Fans of the Mozilla Browser Suite May Sustain It

While the Mozilla Foundation is closing the "official" suite, it offers support for a possible community effort to develop it under a different name.

The Mozilla Foundation may be ending development of its application suite, but the open-source combination of a Web browser, e-mail client and Web-authoring tool appears likely to continue with the help of its friends.

Mozilla this week changed development course with the suite, announcing that it no longer plans to release Mozilla 1.8 despite earlier betas of the update. Instead, it will end suite development with the current Version 1.7 line and instead focus on its standalone Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail client.

While the foundation is retiring the official Mozilla suite, it is open to helping developers in the Mozilla community sustain it on their own.

As part of a Mozilla suite transition plan posted online this week, the Mountain View, Calif.-based foundation vowed to "provide infrastructure support … for community members who wish to continue to develop Seamonkey."

That support would provide open-source developers with access to Mozillas hosted development process, such as its Bugzilla bug-reporting system and online development tools, foundation president Mitchell Baker told on Friday.

"Weve known that there are a set of users and developers who prefer the suite," she said. "And some are interested in putting in the energy to continue to maintain it. Theres a reasonable chance that suite development will continue."

Any continuation likely will involve removing the Mozilla moniker from the suite to avoid confusion that the foundation is supporting the future versions.

"We probably wont use the same naming conventions, as we need to be clear that this is not a Mozilla Foundation product release," Mozilla said in the transition plan.

By making the gesture to support outside development, the foundation appeared to be blessing the suggestion of Boris Zbarsky, a leading Mozilla programmer, and other Mozilla developers that a community-based project be formed to move Mozilla 1.8 forward.

The effort is beginning to coalesce around the Seamonkey wiki. "Seamonkey" is the nickname for the Mozilla suite. As of Friday, more than 70 individuals had signed on to help support and develop the community-based Mozilla.

But Seamonkeys future remains far from certain. Zbarsky said that his focus with Mozilla remains with development of the Gecko rendering engine that serves as the underpinnings of Mozillas software.

"It seems that there is a widespread misconception that Im somehow a driving force behind the Seamonkey developments, just because I was the one that sat down and wrote," he said.

Still, he offered some "educated guesses" as to how development of Version 1.8 of the suite might proceed. The initial steps likely will focus on organizing a team and working out infrastructure issues, he said.

"I expect a Seamonkey release based on Gecko 1.8, once the latter is declared final to be tested and shipped," he said. "After that point, I really dont know.

"In large part, it depends on the direction decided on by the leadership that emerges in this transitional period."

As recently as December, Mozilla officials were discussing plans to release a full version of Mozilla 1.8 by the spring. But the foundation decided this week to devote its resources to Firefox and Thunderbird.

Firefox, in particular, has challenged Microsoft Corp.s browser dominance by gaining user share since its full release in November.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about Mozillas Thunderbird 1.0 launch.

Mozilla 1.7 is considered a stable branch of the suite. The stable branches are used in third-party browser and Linux distributions, such as America Online Inc.s Netscape browser and Red Hat Linux. The foundation also advises organizations relying on the suite to use stable branches.

One risk of moving ahead with Mozilla 1.8 was that third-party distributions and organization would also upgrade and then require regular 1.8 updates, Baker said.

Mozilla instead plans to support Mozilla 1.7 with maintenance updates for security and bug fixes, she said. The foundation continues to plan a Version 1.7.6 release within the next few weeks.

"Trying to support the old Mozilla suite and the new products would be a use of resources we couldnt continue in long term," Baker said. "We needed to focus the resources we have on the new products and to be sure we had [a Mozilla suite] branch we could support well for the customers we had on it."

As for Firefox, it has faced recent concerns over its development path. Some within the Mozilla community, such as Mike Connor, a core Firefox developer, have publicly pointed out a lack of Firefox development support from the foundation.

Ben Goodger, Firefoxs lead engineer and now a Google employee, addressed those concerns in a Weblog posting this week. He wrote about efforts to "spread the load more evenly" with new roles and responsibilities for key contributors.

"Theres been some talk lately about the future of Firefox," Goodger wrote. "We believe Firefox has a bright future, and we are all working hard toward our short- and long-term goals."

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