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Open-source Mozilla browser headed to market

After a bumpy first year, Mozilla.org finally will see a product based on its work come to market--and it's not America Online's.

After a bumpy first year, Mozilla.org finally will see a product based on its work come to market--and it's not America Online's.

Customizable browser maker NeoPlanet tomorrow will demonstrate consumer-focused software built around Mozilla's "Gecko" rendering engine.

While only a technology preview, it will be downloadable from the NeoPlanet Web site. And the shipping version, due in May, will beat AOL's own version of Communicator, which is due in beta by July and in a final version by year's end.

Mozilla.org is the group shepherding the open-source development of the Communicator browser code. Founded by Netscape Communications in January of last year and now funded by Netscape's and Communicator's acquirer AOL, Mozilla has been stymied by its inability to turn around a usable browser in more than a year of working on the released code.

Part of Mozilla's troubles have had to do with a lack of outside developer contributions. Contrary to the group's hopes, the lion's share of the Mozilla work is still done by Netscape/AOL engineers.

But NeoPlanet's move should help both on the shipping product and developer contribution scores. Not only will NeoPlanet release a product based on Mozilla's code, but it will assign four full-time employees to work on the open source project.

Under the Mozilla Public License, any firm can use what Mozilla develops in its own products. NeoPlanet plans to use the Gecko browser engine, released in a developer preview last year, but only as an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser engine, which it uses now.

NeoPlanet's users, which recently topped 1 million in number, will be able to switch back and forth between the two engines.

NeoPlanet characterizes its product as a "browser/portal." The browser carries its own client-side directory of 1,000 popular Web sites and lets users customize the user interface and other options.

Coincidentally, Mozilla also is working on a technology that will let users customize their browsers' interfaces, Extensible User Interface Language, or XUL (pronounced "zool"). NeoPlanet said it would examine XUL as it develops to determine whether it's worth implementing in the NeoPlanet product.

NeoPlanet is not the first third-party developer to implement Mozilla's work, though it is the first consumer browser maker to do so. Another Mozilla user is Citec's DocZilla browser, which supports not only HTML and XML but XML's parent markup language, Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).

Another third party utilizing the Mozilla engine is set-top box maker TeleCruz Technology.