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2:00 a.m. May 8, 2002 PDT

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 Mozilla.org: We Are Not Netscape
by Chris Oakes



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5:00 p.m. Nov. 24, 1998 PST
"Mozilla.org is not Netscape. And it is not now, nor will it ever be, AOL."

With those words, Jamie Zawinski emphatically restated the mission of the Mozilla open-source browser project Tuesday on the Mozilla.org Web site after the America Online-Netscape merger was confirmed. Zawinski is one of the handful of Netscape developers who directly oversee the Mozilla project.

The message amounted to a re-declaration of independence for the open-source browser project. At a news conference Tuesday, Netscape's Netcenter chief, Mike Homer, said no changes were planned for Mozilla.

Zawinski, however, made a different point: AOL could do nothing to change the status of Mozilla, even if it wanted to.

"Let's think about some worst-case scenarios," Zawinski wrote. "What if AOL hates 'open source'? What if they want to undo everything we've done and make Mozilla be evil and proprietary again? What if they just think that browsers are a waste of time and that they should just use [Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser] forevermore?

"Well, they simply cannot undo what has been done. The Mozilla code is out there, and it cannot be recalled. It has been distributed under an open-source license, and nobody can ever take that away from you. Ever."

Zawinski returned neither phone calls nor email requesting comment on his message.

Open-source advocate Eric Raymond said that since Mozilla acts as a separate organization, it is well-insulated from changes inside Netscape. He added that code freed under an open-source development model could never be re-commercialized.

But Raymond has faith that AOL higher-ups will see the value of Mozilla to growing a better browser. "If they want to keep marketshare ... [AOL] won't interfere with Mozilla development and will maybe throw more resources at it."

When Netscape's Homer was asked for further comment, he said that while he had not read Zawinski's remarks, he agreed with his characterization of Mozilla's mission.

"Mozilla is larger than Netscape, and that was its intention," Homer said. "[Mozilla] is essentially a collaborative project that was sponsored by a commercial entity."

"The people that staff Mozilla.org are Netscape employees," he added. "The code that was contributed was code previously owned by Netscape. However, it's also true that that code base will take on life of its own someday."

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