Ask Jeeves Mulls Web Browser, Open-Source Support

The search company meets with Mozilla to discuss the possibility of a rebranded Firefox browser and of contributing desktop search to the open-source community.

Ask Jeeves Inc. is considering developing a Web browser based on Mozilla Firefox for release later this year and donating at least a portion, if not all, of its desktop-search code to the open-source community.

Details of Ask Jeeves Web browser and Firefox plans came out of the companys blog posting late Friday that detailed a recent meeting between the search company and the open-source Mozilla Foundation.

Ask Jeeves and Mozilla officials this week confirmed the meeting at Mozillas Mountain View, Calif., offices. Ask Jeeves talked with Mozilla about how it could build plug-ins and extensions to Firefox as well as the possibility of an Ask Jeeves-branded version of the browser.

"We discussed the fact that it doesnt make sense for us to build a browser from scratch, but we think building Ask specific functionalities on top of Firefox to build an [Ask Jeeves]-branded or co-branded browser could make sense in 2005," wrote Tuoc Luong, Ask Jeeves executive vice president of technology, in a blog post.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read eWEEK Labs review of Firefox.

Ask Jeeves is still evaluating whether to create a browser built on Firefox, said Daniel Read, vice president of product management. But the Oakland, Calif.-based company is interested in the idea because of the growth of the open-source browser and the potential to integrate such search services as its MyJeeves personalized search and desktop-search application directly into a Web browser, he said.

"Its one more access point that people can access search through," Read said.

Mozilla officials could not be reached for further comment on the Ask Jeeves meeting.

Ask Jeeves moves come as its search competitors are increasingly supporting Firefox and Mozilla. Google Inc. last month hired the lead engineer behind Firefox, Ben Goodger, but donated half of his time back to the Mozilla project.

Speculation also ran rampant last year that Google was working on a Web browser, possibly built on Firefox. But leaders at both Google and Mozilla later denied any such collaboration.

Last week, Yahoo Inc. released a Firefox version of its browser toolbar. Until recent months, search toolbars have largely supported only Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer. Ask Jeeves and Google, for example, only support IE with their toolbars.

Firefox has made strides against IE, gaining a greater share of users and recording at least 20 million downloads. The rendering engine behind Firefox, Mozillas Gecko engine, already is used as the underpinnings of other browsers such as America Online Inc.s Netscape browser.

/zimages/6/28571.gifMicrosoft has decided to deliver a new, standalone version of IE in order to stem potential customer defections due to security and feature concerns. Click here to read more.

Beyond discussing Firefox, Ask Jeeves also approached Mozilla with the idea of open-sourcing its desktop search technology. Ask Jeeves in December launched a desktop-search application, following its earlier acquisition of startup Tukaroo Inc.

In the blog post, Luong wrote that Ask Jeeves presented two possible approaches—either contributing just the indexing technology or providing the entire application. While Mozilla discussed how it evaluates potential contributions to its open-source project, Read said neither organization has made a decision on a contribution.

Ask Jeeves is evaluating the open-sourcing of its desktop search as a way to jump-start development of new features and to build a stronger rapport with a community known for being influential in the technology market, Read said.

"Were interested in reaching out to that audience and getting more of a dialog with them," Read said of open-source developers.

Ask Jeeves and Mozilla also discussed their respective application platforms—Mozillas XUL (XML User Interface Language) and Ask Jeeves Octopus technology.

The Mozilla talks follow Ask Jeeves entry last week into the emerging Weblogging and XML syndication market. Ask Jeeves confirmed its acquisition of Trustic Inc., the company behind Bloglines.

Bloglines is considered the largest Web-based aggregator of the RSS and Atom feeds that are largely generated from blogs. Along with letting users subscribe to feeds and organize and view them, Bloglines includes tools for creating blogs.

Ask Jeeves officials said that they plan to integrate Ask Jeeves Teoma search team with the Bloglines team to build more blog search capabilities and to promote Bloglines through the MyJeeves and other Ask Jeeves services.

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