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AOL, Mozilla lose key evangelist

Longtime Netscape client engineer and Mozilla.org pioneer Jamie Zawinski resigns just as Mozilla.org celebrates its first anniversary.

As Mozilla.org celebrates its first anniversary at an elaborate celebration tonight, it will do so under the pall of losing one of its most influential founding members.

Longtime Netscape client engineer and Mozilla.org pioneer and evangelist Jamie Zawinski handed in his resignation today, CNET News.com has learned. The surprise move comes as a blow to Netscape's new owner, America Online, which has so far warded off any high-profile defections from the vital engineering and development divisions of Netscape, which AOL acquired last month.

Zawinski was Source code for the masses not immediately available to comment on his resignation, but he is expected to post something on the matter tonight to his personal Web site.

AOL confirmed Zawinksi's resignation.

"We're very sorry to see him go," said Chris Saito, director of client product marketing for AOL's Netscape division. "Jamie has made some great contributions to Mozilla.org and helped us get where we are today.

"But I want to highlight that Mozilla.org will continue," Saito said. "Mozilla is bigger than any one person or any one company. It's comprised of hundreds of developers on the Web, and some at Netscape. We hope that Jamie continues to contribute to Mozilla.org."

Mozilla.org is the organization set up by Netscape in January 1998 to shepherd the open source development of the Communicator browser code. Netscape decided to publish the source code to its browser and give the product away free of charge after Microsoft made rapid and significant inroads into its once-monolithic market share.

Zawinski has done more than contribute code to Netscape's open source effort. He was the original Mozilla.org evangelist, and spent much of his time between the group's January 1998 formation and the April 1 source code release explaining the open source model to Netscape management and staff.

In an open source development model, the source code to a piece of software is made publicly available. Developers volunteer their labor and anyone can use the resulting product under the terms of a public license.

Zawinski also initially rallied the dubious Mozilla.org troupes when the acquisition by AOL was first announced. Ironically, he then sounded the same theme that Saito and others are sounding now about his departure: that the Mozilla public license ensures that the open source project will outlast any one person or firm.

AOL declined to comment on whether Zawinski had cited the AOL acquisition--which involves a close alliance with Sun Microsystems--in his reasons for resigning.

Zawinski has not refrained from publicly criticizing his employer in the past.

Zawinski's departure aside, Mozillans gathering for tonight's party in San Francisco's nightclub-studded South of Market district will have much to celebrate. They also have their work cut out for them once the last of the champagne is metabolized.

Mozilla on its first birthday has yet to provide its parent Netscape with a final release product, and rival Microsoft is way ahead on standards support and componentization with its newly released Internet Explorer browser, version 5.0.

But Mozilla has made important strides in recent weeks toward its goal of helping AOL deliver a Netscape-branded public beta of Communicator Version 5.0 by July and shipping a product by year's end. The most significant of these steps forward was Mozilla's release last month of the M3 build.

This milestone build is the first to bring together the core Gecko browsing engine, released last year in a developer preview; the browser user interface (UI); and the new Extensible User Interface Language (XUL, pronounced "zool") that lets developers customize the UI in a cross-platform language based on XML.

"The M3 version is where you can really start to see the open source effort start to pay off," said AOL's Saito.

Saito also pointed to the nascent but growing trend of other companies' implementing Gecko into their products. Citec's DocZilla browser, which supports not only HTML and XML but XML's parent markup language Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), is one example.

Another sign of Mozilla's growth is the online news and discussion site, not affiliated with AOL, called MozillaZine.

One key to Mozilla's ongoing success is ramping up the pace of developer involvement. That will happen, Saito predicts, when AOL finally ships the Netscape-branded, Mozilla-built product.

"We've gotten really good contributions already," Saito said, citing XML inventor James Clark's XML parser, and a trove of 60 bug patches submitted by a single developer. "Interest is really building. But the most important thing that Netscape and Mozilla have to do is get the product out there. When people see it, that's when you'll really see the increase in development effort."