The Mozilla Browser, originally an offshoot from AOL’s Netscape and the spark that helped to coin the term “open source,” will no longer benefit from new releases from its Mozilla Foundation masters.
The movement has since given birth to a new group that may take over future releases of the suite.
In an open posting on Mozilla.org, the Mozilla Foundation said it had begun a transition plan in 2003 to focus development on the next generation browser, which was to become FireFox.
The FireFox next generation browser effort was begun to remove the “bloat” from the Mozilla Suite code that includes an integrated mail client and HTML editor. FireFox is derived from the same code base as the Mozilla Suite, and utilizes the same “Gecko” rendering engine.
The Mozilla Browser’s current trunk is done under the code name of
“Seamonkey” which is now at version 1.7.5. The Mozilla Foundation plans on releasing version 1.7.6 in the next few weeks, which will be the last official release for the application.
At that time of the original announced transition, the Mozilla Foundation stated its intention to continue the development and maintenance of the 1.7.x series, noting that a number of customers and commercial distributor utilize the application. A beta release cycle for the 1.8.x series began late last year as well, which led many to believe that Mozilla Suite development would continue.
“The ongoing alpha and beta releases of Seamonkey 1.8 have suggested that the Mozilla Foundation itself will be creating a 1.8 final release. This is not our plan,” the Mozilla.org posting said. “The 1.8 releases have been for testing our backend. We intend that the 1.7.x line of releases will be the last long-lived, maintained versions released by the Mozilla Foundation.
There is no doubt that the series of 1.8 alpha and beta releases have caused some confusion about whether there would be a 1.8 product released by the Mozilla Foundation.”
The letter also sought to address developers’ time on the 1.8 series. “This has been a major error on our part. These contributors have reason to be unhappy with us,” Mozilla.org said. “We can only apologize, at the same time recognizing that apologies only go so far and can’t fix the error.”
The success of Mozilla’s next generation browser, FireFox and the necessary demands on infrastructure and resources, are seen as among the causes driving the decision not to release any new versions of the Mozilla suite. (Although Mozilla Foundation President Mitchell Baker did not provide any explicit rationale for the decision in a blog posting.)
However, a group of at least 10 developers, led by Boris Zbarsky, posted an open letter to the Foundation right before the official announcement about the end of Mozilla Suite.
“We, the undersigned, are somewhat concerned about the current uncertainty regarding the future of SeaMonkey,” the letter states.
The letter goes on to express the group’s desire to get community control of
the project and continue releases of the Mozilla Suite on the existing
numbering scheme, albeit without any of Mozilla trademarks. The goal was to avoid any confusion over whether the group’s plan was sponsored or officially sanctioned by the Mozilla Foundation.
“If the Foundation is willing to grant us the right to use the SeaMonkey
trademark for this purpose, we propose to call these releases ‘SeaMonkey
Suite’ and keep the current version numbering,” the group’s letter states.
“We feel that combining this with a clear statement that these builds are not endorsed by the Mozilla Foundation should sufficiently allay the Foundation’s concern (B), while allowing the Mozilla Foundation to have a future Mozilla Suite release if desired, using the then-current Gecko version number.”
Mozilla Foundation President Mitchell Baker wrote that the move by the community developers shows the strength of the open source model.
“There is a user and developer base that remains interested in Seamonkey. In a traditional proprietary world those users and developers would be out of luck, stuck forever using the last version received from the vendor or forced into an unwanted upgrade,” Baker wrote. “In the open source world
this need not be the case, and Seamonkey is an example of this.”