NeoPlanet next week will announce that it is taking the lead in reviving Mozilla's Open Instant Messaging and Chat project. Mozilla founder Netscape Communications, now a division of America Online, last month proposed building an open-source chat product that would operate across various messaging platforms; but Netscape rescinded that proposal days later.
NeoPlanet grabbed headlines last month when it announced it would be the first to ship a browser based on the Gecko engine. A shipping version, due this month, will beat AOL's own beta version of a Gecko-based Communicator, which is due by July.
Netscape's decision to pull the chat project met with controversy among observers and participants in the open-source development community. Some lauded the decision, noting that Mozilla had yet to produce a working, basic-featured, standards-compliant browser to compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer and felt it should not be diverting resources to develop nonessential features such as chat.
Others suggested that Netscape parent AOL may have been acting to protect its proprietary chat technologies, AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ. And while most acknowledged that Netscape, which submitted the proposal, had every right to pull it, some said chat's disappearance cast doubts on Mozilla's independence from the company that founded and funded it.
Netscape created Mozilla.org in January 1998 for the purpose of supervising the open-source development of the Communicator browsing suite. Mozilla's tumultuous first year saw multiple strategy changes that delayed its ultimate concentration on the "Gecko" browsing engine and the resignation of its founder and evangelist, Jamie Zawinski.
Mozilla's first year also saw the acquisition of Netscape by AOL. The acquisition led to some hand-wringing about the continued independence and funding of Mozilla, though AOL pledged to maintain both.
NeoPlanet chief executive Drew Cohen said his company's increased involvement with Mozilla proved that the organization was as independent and viable as ever. NeoPlanet currently has three developers working full time on Mozilla code, and with its assumption of the real-time messaging module, that dedicated workforce will ramp up to five--more than 20 percent of NeoPlanet's development team.
The failure to attract contributors beyond those paid by AOL to work on the project has been one of Mozilla's most intractable problems.
"This indicates that Mozilla is an open-source effort and not the puppet of a single company," said NeoPlanet's Cohen.
Netscape and NeoPlanet are not the only ones with interest in an open-source, cross-platform chat product. Jabber.org says it has developed such a server that is 90 percent ready, with work under way on a client. A Jabber participant in the "netscape.public.mozilla.rt-messaging" newsgroup pledged to contribute to the Mozilla messaging project.
NeoPlanet's move won plaudits from Mozilla watchers at the news and discussion site MozillaZine.
"NeoPlanet has obviously decided to take a very active role in Mozilla development, and I don't see how this can be anything but great for Mozilla," wrote one poster. "And personally I hope many other companies follow suit."