The license is not a final version, but it gives developers eager to start tinkering with the free Communicator code a strong idea of the terms and conditions under which they will be able to download, modify, and reuse Communicator in their own applications.
Netscape created Mozilla.org as the main resource for developers interested in participating in the Communicator development effort.
The "Netscape Public License" (NPL) borrows ideas from established "free software" distribution licenses, but doesn't conform to one model in particular. Netscape compares the NPL to other free software licenses in a FAQ on the Mozilla.org site.
The basic terms stipulate that any additions or deletions to the source code are subject to the terms of the NPL. For example, if Bob the Developer adds his own multimedia widget to the source code and creates "Bob's Browser," the source code for Bob's Browser, including the widget, becomes publicly available. That doesn't stop Bob from selling his browser, however.
If Bob doesn't want to divulge the code for his widget, he must create a separate file for it and have the Communicator code make a "call" to that file. But the API (application programming interface)--the instructions that show others how to create that call to the widget file--must be published under the NPL terms.
One free software advocate who plans to use the Communicator code said the draft conditions are workable but don't give commercial developers much incentive to give back to the community.
"It's likely among commercial operations that they'll take the code, use it for their own applications, and say 'thank you very much,'" said Dan Nachbar, executive director of the Public Software Institute. Nachbar is coordinating an effort to write an entire desktop application suite and make the code free.
Netscape stunned the development community in January when it promised to make the Communicator source code--the underlying secret recipe for its flagship software--available free of charge. The move is meant to encourage third-party development of Netscape-based browsers, as well as to offload much of the development expenses to outsiders. (See related feature)
When the source code is released on March 31, Netscape will oversee a community-based development process that gathers changes, bug fixes, and other suggestions and rolls them back into the mother code maintained by Netscape engineers.
Based on those suggestions and changes, Netscape says it will continue to release Netscape-branded browsers on a regular basis.
Participants in the Communicator development process are not mandated to return their changes to Mozilla.org, but Netscape will encourage developers to do so, said senior product manager Eric Byunn.
Netscape will accept feedback for about a week, then it will decide if the draft needs revision, Byunn said. The final license will be released at the end of March in conjunction with the source code.