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Mozilla yanks chat proposal

At the request of Netscape, Mozilla.org freezes its effort to develop chat and messaging software only a few days after launching the project.

At the request of Netscape, Mozilla.org has frozen its effort to develop chat and messaging software only a few days after launching the project.

Mozilla this week launched the project with the promise of developing support for a wide variety of chat protocols in the Communicator browser, which Mozilla is charged with developing in an open-source model.

In open-source development, a group such as Mozilla manages coding contributions from volunteer developers. Mozilla, created by Netscape and now funded by Netscape acquirer America Online, has received the vast majority of its contributions from Netscape developers, however.

In this case, Netscape exercised its right as a contributor to Mozilla to pull its own project proposal.

"Netscape, the contributor of the Instant Messaging API document, has requested that Mozilla.org remove this page pending further review by Netscape," reads the "Instant Messaging and Chat in Mozilla" page as well as the page on the Instant Messaging API specification. "We at Mozilla.org regret this inconvenience, but respect the wishes of our contributors. Netscape solicits feedback on this decision."

Netizens, however, quickly moved to subvert Netscape's retraction by posting the API to news and discussion sites Slashdot and MozillaZine.

Netscape said the brief appearance of the proposal was nothing out of the ordinary, and that it had been posted merely to float the messaging/chat idea. Noting that no source code had been committed, Netscape denied that feedback received in the past few days had anything to do with the project's being frozen.

But feedback on the project may have been sour, judging from the response to the project by some of Mozilla's avid followers.

"Mozilla can't finish the browser, and suddenly they're working on this other stuff?" said Glenn Davis, chief technology officer of Project Cool and founder of standards advocacy organization The Web Standards Project. "The Web and standards depend on this browser being finished. Microsoft has basically said with IE 5 that it's not going to support standards 100 percent. If Mozilla doesn't produce a browser, we're screwed."

Participants in those discussions were split on Netscape's decision to pull the project. Some complained that AOL and Netscape were exercising excessive influence in the open source project, while others voiced complaints similar to those of the Web Standards Project, saying that Mozilla needed to concentrate on putting out the basic browser before it diverts resources to extras like chat and instant messaging.

Mozilla has been stymied by strategic blunders; for example, it pursued a variety of parallel development tracks. Now that it has focused on one effort, it has produced two developer previews of its browser engine "Gecko" but no full-featured working browser.

Frustration at the group's slow pace led to the resignation of Mozilla's key evangelist and founding member, Jamie Zawinski, on the company's first anniversary.

AOL is far and away the leader in the instant messaging space, with a widely used AOL Instant Messenger product of its own and ICQ, which it acquired last year. For that very reason, AOL may be skittish about creating a cross-platform and cross-protocol instant messaging client that would support the also-popular Internet Relay Chat software.

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 Internet. 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.