Mozilla Puts A Stop To Browser Suite - InformationWeek

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3/11/2005
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Mozilla Puts A Stop To Browser Suite

The Mozilla Foundation will instead put its energy into its Firefox browser and Thunderbird, its e-mail client. But all is not lost for supporters of the Mozilla browser suite. There are signs it may live on under a new name and with the support of an independent developer community.

After several days of confusion about the future of its open-source browser suite, the Mozilla Foundation called it quits, and announced that it would stop development of its namesake.

All development efforts will instead be focused on Firefox, the foundation's stand-alone browser, and Thunderbird, its e-mail client. Supporters of the Mozilla browser suite, however, aren't ready to throw in the towel, and it appears likely that it will live on under a new name and under the aegis of an independent developer community.

The Mozilla suite, now five years old, is a collection of browser, e-mail client, and HTML editor, the collection's contents harking back to the Netscape suite, the forerunner of the open-source Mozilla. In 2003, the Mozilla Foundation was formed, took over development of the suite, and announced plans to roll out stand-alone applications, the first of which became Firefox.

Although it had been the stated intention of the Foundation to stop what it called the "final stable branch" of Mozilla (which in Mozilla-speak is rendered as "Seamonkey") at the 1.7.x line, the group had confused the issue by releasing alpha and beta versions of Mozilla 1.8, fueling speculation that it was moving onto 1.8. That speculation surged last weekend, when the foundation posted notes from a staff meeting that read "Mozilla 1.8 final: To be discussed tomorrow whether we do one."

"The ongoing alpha and beta releases of Seamonkey 1.8 have suggested that the Mozilla Foundation itself will be creating a 1.8 final release. This is not our plan," said the foundation in a posting to its Web site late Thursday.

"There is no doubt that the series of 1.8 alpha and beta releases have caused some confusion about whether there would be a 1.8 product released by the Mozilla Foundation. In addition, a set of people have done a non-trivial amount of work on 1.8 features, thinking this would be part of an official Mozilla Foundation release. This has been a major error on our part. These contributors have reason to be unhappy with us. We can only apologize, at the same time recognizing that apologies only go so far and can't fix the error."

Mozilla reiterated that the 1.7.x line of Mozilla -- the current version is now 1.7.5, with 1.7.6 expected shortly -- will be the last of the maintained suites it releases. Any future releases, it added, would be minor update only.

That decision didn't sit well with a number of developers who have put time into the Mozilla suite. They called for continued development of Seamonkey (Mozilla) by a new crew, under a new name, a plan that the Mozilla Foundation immediately supported. The foundation said it would offer infrastructure hosting and the legal work in obtaining a new name, which may well turn out to be Seamonkey. The new group has a site hosted by Mozilla here, and has put out a call for testers of the 1.8 edition.

The demise of the Mozilla suite, said various Mozilla Foundation developers, shouldn't come as a surprise.

"We first published our intentions two years ago," said Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's release coordinator, on his blog. "After two years of incremental change, we've shipped Firefox 1.0 and Thunderbird 1.0.

"Going forward, Firefox and Thunderbird are the [foundation's] premier applications -- the applications we will productize, ship, and support. They are where our future lies -- and so our focus."

Firefox, which has been slowly but steadily nibbling at Microsoft Internet Explorer's market share, has been downloaded nearly 27 million times since it rolled out in version 1.0 last fall. The foundation doesn't publicize download numbers for Thunderbird, its stand-alone e-mail client.

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