Mozilla upstart looks up to Safari

A new development project based on Mozilla models itself on Safari, aiming to produce a smaller, simpler GNOME browser.

A small band of software developers tired of code and feature bloat are building yet another browser based on Mozilla.

A new development project called Epiphany has splintered from the Galeon effort, which also was formed to create a simplified Mozilla-based browser for GNOME.

While small size and simplicity were two of Galeon's early goals--just as they were initial goals of Mozilla--the breakaway Epiphany project accuses its predecessor of falling into the downward spiral of unnecessary complexity.

"Galeon was an answer to Mozilla, but then Galeon started to go in the same bad direction Mozilla is going," said Marco Pesenti Gritti, the former maintainer of Galeon and current project owner for Epiphany on the MozDev site for Mozilla-based projects. "Most Unix software is targeted to hackers, but I don't target them at all. I don't think you need something complex as a browser. My experience is that people use a very, very low part of the features that current browsers have.

Mozilla is the open-source browser development project funded by Netscape Communications, a unit of AOL Time Warner. Representatives of the company declined to comment. GNOME is an open-source user interface for use with Linux and other Unix systems.

High on Gritti's list of complaints is Mozilla's lengthening list of preferences--a common complaint in free-software circles.

One analyst said Epiphany's reason for existence was unlikely to win it many converts beyond those already disenchanted with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the Netscape-branded version of Mozilla or the Norwegian browser Opera--which comes in both advertising-supported and paid versions.

"If you don't like IE because you have religious issues with Microsoft, you think Netscape/Mozilla is too bloated and you object to paying for Opera, this might be for you," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research. "But that's a pretty small marketplace."

Epiphany won't exactly be reinventing the wheel. The project is based on work already done at Mozilla and Galeon, and developers plans to use GNOME components to construct its user interface.

Last month saw a significant advance for a small, simple, open-source Unix browser when Apple Computer bypassed Mozilla for its Safari browser and instead chose the obscure KHTML project--a part of GNOME competitor the K Desktop Environment (KDE) for Linux and Unix systems.

Gritti considers Safari and Phoenix--a multiplatform Mozilla project also with the goal of simplifying Mozilla--as models of what Epiphany could become.

"You can think of Epiphany like the Safari of GNOME, but based on Gecko," he said. "Phoenix and Safari, showed that actually people like simplicity."

Gritti, a 25-year-old philosophy and literature student at Milan University, said his specialization in the humanities, rather than computer sciences, influenced his view of software design.

"While a hacker starts looking at an interface from the technical point of view and builds an interface that matches his 'mathematical' model, someone interested in humanities will start from what he thinks people need and try to give them a very natural solution to their problems," Gritti said. "Interfaces should target normal humans."

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