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Mozilla Officially Out of Netscape

Open source development group Mozilla.org Tuesday officially separated from its one-time browser parent Netscape Communications by moving its operations under the roof of new non-profit group The Mozilla Foundation.

The move is yet another sign that the days of America Online's Netscape Communications division, which originally launched the Mozilla project, are numbered. An AOL spokesman said Netscape has laid off about 50 members of its Netscape browser teams, but said some employees have been re-hired by the new foundation.

Since AOL's settlement of its suit against Microsoft , which officially ended the companies' IE/Netscape browser war, industry observers have said a scaled-down Netscape is a foregone conclusion. Netscape holds a tiny fraction of the market share for browsers compared to Microsoft's dominant IE browser, and AOL has the option of using Microsoft's browser and other software products as part of their legal settlement.

As part of its send-off, AOL said it pledged $2 million to The Mozilla Foundation, which is expected to expand on the efforts of mozilla.org, the group that manages the daily operations of Mozilla projects.

Mozilla said the non-profit foundation would work to promote Mozilla's Web applications, code base, and other core technologies such as the Gecko browser layout engine.

"As before, mozilla.org will coordinate and encourage the development and testing of Mozilla code," the group said in a statement. "The Mozilla Foundation will also promote the distribution and adoption of our flagship applications based on that code. AOL, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Red Hat, and other companies will continue to support Mozilla through the Foundation."

Mozilla members said spinning out core Mozilla assets was positive for the group's goals.

"Now that the Mozilla Foundation has been launched, we believe the time is ripe to move aggressively toward new distribution channels, new end-user markets, and better incorporation of developer-driven innovations from the whole Mozilla community," Mozilla members Mitchell Baker and Brendan Eich wrote in a note to newsgroups Tuesday.

"Whenever a project shifts footing or changes focus, there is tension between old and new. We are sensitive to this tension, and we do not plan any abrupt changes. Mozilla.org staff will continue to manage the project. Three members of staff will be on the Board of Directors of the Mozilla Foundation -- Mitchell Baker, Brendan Eich, and Chris Blizzard -- so the governing body of the Mozilla Foundation is congruent with long-term project leadership."

The board's role, the note continued, is to provide general oversight, and the role of mozilla.org staff, drivers, reviewers, and module owners will continue as before.

Mitch Kapor, the new Chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, also made a personal contribution to the foundation of $300,000. Linux distribution company Red Hat and Sun Microsystems also said they would continue their contributions to the Mozilla open source project.

In a statement, Kapor said Mozilla's new independent status would give it "even more freedom to innovate and provide meaningful choice to users on all computer environments. A competitive, standards-compliant browser suite is vitally important to maintaining freedom and innovation on the Internet, so I'm delighted to make a contribution," he said.

Kapor, who designed the spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3, also chairs the Open Source Applications Foundation.

An AOL spokesman said the company continues to support the Netscape browser.

However, it remains unclear whether any new product releases from Netscape are planned. Clarifies reference to Lotus 1-2-3 in third from last paragraph