Netscape Communications today announced a new layout engine for
Communicator, dubbed "Gecko," intended in part to bring Web browsing to
alternative computing devices.
As previously reported by CNET News.com, Netscape unveiled the
engine for Communicator 5.0 today at the Builder.com trade show in New
Orleans. Netscape also made the engine available to developers worldwide
from its DevEdge Online site,
with a final version of the engine slated for delivery during the first half of the coming year.
First announced in April, Gecko
promises to speed up and slim down Navigator, Communicator's browsing
component. The new engine is smaller and "several times faster" than its
predecessor, according to Netscape and analysts familiar with the release.
The engine's small size may help Netscape and its proposed buyer, America Online, bring AOL's online service
to a new generation of computing devices that are smaller and more portable
than a personal computer. AOL's initiative, dubbed "AOL Anywhere," will
rely in large part on Sun Microsystems'
platform-independent Java programming language, and will bypass Microsoft's dominant Windows operating system.
Although AOL announced its
intention to stick with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser
for its proprietary online service--for the time being--Gecko
ultimately may have a role to play not only in AOL Anywhere, but in
that standard software as well.
The "browsing engine is smaller than 1.4 megabytes, bringing the promise of
the Internet to a variety of smaller consumer devices that previously did
not have the capacity to run a full-featured browser," Netscape said today
in a statement announcing the engine. "Gecko is designed to power numerous
consumer devices, including handheld phones, PDAs, fax machines, and TV
More coverage on CNET Radio
A crucial aspect of Gecko for use in both those devices and in the AOL
proprietary service software is that it is made up of components that can be separated. For example, even at 1.4 MB, the software is too bulky for use in a cellular phone, but a cellular phone maker could carve out only the necessary libraries from the engine, making it smaller still.
AOL already plans to use Gecko in its ICQ
Uncompressed, Gecko is closer to 5 MB. But that is still considerably
smaller than previous Communicator engines, which were between 8 MB and 10 MB compressed, according to Netscape. Users download the software at the
Analysts praised the engine for its size and speed, but pointed out that the software is still in its beta phase and, as a result, has its share of bugs.
"AOL will switch over to Navigator from IE as soon as humanly possible, but
looking at Gecko I suspect it will be at least another year," said Jupiter Communications analyst David Card.
Following the April announcement of the engine, Netscape dismayed developers by pushing back the release of the
engine beyond the expected release of Communicator 5.0. A groundswell of
protest from developers working on Netscape's open source initiative, along
with an advocacy group called the Web Standards Project, largely were
credited with Netscape's decision to move the release back up to
The full Communicator 5.0 beta, however, is no longer expected by year-end
1998, Netscape acknowledged today. Instead, it is slated for release during the spring of the coming year.
A layout engine, also known as a "renderer," performs the core work of Web
browsing, defining how graphics, text, and other Web page elements are laid
out in a window. Standards support is a key responsibility of the layout
engine, and today's release brings Communicator up to code with HTML
Style Sheets 1 (full support), CSS 2 (partial support), the
Document Object Model (DOM),
Extensible Markup Language
1.0, the Resource Description Framework (RDF), the Open
Java Interface, and image formats .png, .gif, .jpeg, .pjpeg, .art, and
The new engine is
the first product release from Mozilla.org, a Netscape-supported group
shepherding the open source development of the Communicator code. Because
it is the product of an open source effort, any software developer will be
able to use the engine as an embeddable component once it is released.
Card praised mozilla.org's work.
"Bugs aside, it's a nice demonstration of the technology, and a strong sign
that the open source model works really well," Card said.
Netscape scuttled Gecko's original name, "Raptor," following complaints from Raptor Systems. The engine's interim name
was "NG Layout," standing for "next generation."
(Builder.com is a property of News.com publisher CNET: The Computer Network.)