Mozilla Is Not Netscape (and Other True Facts)

by Cameron Barrett

Let's get one thing straight. Mozilla is not Netscape. To the seasoned developers and the Mozilla developer community, this is a well-known fact. But for the average consumer and computer user, Mozilla and Netscape are sometimes viewed as the same thing. Reading the discussion boards, the mailing lists, and even many recent news articles, it's clear that lots of people don't understand the differences between the two and regularly confuse them, referencing one when they meant the other.

To sort this problem out and clear up some of this confusion and misinformation, let's take a look at what Mozilla is, what Netscape is, and how and Netscape Communications Corporation relate to each product.

Mozilla uses Gecko too, but ...

Mozilla is a software development initiative that grew out of Netscape's decision to release the source code for their Netscape Communicator web browser. Mozilla refers to the collection of software components and technologies that make up the Mozilla development platform.

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Mozilla software components include things such as the web browser, the mail client, and the chat client. Mozilla technologies include XUL (Extensible User Interface Language) and XPCOM (Cross Platform Component Object Model).

XUL allows developers using Mozilla to build cross-platform user interfaces using a single unified language instead of having to create separate UIs for each platform. This "UI versatility" allows developers to combine their software development paths for the various platforms (i.e., Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.) into one, re-using code that previously would have had to be written separately for each platform.

XPCOM is a technology that allows for cross-platform communication between software components and pieces of code. For example, the piece of code that controls the interaction of the browser's back button is an XPCOM function call that works exactly the same way across all platforms, whereas before, this code needed to be different for each platform the developers were writing for.

Netzilla? Moscape? Who are these guys? is the developer community for Mozilla developers, many of whom work for Netscape. (Ah, here's where some folks get confused ... and rightly so.) Netscape, in this instance, is the corporate entity behind the Mozilla project, providing overall direction, funding, and a sense of purpose and control. At the same time, Netscape uses and the developer community around it to leverage their development of Netscape 6, which is a commercial web browser built on top of the Mozilla codebase.

Netscape 6 can be thought of as a branded version of Mozilla with some extra functionality and software components thrown in. For instance, Netscape is a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL, so AOL has funded the development of a Mozilla-based AOL Instant Messenger client, which is included in the default installation of Netscape 6. This is an example of software that isn't available in the default Mozilla installation, and serves as an important distinction between the two.

Netscape won't become Mozilla

Netscape Communications Corporation started out as a company that developed web browsers, the software that allows end users to view the Internet in a graphical way. Their first browser defined the industry standard for how browsers should work, and it was copied by numerous companies, including Microsoft, Sun, and Apple, creating a kind of "browser war" in the late 1990s.

It's important to note that the Mozilla project isn't married to Netscape as closely as some people think. There are hundreds of developers working on Mozilla and Mozilla-based applications who have no communication with Netscape but belong to the Mozilla developer community by contributing their patches, bug fixes, and independently-created software to the overall Mozilla project.

Netscape does not own Mozilla, and if for some reason AOL cut the financial umbilical cord, Mozilla would continue to operate without the slightest of hiccups. This is due to the incredible amount of knowledge sharing and communication that happens on a daily basis in the Mozilla newsgroups and mailing lists. Active developers from all over the world are able to participate in Mozilla development without ever needing to pay a visit to Netscape's Mountainview campus.

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