Netscape Frees Communicator 5.0 Code
by Chris Oakes
Most software companies consider their source code to be top secret,
guarding the programmed gears and axles of their computers like the keys
to a nuclear arsenal. But Netscape Communications
today joined that renegade group that wants to be perceived as friendly,
open, and believing that code should be free.
This morning, Mountain View headquarters announced it would freely
license not only the current versions of Netscape Navigator and
Communicator, but also make the source code for the products freely
available on the Net, starting with Communicator 5.0, due in the first
quarter of 1998.
"If this is true, this is an astoundingly bold move," said
Brian Behlendorf, co-founder and chief technology officer at Organic
Online, and a founder of the Apache Web server
project, a long-standing, collaborative effort to create free Web page
serving software. "If they make a good commitment to fostering a
developer community - in integrating third-party patches, bug fixes, and
new features - then the Communicator product will be an amazing piece of
software," he said via email.
By making the code free, Netscape hopes to encourage developers and
system administrators to adopt its browser, knowing that they can tweak
it to fit their needs or fix things without waiting for the company to
post a patch. The company points to the success of the popular Apache
software and Linux operating system, the source code of which has long
been in the public domain.
"We're saying we can make that model a huge commercial
success," said Dave Bottoms, a Netscape spokesperson. "This is
one of the only ways of scale to compete against Microsoft," he
While Microsoft has been giving away its browser and thereby gaining
market share, its source code remains under proprietary lock and key.
Netscape has until now charged between US$39 and $79 for the Navigator
browser and its integrated suite of browser and email, Communicator. Its
announcement today to release both the products and the source code free
of charge is a dramatic about-face, which Netscape hopes will help it
retain its majority of the market.
The company says with this bold move it hopes to "harness the
creative power of thousands of Internet developers" - and thereby
seed the market for its enterprise software and Netcenter online service.
By encouraging developers to incorporate their own enhancements into the
software, Netscape expects to see accelerated development and
distribution of its products.
But, say developers, it's important that Netscape follow through in its
effort to reach out to them, as developers now will be essentially
partners in the development of Netscape's software.
"This is not a slam dunk," Behlendorf said. "Doing
collaborative software requires a lot of skills that typical software
engineering does not."
The source code must be well documented - and supported by a development
team "with enough humility to admit to being wrong every now and
then," Behlendorf added.
In addition to a hope that Netscape will also release the source code for
its Java Virtual Machine, Behlendorf credits the change in policy with
code that has always been free.
"I think it's the success of public source code projects like
Apache, like Linux and FreeBSD, that helped convince Netscape of the
value of source code availability."
Check on other Web coverage of this story with
Rants Raves: Send= your rants and raves to Wired
Tips: Have a story or tip for Wired= News? Send it.
Copyright = =A9 1993-97 Wired Ventures Inc. and
All rights reserved.
Netscape Frees= Communicator 5.0 Code
Home Is Anywhere You= Hang Your Session
Netscape Frees Communicator= 5.0 Code
Earth Gets a Wink from= Spacecraft
A Primitive Challenge to= Programmers
What Cookies Can Do for= You
Object-Oriented Publishing= Meets the Web