The Future: The Mozilla Foundation and the End of Netscape
Thursday July 17th, 2003
There's a lot of confusion surrounding Tuesday's creation of the Mozilla Foundation and the disbanding of the Netscape browser development team.
While a major loss, the end of Netscape does not mean the end of Mozilla. There is no way that AOL can revoke the Netscape and Mozilla Public Licenses and make the code proprietary. The Mozilla code will continue to be available to all. AOL has also agreed to transfer the Mozilla trademark and other intellectual property (much of it dating back to when Mozilla was Netscape's mascot) to the new Mozilla Foundation. Netscape-owned hardware (such as the mozilla.org servers) will also be transferred to the new organisation. AOL will continue to employ some Netscape staffers, such as Asa Dotzler, for a couple of months to help with the transition.
The Mozilla Foundation marks the first time that the Mozilla project actually has a legal existence (mozilla.org was always just a more informal group). This new organisation, which is hoping to gain non-profit status under California law, will continue mozilla.org's work of guiding development. Teams such as mozilla.org staff, drivers, reviewers and module owners will continue to work as before. In addition, there will be a new Board of Directors, made up of Mitchell Baker, Brendan Eich, Christopher Blizzard and some new faces, including Open Source Applications Foundation head Mitch Kapor. The Mozilla Foundation will be funded by donations from individuals and companies, such as Sun Microsystems and Red Hat. AOL will provide $2,000,000 of funding over the next two years.
Up until this point, mozilla.org has produced builds of Mozilla for development and testing purposes only, with end-users encouraged to download distributions from vendors such as Netscape. However, the new Mozilla Foundation plans to target end-users directly. The beginnings of this strategy can be seen with the redesign of the mozilla.org front page.
#22 A great idea, indeed.
Thursday July 17th, 2003 2:56 PM
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I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. The major question is, of course, would AOL allow the Mozilla Foundation to do such a thing? Hell, so far AOL has graciously given the foundation everything it could possibly ask for. The second question would be whether the Mozilla Foundation has any interest in creating a Netscape-branded browser. I have my doubts. But I think the idea has great potential.
The Netscape name is much more well-known than Mozilla, and it will continue to be unless AOL lets it languish into obscurity. AOL can (and will) keep their Netscape Network portal, but at this point it's a little less than clear what will happen to the Netscape browser in the long term since there's no longer any internal developers. The Mozilla Foundation could take the Netscape brand name and apply it to what is now simply the flagship Mozilla product. This would essentially be a difference of labeling only; none of the advertising cruft that has been added to the Netscape browser would be included. Even AIM/ICQ and Netscape webmail support could be optional extensions. AOL has obviously already given up on Netscape as a revenue-generator, so I don't really see any reason why they should object to Netscape being distributed ad/nag-free. Its only remaining strength is simply brand recognition, and this could be capitalized on by continuing its branding through the Mozilla Foundation.
What would become of the Mozilla name? It would go back into the developer's corner. It would return to its original purpose of being a code name for Netscape. A tag that shows up in header information but is never really seen by end users. Is that so bad? I don't think so. The icon would live on; in fact it could be somewhat of an icon for geek-elitism. :) Only the "cool" people know what Mozilla really means (once again, the way it used to be prior to 1998). And we would be eliminating the confusion of what is Mozilla and what is Netscape. To the end user, there is only Netscape. I think everyone (even developers) would be very happy with that arrangement, as long as it remained cruft-free as I stated above.
It would continue to be distributed through the Netscape Network portal site (by an agreement with AOL or whoever ends up owning the portal in the future). Again, its confusing connection to Mozilla would be transparent to the end user. It would be available from mozilla.org too, of course, along with development versions (Mozilla!) and all the underlying components needed for creating other browsers and web platforms.
But one thing remains crystal clear: There is one and only one official release, and it is NETSCAPE. Period. There will still be optional components and the end user can choose what s/he wants. Whether you think it's annoying or whatever, it matters not - for the public to embrace something, it has to be easy to understand. Netscape is easy to understand. It's been around for a long time and everyone knows what it is, even if they've long since switched to IE. We need to bring them back to an old friend, not some new thing named "Mozilla" that they've never heard of. Whether you want just a browser or also a mail client, calendar, IRC client, etc., I believe is straightforward enough for even dumb-dumbs to understand. You just have to create a website that is crystal clear and well-designed. Lots of auto-detecting. A BIG, FAT, BLATANT LINK FROM THE NETSCAPE FRONT PAGE. Here you are. Here's what you appear to be running. Here's what you can download. Do you want: (checkboxes) Navigator (web browser). Messenger (mail client). Et Cetera. I'm sure someone can come up with snappy theme-fitting names for the IRC client, the calendar, etc. The advent of the Birds will be key to Netscape's success. End users will love it - download only what you want.
Now I know we're already headed in a confusing direction with the profusion of extensions with the Birds. That needs to be sorted out, regardless of whether it's called Mozilla or Netscape. I have faith that it will be.
It could all work so well. The cynic in me is telling me that's exactly why it will never happen. I hope I'm wrong about that.