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Communicator to include ngLayout

In a move welcomed by the developer community, Netscape confirms that it will include the ngLayout engine in the 5.0 version of its Web-browsing software.

In a move welcomed by the developer community, Netscape Communications confirmed that it will include the ngLayout engine in the 5.0 version of its Communicator Web-browsing software.

First announced in April under the code-name Raptor, ngLayout improves on Communicator's current engine in being "incredibly small and incredibly fast," said Micki Seibel, product manager for Communicator.

A layout engine does the heavy lifting of Web browsing. As its name suggests, the engine defines how the browser lays out graphics, text, and other elements on a Web page.

"The layout engine interprets HTML and XML content and renders it," Seibel said. "It's the heart of the browser."

The layout engine, also known as a renderer, is the locus of standards support in a browser. In this respect, ngLayout will bring Communicator up to code in crucial areas. New standards that the new engine supports include HTML 4.0, CSS 1 and CSS 2 (partial support for CSS 2), the DOM, XML 1.0, the OJI (Open Java Interface), and the image formats .png, .gif, .jpeg, .pjpeg, .art, and .xbm.

A recently formed standards advocacy group today called Netscape's announcment a major victory for its cause. In a press release, the Web Standards Project credited Netscape's decision to include the engine in part to a month-long petition drive, dubbed "I Want My NGLayout!"

But support for the renderer was widespread, according to the WSP.

Netscape "watched thousands of Web developers and users signing our petition," the WSP's Jeffrey Zeldman said in a statement. "They turned to the trade press and heard the Web's most respected columnists telling them...how important this was. They called their friends in the business and heard it from them. Hearing it from all sides, they realized that the hard-working folks actually building their browser had been telling them the truth: NGLayout was needed now.... This is a great thing for the Web."

Neither Netscape's Navigator--the browsing component of the Communicator suite--nor Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser fully support the various standards, according to the WSP. As a result, developers are forced to create sites tailored to each browser, adding at least 25 percent to building costs, the WSP estimates.

ngLayout was created through a community-development effort shepherded by Netscape's mozilla.org open source initiative. Because it is open source, any software developer will be free to use the engine in its own browser or other application.

Netscape's loss of proprietary control over the software notwithstanding, the open source initiative brings the company and its engine considerable benefits, according to Seibel.

"We have had people in the open source community who wrote the standards working on that engine," Seibel said. "That's great for us, because we think we'll have superior standards support."

Netscape until recently has pursued parallel development of Communicator 5.0 under mozilla, and, last week, Communicator 4.5, released by in-house developers. A beta version of 5.0 is on track for the end of the year, Seibel said.

ngLayout still is under development, and mozilla.org is soliciting developer contributions for it.