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Mozilla develops chat/messaging software

The organization launches an instant messaging and chat project with the stated goal of supporting a wide variety of chat protocols.

Mozilla.org wants to bring a lingua franca to the world of Internet chat.

Mozilla today launched an instant messaging and chat project with the stated goal of supporting a wide variety of chat protocols, including the venerable Internet Relay Chat.

The move underlines the phenomenal interest shown by Netizens in using instant messaging software--but also raises questions about Mozilla's status as an "open source" developer.

Mozilla, sponsored by America Online's Netscape Communications division, is charged to develop the Communicator browser code. America Online, in turn, owns the two most widely used instant messaging clients on the Web--AOL Instant Messenger and the 30 million subscriber-strong ICQ, which AOL acquired with its purchase of ICQ parent company Mirabilis in June 1998. So it's not immediately clear why the company would risk undermining such a valuable franchise.

Mozilla will base its support on its Instant Messaging application programming interface (API).

"We would like to make Mozilla be able to do chatting and 'instant messaging,'" wrote Mozilla developers on a page describing the API.

"However, we don't want to limit ourselves to a single server, or a single protocol. People today are chatting using a variety of different protocols and servers. We would like Mozilla to be able to usefully talk to all of these protocols, and hide most of the differences from the user."

Chat, in which a number of users communicate in real time, and instant messaging, in which typically two users contact each other directly in real time, have emerged as basic communications tools on the Web.

The technology has long since caught the attention of major Internet interests. Disney recently threw its hat into the instant messaging ring, while Microsoft is scrambling to catch up.

"We recognize that there's a lot of interest in the instant messaging space," said AOL spokesperson Catherine Corre, referring to the Mozilla project. "This is a recognition of the interest in that area."