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Reports of Mozilla's Failure Have Been Greatly Exaggerated or Why Mozilla Will Change the Web... Again

by JAMES RUSSELL | Mozilla, the open-source Web browser project upon which Netscape Communications (now a subsidiary of America Online) is building Communicator 5.0, has so far gotten a pretty bad rap in the press. Being a long-time follower and advocate of the project, I am still unclear how this could be the case. After all, Mozilla is now in alpha, with beta status for Mozilla to follow hopefully by March. And consider a few of Mozilla's coolest features:

* Mozilla is the first Web browser fully compliant with years-old Web standards like HTML 4.0, CSS1 (cascading style sheets level 1), XML1 (extensive markup language level 1), and DOM1 (document object level 1). With current browsers, including the current version of Communicator, Web site developers must develop time-consuming "work-arounds" to get their Web pages to display properly, and even then browsers on different operating systems still interpret Web pages differently.

* Mozilla was created with multi-platform design in mind. The final Mozilla code is estimated to be only 3 percent dependent on the underlying operating system, meaning that developers can port, or transfer, Mozilla to new platforms with a minimum of hassle. And Web pages will finally look the same across all platforms, be it Macintosh, Windows, or Linux.

* Mozilla code is modular enough to allow developers to take only those parts and features of the Mozilla code they have a use for and embed them in hardware for Internet appliances. Modular code results in a tiny "footprint" on the appliance hardware, allowing Internet appliances to be both fully functional and inexpensive. Current browsers, by contrast, are far too large and convoluted code-wise to embed in appliances - the smallest current Windows version of Communicator is currently 18MB, and that of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5 (IE) is 27MB.

* Mozilla relies on extensible user interface language (XUL, pronounce "zool," as in the multi-planar deity from Ghostbusters) to define its interface. XUL is a derivative of extensible markup language, or XML, and allows Web designers to completely redefine the interface for Mozilla merely by choosing colors, patterns, and plugging in hyperlinks. (XUL works by downloading images from the Internet to create a user interface, storing the data in a secondary cache.)

As an example of XUL in action, imagine going to, clicking a Customize Your Browser hyperlink and watching a new browser window appear with an interface turned black and shot with stars and galaxies, the back button become a Wookie's head, and a toolbar appears with links to the site's hot spots. If you don't like the interface, close the new window and don't choose the "Set as Default" option, and the Wookie's head back button is gone, never to trouble you again. If you do want to keep the interface as your default, the images are stored in the secondary XUL cache so that you don't have to wait for the download next time you load your Web browser.

* Mozilla's integrated e-mail client allows users to check Web-based IMAP e-mail clients (such as Yahoo mail, Netscape's Webmail, and Microsoft's Hotmail) and POP3-based e-mail (Internet service providers such as AOL, Earthlink, and AT&T Worldnet use the POP3 standard), and multiple accounts of each type, all from the same user profile. The current version of Communicator allows users to keep only 1 POP3-based e-mail client or 4 IMAP-based e-mail clients under one profile.

* Mozilla's powerful new search client takes a cue from the venerable, allowing users to search all major search engines simultaneously, sorting the results first by search engine and then by relevance.

*Mozilla's fully customizable flash panel feature gives the user easy access to Netscape's Netcenter features, including news, personal bookmarks, a search feature, a personal address book, and the much-beloved fish-cam, to name just a few. And best of all, Web developers will be free to add their own panels.

* The alpha version of the Mozilla browser package will be less than 5MB (former Mozilla engineer and self-proclaimed "international incident" Mike Shaver estimated the Linux version will be about 3MB total). Of course, Netscape will add features that will increase the size of Mozilla when they release Communicator 5.0, likely including goodies that the current Communicator includes, such as RealPlayer G2, AOL's Instant Messenger, Netscape Radio, and Winamp. But even with all of these features, Communicator 5.0 won't even approach 4.7's current whopping size of 18MB.

So, given the above features - and there are others - the only reasons that make sense for Mozilla's current bad press are impatience and journalists that are paying attention to anything but the impressive Mozilla code and its features. After all, the latest version of Mozilla can be downloaded by anybody, at any time, from's FTP site, so there's no reason whatsoever that journalists can't download Mozilla, check out its features, and write about those instead.


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