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So where's the failure?

Once upon a time, about 4 years ago now, Netscape's Navigator browser had over 80 percent of the Web browser market. As is well-known by now, the one company that could change this, Microsoft, has since put forth every conceivable effort to make sure Navigator lost its monstrous market lead - and won. Netscape now has less than half of the Web browser market, and press hounds everywhere are declaring Mozilla DOA. Even if Communicator 5.0 comes out, they say, it's too late. But is it?

Perhaps, if one deems anything less than Netscape regaining its former 80-plus market share as failure, one could consider Mozilla doomed. But is that a realistic expectation? Can, or rather should, any one company own 80 percent of any market? Microsoft is proof enough that companies that are allowed to dominate one market for too long can and will turn cancerous, driving that market while simultaneously snuffing competition.

Some consider AOL's 5.0 release in October, and the fact that it uses IE technology, as proof that Navigator is dead. AOL's 20 million users represent 30 percent of all online users, after all, and Netscape would instantly jump to a 65 percent market share if AOL dropped IE, and yet AOL hasn't done so. To its credit, IE is more modular than Navigator's 4.x code, and, perhaps most important, using IE (by contract through January 2001) assures AOL continued presence on the Windows desktop (specifically, under the Online Services folder). And perhaps AOL is not in any hurry to shift the arguments in the antitrust trial against Microsoft in the software giant's favor, especially when AOL would see no real profit in doing so.

Still others say that because Netscape employees did the majority of the work on Mozilla that the project is a failure, particularly as an open-source effort. During 1999, when the majority of work on Mozilla was done, the larger portion of that work was done by Netscape employees, granted, but much was also done by non-Netscape contributors. But as the project is now reaching the point where the browser software is quite usable, the ratio of Netscape employees to non-Netscape employees is quickly turning in favor of the latter group.

"At current growth rates, the number of 'non-Netscape' Mozilla developer will eclipse the number of Netscape developers... in a few short months," said lead Mozilla developer (of the Netscape variety) Chris Hoffman in a recent interview with Cybergeeks everywhere (this writer included) eagerly download and test the latest Mozilla builds, contributing by making Mozilla developers aware of bugs in the code and in some cases even fixing those bugs. And other companies are working on Mozilla, too, including Nokia, Intel, and NeoPlanet.

But in the end, no matter who worked on Mozilla, the code is still quality, the project is still open source, and Mozilla is positively insane with potential. The fact that the project took a little more time than some would have liked does not constitute a failure of the Mozilla project. Netscape took the time to do it right, period, and more companies should take note and do the same.

Perhaps the biggest negative that the mainstream press points to as Mozilla's failure is that the project has been in process since mid- to late-1998, and here it is 2000 and Netscape has yet to release Communicator 5.0. Certainly, scrapping the entirety of the Mozilla Classic code in favor of starting completely over with the Mozilla code was a tough decision for Netscape, and was unfortunately made by the company only after about six months of work towards Communicator 5.0 based on current Communicator code.

But, late as the decision may have been, it was a sound one, and the quality of Mozilla product is proof. By taking the extra time now, Netscape is saving future developers countless hours of working around non-standards compliant browsers, as well as time involved in transferring Mozilla code to new platforms. And now Mozilla is nearly finished, and Web design will never be the same.

Netscape now: The post-AOL era

So now it's 2000, and Netscape Communications is a subsidiary of America Online. Several Netscape employees left when AOL took the company over (that is, of those whose jobs were secure after AOL made job cuts), some peaceably, and some, like one-time Mozilla evangelist Jamie Zawinski, with parting kicks, heralding the AOL buyout as the death of Netscape and Mozilla. And, granted, it had to be a humbling experience for those who were part of a company that was once called by many the most innovative and promising in the software world to be taken over at death's door by the oft-derided (and ironically the most oft-used) online giant. But AOL retains most of Netscape's talented engineers, and has largely left the Mozilla project to its own devices, which is a credit to the company.

But can Netscape gain back its lost market share with a revolutionary - albeit late - Communicator 5.0? Maybe some of that share can be regained, but nowhere near all, but there's no reason it should have to. The share Netscape does have now is pretty secure, and with Netscape's instantly recognizable brand and AOL marketing savvy behind it, Navigator's share is likely to grow with some of the seriously cool new features in Mozilla.

But the Mozilla code will likely give Netscape itself a run for its money in the end, as companies everywhere take it and make new products from it. And AOL is happy with this outcome because it means Microsoft will never be able to completely dominate Web standards and jade them towards the Windows platform, as the company has shown it by all means possible intends to do. Meanwhile, AOL's plans for Netscape await only the final release of Communicator 5.0, which is due by mid-2000. And AOL has big plans for the already-pervasive Netscape brand it paid 10 billion dollars for, including Netscape Online, an ISP alternative to the AOL brand, which was recently launched in Europe (for free, because most ISPs are free in Europe). And Barry Schuler, AOL's president of interactive services, has been dropping hints that the Netscape Online may make it soon to America as an alternative to AOL's own branded ISP.

Netscape's Netcenter portal is also being reborn, with a new interface that integrates seamlessly with the new Mozilla interface now up at - further proof that to AOL, the Netscape brand is all but over with.


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