HP finds a thrilla in Mozilla

Hewlett-Packard will sidestep a Netscape-branded browser for its open-source original, a move the company calls a vote of confidence for the open-source model.

After years of providing the Netscape-branded browser with its Unix operating system, Hewlett-Packard is sidestepping that product for its open-source original, Mozilla.

HP will continue to bundle the Netscape browser with HP-UX, the company's version of Unix. But starting with the next version of the operating system, which is due in June, HP will also include Mozilla. The company calls its decision a vote of confidence for the open-source model.

Mozilla.org is the open-source development group that Netscape Communications, prior to its acquisition by America Online, established to develop its browser. The group, which released its code five years ago Monday, operates with both AOL-paid and volunteer developers.

Mozilla.org produces its own builds, which Netscape and others use to create their own branded versions in exchange for contributing their work on the code back to the project.

The move to Mozilla won't be without cost for HP.

"Because we're committed to open source and open standards, what we're going to do is bundle Mozilla and take responsibility for providing support and patches," said Mike Wardley, worldwide marketing manager for HP-UX. "That's a big strategic shift for us. Before, if there were problems, we would go to Netscape. With open source, it's more tricky to do."

The payoff, Wardley said, would be that HP-UX customers who opt to use Mozilla would be getting HP-quality support and timeliness, rather than what Netscape provides.

"We're pulling it in house, using our quality processes and not Netscape's," Wardley said. "If it breaks, we fix it. For enterprise customers, that's a big deal, because they can sleep comfortably at night knowing that we are taking responsibility."

Mozilla.org called HP's decision a sign of the open-source project's maturation, and a fulfillment of the project's aim to let various groups tailor the software to their own purposes.

"Once we delivered version 1.0 and followed that up with a series of stable releases, it showed that Mozilla was a real project delivering high-quality software," said Mitchell Baker, who heads up Mozilla.org and whose title is "chief lizard wrangler." "The goal of Mozilla is that people cooperate on the core, and optimize it for their own customers, which of course includes support. This shows that the goal that we've been striving for makes sense."

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