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Mozilla's New Web Browser, New Name

The Mozilla Foundation, an open source organization that spun off from Netscape last year, released the latest preview version of its alternative Web browser Monday. It was developed concurrently with the Mozilla software suite popular with many businesses today.

This time, the standalone Web browser is called Firefox 0.8. It's the second time in a year that the Mozilla Foundation has changed the name of its Web browser. Last April, citing undisclosed legal reasons, organization officials changed the browser name from Phoenix to Firebird.

"Hopefully this will be the end of naming legal issues for a while," said one official at the time. But "a while" while lasted just nine months. Enthusiasts pointed out the Firebird name was already in use by an open source project as the moniker for a relational database.

Rather than getting into a legal battle with the other name-holder, Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Foundation president, told internetnews.com it was better to just change the name.

"We had done some due diligence, and we felt we were on pretty strong legal ground, but we also felt that we would prefer an environment where we could talk about Firefox," Baker said. "Although it's painful to change the name, we felt that we should bear that pain, separate the two projects and move forward with Firefox."

Now that (hopefully) name changes are part of its history, officials were pleased to highlight the features of Firefox 0.8. Though released as only a preview beta, the application is a working Web browser; the Mozilla Foundation plans to unwrap a final end-user version 1.0 sometime this summer.

Firefox 0.8 comes with a new download manager, bookmark handling and improved search functionality from its toolbar. New to this release is a Windows installer, to make it easier for people to make the switch away from Web browser giant Internet Explorer (IE).

IE became the undisputed king of the Web browsers after fighting and winning an acrimonious browser war with Netscape in the late 1990s. Lately it has begun to lose some ground in market share.

According to W3Schools, a Web developer site, from February 2003 to February 2004, IE browser usage has dropped from 87.6 to 83.6 percent of total users. In the same time, Mozilla use has more than doubled, from 4.1 to 9 percent.

Though small, the numbers indicate the erosion of IE's popularity along the edges. Given the recent slew of IE bugs and slow surfing speeds, people have been looking for a safer, faster Web surfing experience.

Another alternative Web browser, the Oslo, Norway-based Opera, plans to announce an initial public offering (IPO) on that country's stock exchange. The company reported revenues of $4.2 million last year.

When asked about the Opera IPO announcement, Baker said, "That's going to be great to watch."

The Mozilla Foundation has enterprising plans of its own. Already in the past six months, it's revived the popular software suite that incorporates the standalone Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail client with a Web page editor and chat function to form Mozilla 1.6. The suite has been downloaded more than one million times since its release nearly three weeks ago. Officials also announced a new upgrade to the e-mail application, Mozilla Thunderbird.

Baker said Mozilla plans to develop its two standalone apps and the Mozilla suite concurrently, at least for the near future. He said much of the innovation would focus on the Firefox and Thunderbird applications.

Baker said, "We intend to maintain the 1.6 product suite so that it maintains its usefulness; we'll wait for consumers to tell us [if it isn't]. We don't plan on giving that up."