Mozilla Readies Next Release

The open-source project releases a beta version of Mozilla 1.6 as it prepares for a full launch by January. The update adds greater security, particularly for enterprises, and greater integration with GNOME.

The Mozilla Foundation is preparing to complete a year of major organizational changes with a new version of its namesake open-source application suite.

A beta version of Mozilla 1.6 went out on Tuesday that incorporates, among other new features, expanded authentication support of particular use for enterprises as well as better integration with the GNOME desktop that is popular for Linux users. The Mountain View, Calif.-based organization, is pushing for a full release by the end of the month, though that could be delayed until early January, Mozilla release coordinator Asa Dotzler said.

The development of the next release of the suite, which includes applications for Web browsing, e-mail, Web design and chat, comes two months after the foundation released Mozilla 1.5. That release marked the organization first major update since becoming independent of AOL Inc.s Netscape subsidiary in July.

Mozillas leaders this fall vowed to shift the organizations focus from strictly development to the end user. As part of the push the organization has introduced new support options, such as paid telephone support, and a CD-ROM option for installing its applications.

With the Version 1.6 beta, Mozilla adds cross-platform support for a Microsoft-specific NTLM (NT LAN Manager) authentication mechanism. Previous versions supported NTLM only for the Windows version of Mozilla, making use of a service built into the operating system.

Mozilla began adding NTLM support directly into the application suite with the Version 1.6 alpha, released in late October. Such support allows Mac OS X and Linux users to also be authenticated against Windows proxy and Web servers that use NTLM authentication, a common practice in Windows environments, Dotzler said.

"This opens up the enterprise a lot more for Mozilla," Dotzler said.

The new NTLM implementation also will strengthen the security for Mozilla users running older versions of Windows such as NT and 98 to match the authentication in Windows 2000 and XP, Dotzler said.

Beyond security, the beta release improves integration with the open-source GNOME desktop by tying into GNOME MIME-type associations. So Mozilla 1.6 can automatically adopt the same associations as GNOME for determining which application are launched for specific file types, such as text files or MP3 files, Dotzler said.

Other new features in Mozilla 1.6 beta include a menu option for translating Web pages in other languages via a connection into Googles translation service and a revamped Help system with more comprehensive content and an improved look and feel.

More broadly, the next release of Mozilla includes a string of usability and stability improvements, Dotzler said. The Mail application, for example, includes the separation of the recipient and sender columns and an option for placing signatures when replying to an e-mail either before or after quoted text.

Those two new Mail features are included among others in the latest standalone Mozilla Thunderbird mail client release, Version 0.4, which was launched last week. Other improvements to Thunderbird included an overhaul of user interface, including more modern-looking icons, as well as the introduction of a conduit to support address book syncing with the Palm OS.

Mozilla 1.6 beta also includes 75 crash fixes and support for additional Web standards.

"We did make a big effort in (Mozilla) 1.6 to improve usability, stability and spit and spin type things," Dotzler said. "There is so much that has happened that will go unnoticed because they are subtle improvements in the usability of the applications."