During the last few years, the Mozilla Organization created the blueprint for taking a commercial product and making it open source, converting the old Netscape browser—which had been vanquished by Microsoft Corp. and Internet Explorer—into the open-source Mozilla (arguably the best browser on the market today).
With this mission accomplished, The Mozilla Organization earlier this month began planning the next phase of Mozilla development.
In many ways, its a big departure from the past. The Mozilla development road map, points to a new direction for Mozilla—one that is more modular and has tighter controls over development.
Probably the biggest change for most users will be the move away from the all-encompassing browser suite to individual components that can be easily integrated if a user so chooses.
In eWEEK Labs opinion, this is an excellent move because the massive browser suite that started with the old Netscape Communicator never made much sense to us and was emblematic of the browser wars bloat.
Rather than Mozilla, the focus of browser development will now be the stand-alone Firebird (formerly Phoenix) browser. Like Mozilla, Firebird is a cross-platform browser, but it is much leaner and quicker because it is basically just a browser. (The name of this component could change in the very near future because Firebird is already the name of an open-source database.)
Firebird does have an add-on model that makes it simple to bring in additional features and capabilities. Under Firebird, development of the browser will also change: Firebird features a new iteration of the XUL (XML User Interface Language) tool kit.
Also getting the stand-alone treatment is the Mozilla mail client, which will now be known as Thunderbird (formerly Minotaur). This client will also have an XUL interface and will work across platforms, but it will also be more attractive to businesses and users that want a good open-source mail client but dont want to add an entire browser suite to get one (see screen).
Other Mozilla components, such as Chatzilla and Composer, are currently up in the air—it is not clear if they will become stand-alone applications or add-ons to Firebird and Thunderbird.
The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink model of the big Web browser/mail client suite will still be easily available for users who want it. In the road map, The Mozilla Organization has indicated that it will most likely ship Firebird builds with all the most popular extensions and add-ons included—although they will be turned off by default.
As far as development goes, it will be harder to predict the effect of the switch to a strong individual owner. This model is very common in open-source applications, but it is usually found in more stable and less innovative applications.
For many businesses, having a more stable option for browsers and mail is clearly a good thing. But there is also the possibility that Mozilla innovation could slow down and the browser could be surpassed by more innovative products such as Opera or Konqueror—in much the same way that IE has fallen behind other browsers in functionality.
Interestingly, what would become the old Mozilla code could also become a competitor because its open source and others can continue to develop it.
Overall, however, the future moves laid out by The Mozilla Organization are overwhelmingly positive, especially for those who think a browser should be a browser and a mail client should be a mail client.
East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]