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Let One Hundred Browsers Bloom
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XUL-Based Browsers

The other main category of Mozilla browsers include the projects that are being built with applications that use XUL. In many ways, these projects are similar to themes, but they take the idea of customizing the browser one step further. These custom browsers use XUL, CSS, and JavaScript to change the browser interface and not just the look of the browser. For instance, a theme developer can create new images for the buttons in the main toolbar, but another developer can only edit the toolbar to add or remove buttons in their own browser.



One of the first custom browsers, Aphrodite, was created as an alternative to the default interface that ships with Mozilla. Aphrodite includes a number of its own themes, including FruityGum, Inferno, and two flavors of the Sullivan skin. The crash recovery system, Total Recall, is also integrated into the browser. Development work continues on Aphrodite, although currently there isn't a new release that works with the latest version of Mozilla.


Aphrodite with the Sullivan grape theme.

Beonex Communicator is another XUL-based browser. It is a user-focused browsing suite that also comes bundled with a mail client and a Web page editor. The latest stable version, Communicator 0.8, is available for download for Windows and Linux. Other XUL-based custom browsers include Project Piglet, MercurySpider, and Dino.

What's Coming Next?

The browsers that are currently under development using Mozilla are just the tip of the iceberg. One of the most interesting possibilities for future browser development comes from AOL, the same company that owns Netscape and which is the main sponsor of the Mozilla community. Currently, the Windows version of the AOL client software uses Internet Explorer as the core of its browser, but there are indications that this may soon change. If AOL were to switch and use Mozilla in a new version of their software, tens of millions of people would be exposed to Mozilla.

AOL has already made some moves in this direction. The latest version of the AOL client for Mac OS X uses Gecko as its rendering engine. Gecko has also replaced Internet Explorer in CompuServe 7.0, the latest version of AOL's other online service. The decision to use Gecko in these two offerings is seen by many as a way for AOL to iron out any rough spots before they move forward with releasing a Mozilla-based version of its AOL client for Windows.

Another interesting project to keep on eye on is Phoenix. There isn't much known about this yet, but there are some pages in bugzilla and on the mozilla.org site that have some information. It looks like Phoenix is based on an earlier project called m/b (short for mozilla/browser) and has a goal to create a user-friendly, standalone browser that is free from most of the constraints placed on the default Mozilla browser. Builds of Phoenix are available from the mozilla.org site and there is a development roadmap that provides details about future releases.


Phoenix with the Customize Toolbar dialog.

If none of these browsers look like they are right for you, remember that you can always create your own browser with Mozilla. If you don't want to start from scratch, each of the projects listed here could use help with testing and development. So you can also contribute by adding features or fixing bugs to make these browsers even better. This wealth of browser options is a great strength, so let's hope that each of these projects continue to mature and innovate. Let one hundred browsers bloom so that we can all use the browser that is right for us.


O'Reilly & Associates will soon release (September 2002) Creating Applications with Mozilla.

Creating Applications with Mozilla

Related Reading

Creating Applications with Mozilla
By David Boswell, Brian King, Ian Oeschger, Pete Collins, Eric Murphy

David Boswell has been involved in the Mozilla community for more than six years. He is also a coauthor of Creating Applications with Mozilla and helped launch mozdev.org.


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