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.