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Netscape to Release Source

Thursday, January 22, 1998 by Dave Winer.

Netscape did something remarkable today.

In all my years in the software business, never has a single move by a single vendor done more to upset my assumptions about how things would move forward.

I didn't think it could happen, but we've actually been thinking about this possibility for about a week. First, a popular developer site, slashdot.org, called for Netscape to release the source code for Navigator. Then I was cc'd on an email from Tim Lundeen, tlundeen@lundeen.com, to Marc Andreessen, marca@netscape.com, suggesting that Netscape release the source code for Navigator. To me it was amazing when Andreessen replied saying that they were considering the idea.

Then this morning, along with news that Microsoft and the Department of Justice had settled the bundling issue, comes an announcement from Netscape that they will release the source code for Navigator with the 5.0 release, expected later this year.

I have a lot of comments and ideas and questions stemming from this announcement. I'm sure there will be more to say as the idea sinks in, but here's what's on the top of my mind right now.

The first thing I wonder is should I will do development in the new system? I had pretty much given up on getting features I want in web browser software. So much so, that I was looking to the next generation of content, XML, to provide the opportunity to play with smart sandboxes with scripted firewalls and stronger connections to content management software, all of which would require new features in the browser.

There are also tags that would open up new power, things that would be easy to implement, but that we haven't been able to convince either Netscape or Microsoft to implement. In the new scheme, we won't need their permission. We can start a new browser using their source code, try the ideas out and then lobby them to include it in their next distribution. If they say no, and the ideas are compelling enough, we can release the software on our own.

It also may mean a lot for the education of engineers. Think of it as an investment in the next generation of software developers. I learned a lot in the 70s reading the source code of the Unix OS. I'm sure programmers still do that. Adding a complex multi-threaded graphic program like Navigator to the mix will be very interesting from this standpoint!

Will Microsoft match Netscape and release the source code for Explorer? What a trip that would be!

Will venture capitalists invest in teams of browser developers? That would be interesting. And surprising! It could happen.

Will Sun follow suit and drop the source for Java?

Could we move beyond the page metaphor? Could entire new structures be built on HTML-based content? How about implementing Microsoft's version of Dynamic HTML in Netscape's browser? With the source code available this wouldn't have to wait for Netscape to do it.

Further, this is a case of a company not buckling under the threat of Microsoft's competition. Unlike Novell and Apple who failed to zig to Microsoft's zag, Netscape is doing something different. Bravo! I've said it before, Netscape had options, they didn't have to drive into the Microsoft brick wall at full speed. This new twist shows that if you think creatively, you can find other options. I never would have been so bold as to ask them to release their source code. Now that they've done it, I'm very thankful. It's a high road move. Good deal.

It's also good for the Internet. It's a vote of faith in capaphony and the creativity of the random programmer "out there". It totally levels the playing field, gives everyone a chance at breaking out of the browser wars.

On the whole a nice way to shake the earth.

Thanks Netscape!

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