Is Netscape Losing the Browser Wars?
Part II: Why Are Major Linux Distributions Rejecting Netscape 6?
Mike Angelo -- 20 May 2001(c)
In Part I, we noted that Netscape 6 is noticeably absent from the latest Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE Linux distributions. Netscape 6 also is noticeably absent from Caldera's OpenLinux 3.1 beta. Meanwhile, Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE include the Mozilla browser-suite in their latest Linux distributions. And most Linux distributions include Konqueror, the K Desktop Environment (KDE) browser.
So why are major Linux distributions not shipping with Netscape 6 included in their packages? To find out we asked people at Caldera, Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE. Altogether, these four Linux distributions comprise about 90% of the Linux distribution market. Representatives from these major Linux distributors have some very interesting comments.
We asked the Netscape PR contact some questions and offered her the opportunity to comment on the browser-choice decisions and plans of the Linux distributors. Although she did reply to our inquiry, she failed to answer any questions or make any comments about the Netscape 6 rejection issues.
The Linux distributors cite two main reasons for rejecting Netscape 6: (1) philosophical/logistical considerations and (2) product quality/stability reasons.
Red Hat plans to drop Netscape from its products when the Mozilla browser-suite is ready for prime time. The Red Hat people cite both philosophical/logistical and quality/stability considerations for Red Hat's decision to drop Netscape. However, our discussions with Red Hat people indicate that door has not been locked yet. Although, it is unlikely that Red Hat's decision to drop Netscape will be changed later.
The Caldera, Mandrake, and SuSE spokespeople indicate they do not plan to include Netscape 6.x, at its current stability/quality levels, in their distributions. On the other hand, they seem to be leaving the door open to including future Netscape 6 editions in their distributions -- if they find them to have adequate stability and quality. Further, they focus their reasons for not including Netscape 6 in their distributions on product quality/stability considerations.
It's Either Netscape 6 or Mozilla
So then why does Red Hat Linux 7.1 include both the Mozilla browser suite and Netscape 4.76? Please keep in mind that Netscape 4.x and Mozilla do not share a common code base. Mozilla is not an upgrade from Netscape 4.x. It is not merely code added to the Netscape 4 code. Nor is it simply a re-write of the Mozilla code.
Rather, the old Netscape 4 code for the most part was scrapped. In essence, Mozilla has been rebuilt from the ground up. So, even though Mozilla might look and feel lots like Netscape 4.x (especially if you use the Classic skin) underneath it is a very different lizard. On the otherhand, as Red Hat's Preston Brown points out, Netscape 6 uses the (all new) Mozilla browser-suite code.
Melissa London is the Red Hat Director of Corporate Public Relations. In earlier discussions, she told MozillaQuest Magazine that Red Hat Linux 7.1 includes both the Mozilla browser suite and Netscape 4.76 because: They both have strengths and weaknesses. A future release will likely see the drop of Netscape 4.7x.
Therefore, Red Hat's position is that the Netscape 6 browser suite and the Mozilla browser suite are based on the same code. So why include two browser suites that are based on the same code, in Red Hat Linux? Red Hat's answer to that is to choose one or the other and Mozilla is Red Hat's choice. More about why Red Hat chose Mozilla over Netscape 6 further down.
SuSE also includes both Mozilla and Netscape 4.7x in its latest Linux Distribution. However the SuSE people have not told MozillaQuest whether they plan to drop Netscape altogether when Mozilla is ready for prime time. Even so, SuSE does not seem to be very enthusiastic about Netscape 6.
Netscape 6 Too Buggy
SuSE currently does not include Netscape 6.x in any of its Linux distributions. Dirk Hohndel is CTO at SuSE. He tells MozillaQuest Magazine that NS 6 is simply unusable right now, there are still too many bugs.
SuSE spokesperson Xenia von Wedel adds, Netscape still has too many bugs. We do not include products in the box, unless they are stable and reliable. However, that seems to leave the door open to include a later, better quality, Netscape 6 edition in SuSE Linux.
Mandrake's Denis Havlik also is concerned about Netscape 6's stability at this time. He tells MozillaQuest Magazine: I guess we'll . . . switch to a 6.x version once this version proves to be better (more stable) than 4.x. I don't think any decision has been made yet, but having a 6.x browser in LM 8.1 looks logical to me. Depends also on user requests and licence, I haven't looked at these.
However, as Red Hat's Preston Brown says, there is "no reason to" include both Netscape 6.x and Mozilla in Linux distributions. If the Mandrake and SuSE people apply that same logic, do not be surprised if Mandrake and SuSE also drop Netscape once Mozilla is ready for prime time. If they do not see it as an either Mozilla or Netscape situation, then Netscape 6 could end up included in some future Mandrake or SuSE distributions.
Caldera will include Netscape 4.77 rather than Netscape 6.x in its upcoming OpenLinux Server and OpenLinux Workstation 3.1 distributions. It is likely that Caldera will include Mozilla in future products, but no decision about that has been made so far.
Tania Cantrell is a PR manager for Caldera Systems, Inc. She tells MozillaQuest Magazine that Caldera will include Netscape 4.77 in OpenLinux Server and OpenLinux Workstation 3.1 . . . Caldera has decided to use this browser because it is more cooked than Netscape 6.x. Currently, Netscape 6.x appears more slow and buggy. Although compatible with Caldera products, Netscape 6.x will not be included in Caldera products until it's more stable. That also leaves a door open to include a later, better quality, Netscape 6 edition in Caldera Products.
Unlike Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE, Caldera does not plan to include the Mozilla browser suite in its first distributions based on the new Linux Kernel 2.4. Caldera's Drew Spencer (CTO) and Joe Ballif (product manager for OpenLinux Server) note that Mozilla is maturing and is very interesting/intriguing. Once it is fully cooked, Caldera will make a decision.
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