Netscape 7.0 - A Winner! But for who?

by Kevin Bedell

Though it was formally announced today, Netscape 7.0 has actually been available for a little while. I've been using it on Windows for about month and I must say I'm impressed. It's a great poduct.


I installed it when Yahoo! redid their Yahoo! Mail site - the complex table structures caused my old Netscape 4.78 browser to crawl when trying to render my inbox. So I needed a new browser - enter Netscape 7.0.


Some of the cool features are:



  • Themes. Yes - it's "skinnable"!

  • Much faster table rendering.

  • Much faster in general for everything.

  • Very stable. Haven't had a crash or hang yet.

  • A "Cookie Manager" that helps me manage who "tags" my browser with cookies.



And it's compliant with newer HTML usage as well. In fact, at Netscape Gecko Central, they recommend to people developing web-based applications that it's more likely to render pages better with their IE6 stylesheets than with their old ones from Netscape 4.x and 6.x.


The "Cookie Manager" deserves special mention - for the first time a browser makes it easy for the users to control who sets cookies on their machines. People interested in managing their privacy should switch for this reason alone.


It's available now for Windows, Mac Classic, Mac OS X and Linux. You can download it free or have a CD shipped to you for about a $3.00 shipping charge.


But the real story here is the way this browser came about.


The Mozilla project is a case-book example of outstanding open source management - and of how corporations can hook into and harness the power of Open Source. If you are involved with an open source project, you should look at how they run Mozilla.


To begin with, read the Mozilla development roadmap. This is impressive. They forcast release dates and actually release pretty close to on-time. They have code reviews prior to checking code in. They have "project managers".


They also have the code broken into about 75 modules - each with an owner responsible for a small group that manages it.


Most developers will tell you they've never seen a project that, at least on the surface, looks so well managed. And the project is huge. Many of the 75-ish modules are large enough to be products on their own.


But there's even a bigger picture. That is, "How did AOL/Time Warner get all these people involved in building one of their core products - without pay?"


In case you didn't realize, Netscape is actually a division of AOL - the media giant that owns Time Warner and CNN, Turner Broadcasting, The WB, AOL, Compuserve, and a bunch of other companies. (They even own The Cartoon Network - home of The Powerpuff Girls and a great place to download scooby-doo wallpaper.)


But yet, a very significant share of the development for the Netscape 7.0 browser is developed by the Mozilla open source project. By making the browser an open source project, AOL/Time Warner has found a way to compete with Microsoft in the browser market. A huge number of people are now collaborating on building the underlying technology that makes up a flagship product for the Netscape division of AOL.


I'm left wondering if this is the first time that a major product from a NYSE-listed corporation was developed for them to a great extent for free. If it is, I can bet you it won't be the last. Once people in the corporate world finally "get it" that the open source model is a way to build loose collaborative teams of people around the world to all help develop and share applications, you'll see this happen a lot more.


The "buy -versus- build" decision will become "buy -versus- build -versus- build as open source if we can get people to help us".


This is already working for AOL/Time Warner and Netscape. And working extremely well.


So who's the winner here? Certainly AOL/Time Warner and Netcape got a great product delivered. And other companies considering moving portions of their development projects into the open source world have found a good role model.


But I think in the end the real winners are all of us consumers who want a high-quality software that meets OUR needs, and not just the needs of the company that builds it.


4 Comments

petrilli
2002-08-30 08:02:54
Not the first
OmniWeb (http://www.omnigroup.com) has had this for some time. I don't remember if it got added in OmniWeb 4, or came from 3.x, but it's very flexible, and gives you at least as much information as Netscape does. The other thing they give you, that Netscape didn't at last check (at least Mozilla doesn't), is to "keep, but throw away", meaning you keep it while the browser is around, but when you quit, it doesn't keep them persistant.


If only OmniWeb had better CSS support.

daytrip00
2002-08-30 19:29:00
Hidden Cost
While I think the Mozilla project is generally fantastic, your article is not completeley accurate. It misses a pivotal cost issue.


First, the Mozilla project (that originally lead to 1.0) started October 1998. It is, of course now just a month shy of four years since that original release. So, wile Netscape (after all, it was started before they were bought out by AOL who later merged with Time Warner) got the product for "free" development cost, there is the lost opportunity cost of having a modern browser.


While they were getting this great new "free" browser, the opportunity cost was huge.. eg a massive erosion of market share which is directly, at least in part, attributable to a lack of modern features. While IE5, 5.5 and 6 kept adding new features, Netscape was left with its old feature set, causing people to switch.


What then is the value of half the market for browsers (they can, actually generate lots of traffic to specific places)? Because that's what a slow release of Netscape 7 cost.


Now, I'm not saying that open-source development can never be profitable, just that you can't force them to come out when you want them to.

per_abrahamsen
2002-09-05 07:08:41
Most developers are paid by AOL
or at least, most contributions come from developers paid by AOL. There are also some full time developers from other companies, such as Red Hat, who obviously have an interest in the existence of a free, modern browser for their platform.


While I won't belittle the contributions from the volunteer developers, it would be wrong to think that AOL got a modern essentially for free. They paid for it, but thanks to the open development, it is much better than what they would otherwise have got for the money.

anonymous2
2003-02-16 14:09:40
IE6 has cookie management
.. and has for a long time. Netscape is certainly not the first. In fact, your site tried to place a cookie when I came here to post, and I said 'no'.