View Full Version : Mozilla, Gecko, Netscape, and the future in AOL

13th February 2003, 01:56 AM
From mozillanews.org

I've been lucky enough to receive some interesting information relating to AOL, although in light of AOL's recent massive losses, poor outlook, and high profile execs resigning their positions, I'm not sure if these battle plans are still intact. For some juicy tidbits, and interesting speculation, read below.

First up is some Netscape 7.x news. Netscape 7.0 and 7.01 have had a total of over 14 million downloads. To quote an AOL exec, this fact is "impressive compared to AOL 8's 10 million downloads which were backed by AOL's marketing muscle."

Based on the Mozilla trunk, the next release of Netscape may be the last major release for the foreseeable future. The current plan for the browser is "Probably focused on maintenance releases." I'm not sure exactly what this bodes for the Netscape division though. There have been brutal cutbacks (most recently in Dec 2002, Black Wednesday), but there are still NS programmers on-payroll, with many officially working on non Mozilla-related AOL projects, but still with a focus on Gecko use.

Note, this doesn't have as much of an effect as you might think. Many of the NS developers still work on Mozilla, and many more still volunteer for Mozilla. It'd merely who's getting paid for what. Mozilla itself is strong and vibrant, and will continue to grow. That dedication has not wavered.

Gecko's Bright Future
Gecko is the engine in the current Mac OS X client release, as well as Compuserve 7 for Windows, but we shouldn't look too hard for a production AOL client with Gecko for Win32 until the end of the year at earliest. Gecko is due to be introduced in the flagship Windows client after this years pair of feature releases, as well as in the embedder-targeted Microbrowser projects 1, the AOL Communicator product 2, the much speculated and investor desired broadband lynchpin currently named Acme (formerly Skyline).

Another project forming is Apollo. It's unrelated to this year's releases, but shows a significant amount of dedication from AOL into Gecko's future, both the current codebase, and what is tentatively known as Gecko 2.0. There's a lot of support and interest from both AOL, and big-name third parties in using Gecko as a middleware base. It's robust support of a wide range of standards, it's speed, flexibility, and portability make it an excellent candidate for use in PC based systems, as well as Internet appliances (remember Touchpad?), WAP browsers, game consoles 3, set-top devices, even those wonderful dot-com refrigerators.

Gecko as a platform (techspeak for the suitspeak "middleware") is becoming an increasingly prevalent meme inside and outside AOL. Steve Case appears to be a big proponent of leveraging it. "Other companies are interested in using Gecko. Steve Case is interested in Gecko. Gecko is viewed as middleware, we have to keep delivering on Gecko and improving Gecko." By all means, please do. It's the future.

Speculations on the future...
To be fair, the rest of this article, from here down, are my meandering thoughts based on what I've seen from inside AOL, and from outside over the past several years. Even with the Internet, large scale trends and long term plans still take years to reveal themselves. I think below I might be on the right track.

Gecko is here to stay. It'll grow and change, as all good things do, but the impact it will have will be tremendous. Within the net two years, I expect 40 million AOLers to be running on Gecko, many mindlessly oblivious they're running it on a PC (be it Windows or Linux), a Mac, an advanced cellphone, a PDA, a game console, or a new generation of Internet appliances.

... and the Internet Appliance
The Gateway Touchpad was the first foray of a major consumer hardware vendor and ISP into the nascent Internet appliance arena. 3Com's Audrey was great hardware that was ahead of it's time. The Gateway Touchpad was a more intermediate step between the familiar PC, and the Audrey-style devices we'll see become very common in five or so years. It was a solid-state Linux computer, with a Gecko based AOL client specially designed for this unit. I think Gateway and AOL had a realistic view that this was just a proof-of-concept vehicle for the genre of devices. It had little real chance of success. With companies like OEone creating complete Operating Environments out of a slim Linux distro and Gecko, the useful Internet Appliance is within reach. Today, the Touchpad could be build with a large capacity, inexpensive notebook hard disk, lots of RAM, and fairly powerful processor, and come with HomeBase, OpenOffice, and an AOL client all preinstalled, ready to run on your AOL Broadband connection, for less than the $599 the original cost.

... and the Game Console
Netscape/AOL on the PS2 has yet to materialize, and I'm not sure it will. The XBox and GameCube have really exerted some pressure on Sony. They've already ramped up PS3 design and pre-fabrications ahead of schedule to keep their edge in the marketplace. The 1.5 year head start really helped get their foot in the door, but the initial obstacles developers had to surmount wasted too much of that lead time, and now Microsoft and Nintendo are playing a very good game of catch up. In fact, MS and Nintendo are already well on the way to their follow up consoles. Microsoft's Bill Gates recently spoke with a French newspaper, Les Echos, and hints at the common aim of making the game console a home media device. Sony and Nintendo both showed their intentions of this goal back when announcing their broadband adapters (as did Sega with the ill-fated Dreamcast). But Sony was the first to show an interest in pure Internet-centered applications when they announced the use of the Netscape browser on the PS2. I wonder if maybe rather than vaporware, it's being held back for a killer-app implementation on the PS3, with AOL finally getting their beach-head in the lucrative console game market. Just as MS is the sole provider of connectivity for the XBox Live games, AOL is perfectly situated to be the infrastructure for Sony to use for an online PS3.

... and the Internet?
Some time ago, WalMart started offering a stripped down ISP service called Walmart Connect. It's based on the basic AOL client, and is in conjunction with the Compuserve subsidiary of AOL. Once proud and highly geek-centric, Compuserve is now the "value brand" of AOL service. And long ago, AOL showed that it had no clue as to what it really should do with Netscape, aside from Gecko. Why not deal a 1-2 punch to Microsoft in the form of a Netscape branded ISP, based on the same core functionality as shown in WalMart Connect and Compuserve? You get to push Netscape 7 on potentially millions of users, but on all three major platforms (Windows, Mac, and Linux). With Linux invading the consumer space via Lindows and the $200 Walmart PC, a plug-and-play AOL-style experience is just the ticket to forcing IE into a corner, while simultaneously stealing two potentially explosive markets from the MSN service. AOL has already demonstrated a brutally keen grasp on how to dominate the ISP arena, and via that, the browser space. This could be the salvation of Netscape, the "killer-app" for consumer Linux, the first real competition for Internet Explorer, and the gateway to an Internet dominated by not one, but multiple browsers. This would make standardized code ultra-important to developers, and push the web back into everyone's hands.

As Mitchell Baker said quite eloquently, "What we're seeing with Web sites that are viewable only with IE is the privatization of the Web, and that's a dangerous setting. We're moving toward a world where all the capabilities of the Internet are reprocessed through a single filter, with Microsoft's business plan behind it."

AOL and Gecko can stop that. I for one, am rooting for AOL.