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Netscape browser Rhapsodized

A developer group is looking to produce a version of Communicator for Apple's next-generation operating system.

A developer group is looking to put Netscape Communications' (NSCP) free source code policy to the test, with the aim of producing a version of Communicator for Apple Computer's next-generation Rhapsody operating system.

Netscape pledged last month to make the source code--the underlying recipe--for its Communicator software freely available. The strategy is meant to encourage the Net development community to create new applications with the free code and spread Netscape's base technology, ultimately boosting its browser market share. (Communicator includes the Navigator browser and email, newsreader, and conferencing software.)

The source code isn't yet available, but a group has already formed to bring Communicator to Rhapsody, Apple's upcoming "modern" OS with a Unix core. The project lead is a Netscape engineer, but the project itself is not under the company's auspices. This decentralization is a harbinger of things to come as Netscape moves to outsource much of its development to the Net community.

"He's in there coordinating the efforts of other folks," said Julie Herendeen, Netscape's director of client marketing. "We are a resource for the people who want to do things with free source code, but we're not always going to be the chief champion or chief coordinator."

The engineer, Chris McAfee, was not appointed to the project by Netscape, noted Herendeen.

"I care about the port, and my role is really to get the ball rolling," said McAfee. He added that "a few" other Netscape engineers are working on the Rhapsody project.

When asked if Netscape employees will be able to join such projects beyond the company's walls, Herendeen replied that the specifics have not yet been worked out. However, it is to Netscape's benefit to have employees "working on efforts outside the company," she said.

According to the project's Web page, the team will consist of Netscape engineers and volunteers. Some of the skills needed to join include Objective C programming; experience with either NextStep or OpenStep, the precursor to Rhapsody; and access to the developer release of Rhapsody. More details about the project are available at the site.

Before the project gets started, Netscape must figure out how it wants to license its source code. Once it decides on a licensing scheme, it will release the source code on its DevEdge Web site. The aim is to release code, documentation, and license information by March 31.

Netscape announced over a year ago it would make Communicator available for Rhapsody, but that was before the source code strategy and before Steve Jobs and Microsoft CEO Bill Gates agreed to make Internet Explorer the default browser on all Macintosh systems.

At last month's Macworld conference, many software makers showed off their Rhapsody products. The addition of the high-profile Communicator will certainly give the OS a boost in its attempt to compete in the workstation market, where Windows NT is pushing hard against the traditional Unix flavors from Silicon Graphics, Hewlett-Packard, and others.