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December 31, 2001
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Year 2001 in Review -- Mozilla and Netscape Browsers

Mike Angelo -- 31 December 2001 (c)

Article Index

Mozilla and Netscape 6 Delays

Mozilla and Netscape 6 Bugs

Mozilla and Netscape Turmoil and Problems

Mozilla and Netscape 6 Browser Improvements

Summary and Conclusion


As Father Time rolled into 2001, the Mozilla Organization was on its way to releasing Mozilla 1.0 in April 2001. The Mozilla folks were touting pre-Mozilla-1.0 development builds as pretty much features-complete and stable. The Mozilla milestone builds had become usable.

The Mozilla plan at that time called for development work to be focused on bug squashing, improved stability, and better performance in order to get Mozilla 1.0 out the door. That pretty much had been the development plan since Mozilla Milestone 16 was released in July 2000.

However, they did not follow that plan in 2001. Rather the Mozilla developers added new features and enhancements. They lost focus and that dramatically increased the rate at which new bugs were appearing.

That did not only hurt the Mozilla Project and its Mozilla browser-suite. The Mozilla Project's loss of focus had a terrible effect on Netscape and its browser suite too. The newer, Netscape 6 browser suite is based upon Mozilla code.

In early 2001, Netscape's 4.x browser was already three-year old browser-technology. The Mozilla Project failed to produce a finished, polished, feature-complete product upon which Netscape could base a viable, current-technology, browser-suite. That forced Netscape to continue development and production of its outdated Netscape 4.7x browser suite -- in addition to developing the newer-technology Netscape 6.

Mozilla and Netscape development for 2001 can be summarized as more bugs, more delays, more turmoil, more problems, more improvements, and more features -- but no finished product and no cigar.

Mozilla and Netscape 6 Delays

Instead, somehow during this year of 2001 A.D., the long overdue Mozilla 1.0 Web browser-suite slipped at least another year behind schedule. April 2001 has long since come and passed and yet there still is no Mozilla 1.0. The Mozilla Organization now is saying Mozilla 1.0 is scheduled for release in April 2002.

Meanwhile, AOL's Netscape division had released its Netscape 6.0 browser in November 2000. Simple put, the Netscape 6.0, Mozilla-based, browser was a piece of crap and was heavily criticized by the computer press, Netscape users, and even many Netscape fans.

In April 2000, when Netscape 6 PR1 was pre-maturely released, it was a commercial release that was publicly announced by AOL CEO Steve Case. Therefore, the tougher commercial beta product release standard of review was applied. Meanwhile, Mozilla Milestone 15, which also was released in April 2000, was not touted about as a beta release. It was nothing more than a developer milestone release that had been made available to the public. Therefore, coverage of Mozilla 15 was more informational rather than review in nature.

Once Netscape reached finished product status with the release of Netscape 6.0 in November 2000, an even tougher, finished commercial product standard of review was applied to the Netscape 6 browser. It was not until May 2001 that the release of Mozilla Milestone 0.9 effectively moved the Mozilla browser suite into a beta level. That shifted our coverage from the more informational nature to a beta product review nature -- a tougher standard.

The Mozilla developers still were and still are advertising the Mozilla milestones as developer releases. However, in fact by the time Mozilla 0.9 was rolled out many people were using it for regular duty -- something that goes to the Mozilla browser being a nice browser despite its problems. But along with that credit and accolade comes the tougher review standard, which we now employ when discussing Mozilla releases. The Mozilla developers do not seem to be very happy about that -- but being judged by tougher standards is all part of growing up, which is what the Mozilla lizard is doing.

Interestingly, Netscape 6.0, as all Netscape 6 releases, was based on the Mozilla browser-suite code. So why were we lauding the Mozilla browser suite and criticizing the Netscape browser suite? Please see the sidebar for that discussion.

The Netscape spokespeople are pretty secretive about Netscape's plans. However, it appeared that AOL's Netscape division was looking for a finished, polished, Mozilla browser suite, Mozilla 1.0, in April 2001. Then it would base its Netscape 6.5 upon Mozilla 1.0.

Netscape 6.5 would then be the polished, finished Netscape browser suite that the Netscape division could offer as a long awaited upgrade from, and replacement for, its now more than four-year old Netscape 4.x browser suite. That did not happen either.

Year 2001 has come and is on the brink of being gone. Yet there still is no Netscape 6.5. Considering there is not a Mozilla 1.0 upon which to base a Netscape 6.5, that is no surprise.

If you think that looks bleak, there is more. However, there also is some good news. Hold that thought.

Mozilla and Netscape 6 Bugs

During the past year neither Mozilla 1.0 nor Netscape 6.5 have appeared. But the Mozilla code base (and therefore the Netscape code) has picked up lots of bugs.

AOL's Netscape division does not publicly release Netscape browser-suite bug information. However, Mozilla bug information is publicly available. Since the Netscape browser-suite is based upon Mozilla code, you can figure that whatever bugs there are in Mozilla, they are in Netscape too -- but not exactly.

Simply put, the Netscape Division grabs the Mozilla source code, adds its own and third party products such as Net2Phone and AIM, and then puts its own Netscape branding on the added-too and customized Mozilla-base. The Netscape Division also adds its portal and bookmark items to the Mozilla-base while customizing the underlying Mozilla browser suite. Stir all that together and voila, that's the Netscape 6.x browser suite.

In grabbing the Mozilla code, the Netscape developers usually take over control of the branch of the Mozilla milestone upon which a Netscape release will be based after the Mozilla milestone is released. In the case of Netscape 6.2 for example that was Mozilla Milestone 0.9.4.

During the period of time from when the Netscape developers take the branch until they release a Netscape edition, inter alia, they fix bugs. So, many of the bugs that were in a Mozilla milestone release are fixed before the corresponding Netscape edition is released. Moreover, the Netscape bug fixes get patched into the Mozilla development trunk.

Figure 1, below, shows the increase in (unfixed) new, assigned, and reopened bugs since 4 May 1999 through 1 November 2001. Please notice the tremendous increase in bugs since 31 December 2000. As this articles goes to publicaton, there are some 20,400 new, assigned, and reopened bugs listed in Bugzilla, the Mozilla bug database. Mozilla has a bugs problem! And, it will take more than a few cosmetic dabs of flea powder to start getting the Lizard's bug infestation under control.

The new, assigned, and reopened bugs listed in the Bugzilla database, and which are charted in Figure 1, do not include unconfirmed, later, remind, works-for-me, or wontfix bugs. They are active bugs which Mozilla developers and bug triagers have determined need to be fixed.

Figure 1. Mozilla'a Runaway Bugs.

Mozilla and Netscape Turmoil and Problems

Through most of 2001, the Mozilla and Netscape browser suites continued to lose ground with users. When Red Hat released its Red Hat Linux 7.1 distribution in April 2001, it included Netscape 4.7 rather than Netscape 6.

Even worse for Netscape, the Red Hat people publicly stated that when the Mozilla browser suite sufficiently matured, they would drop Netscape from their Linux distribution. That pretty much put AOL-Time-Warner's Mozilla browser product in direct competition with its Netscape browser product.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer had kicked Netscape off the Windows desktop several years earlier. However, Netscape still maintained a dominant position on the Linux desktop. Red Hat's giving Netscape the boot might mark the beginning of the end for Netscape's dominance on the Linux desktop. Perhaps even more interesting is that it is the Mozilla browser-suite that could be dealing a final deathblow to Netscape on the Linux desktop.

Another major blow to the Netscape browser suite came from its owner, AOL-Time-Warner. In October 2001, AOL released its new AOL 7.0 client software. Instead of using Netscape for the AOL 7.0 default browser; AOL-Time-Warner included Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the default AOL 7.0 browser.

That was not AOL's only blow to its Netscape and Mozilla divisions. Earlier, Netscape (NSCP) President Jim Bankoff told Reuters in an interview reported by Reuters on 6 June 2001: "The browser is a crown jewel. However, six months from now, you won't consider Netscape to be a browser company,"

Andrew Weinstein is the America Online, Inc., spokesperson. In October 2001, He told MozillaQuest Magazine that AOL is "continuing to look for additional opportunities to use the Gecko browser technology, but we have no announcements on switching the browser we use in the AOL client."

AOL's expressed interest in Gecko with no mention of Netscape does seem to imply that AOL does not intend to use Netscape as an entire product in future AOL releases. It also seems to lend some support to speculation that AOL will use the Komodo product, which uses Gecko, the Netscape rendering/layout engine. Apparently AOL already is experimenting with that in its current CompuServe client beta.

Meanwhile throughout 2001, AOL's Netscape division kept shooting its Netscape 6 browser-suite in the foot. It continued to develop and release upgrades to its Netscape 4.7 browser suite. In March 2001, AOL's Netscape division released Netscape 4.77. That was followed by Netscape 4.78 in August 2001 and then Netscape 4.79 in November 2001.

Continuing to develop and release upgrades to its Netscape 4.7 edition certainly does not show lots of confidence by AOL's Netscape division in its Netscape 6 product. It also could indicate that AOL's Netscape division has not been able to convince important customers to switch from Netscape 4.7 to Netscape 6.

AOL-Time-Warner's Mozilla browser product has come to be in direct competition with its Netscape browser products. Additionally, its Netscape 4.7 browser product is competing with its Netscape 6 browser product. It's a wonder the folks in Redmond were able stop laughing at Netscape and its Mozilla Project long enough to roll out the Microsoft Office XP suite and Microsoft Windows XP this year.

Some of you are raising eyebrows at our suggesting that Mozilla is an AOL operation and product. The Mozilla Organization, the Mozilla Project, and the Mozilla browser-suite are supposed to be independent of Netscape and AOL -- yah right.

Let's digress a bit to debug that urban legend. The lion's share of Mozilla developers and staff are Netscape employees. Mozilla's chief technical officer, Brendan Eich, is a Netscape employee. Don't forget that in August 2001, Netscape laid-off Mozilla's chief lizard wrangler, Mitchell Baker, who at that time also was a Netscape employee. And so on and so forth.

Although the legalese paperwork might make it look as though Mozilla is independent of AOL and Netscape, you may forget that legal crap. The nexus between Mozilla and Netscape is so close that in reality, Mozilla is a de facto division of AOL's Netscape division.

The Mozilla Project has made, and is continuing to make, many mistakes. Once upon a time, the Mozilla Project was the poster-child of open source software development. That is no longer the case. Now the Mozilla Project is a prime example of how not to run open source development projects. Please see NewsForge's Robin "Roblimo" Miller's excellent, article, Learning from Mozilla's Mistakes, for more about that. (Link in Resources section on Page 2 of this article.)

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Copyright 2000, 2001 -- MozillaQuest -- Brodheadsville, Pa..USA -- All Rights Reserved

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