.0 release may be beyond the browser.

Broadly, Mozilla is a programming tool for building applications that run on almost any operating system. While developers initially concentrated on building a browser, the underlying technology can be used to create many types of applications. Some developers have already branched into making Mozilla instant messaging software, media players and other applications.

"Mozilla 1.0 is no watershed event in browser evolution, but (it) could become a significant entrant should the embedded browser market become more viable," said independent New York technology analyst Ross Rubin. "The 1.0 designation may signify some extra stability with traditional software users, but savvy users understand that it's kind of an arbitrary designation as the software develops. And most Mozilla users know what they're getting."

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