Red Hat Inc. ended speculation regarding the future of Netscape
browsers being released with its popular Linux distribution when it
quietly confirmed that it will remove Netscape from its released
product in favor of another browser, most likely Mozilla.
The confirmation came from statements made today at the
NetWorld+Interop convention in Las Vegas.
The decision to drop Netscape has long been an issue at Red Hat,
according to Preston Brown, manager of Linux Operating System
Development/Engineering at Red Hat.
Primarily, Red Hat was never comfortable with distributing the
4.x versions of Netscape because they were never open source
The Mozilla browser, which is an open source application,
"certainly is in the direction we're heading," Brown said.
Citing Mozilla's rapid improvements as it moves through its
current beta cycle (Mozilla is currently at version 0.9), Brown
indicated that the open-source browser is nearly ready to replace
Netscape 4.7x, the browser currently packaged as Red Hat's primary
Netscape, however, has its own open-source browser based on the
Mozilla code: Netscape 6. Critics have complained that Netscape 6
was not a well functioning release, but Brown strongly emphasized
that this was not the reason Netscape 6 would not be distributed
with Red Hat Linux in the future.
"The simple answer is," Brown explained, "we don't have the
redistribution rights for Netscape 6."
The latest Netscape browser was released under entirely
different terms than the older Netscape 4.7 line of browsers, and
Brown said that Red Hat would have to undergo extensive
negotiations with AOL or Sun Microsystems to get the rights to
distribute Netscape 6.
Rather than jumping through these legal hoops, Red Hat has
decided to move to the freely available Mozilla browser. This was a
technological decision as well, because Mozilla has already moved
developmentally past the point of the Netscape 6 browser, which is
based on an earlier version of Mozilla.
Brown did explain that while Mozilla is the likely heir apparent
for Netscape 4.7x within Red Hat, this is not set in stone.
"We won't make the decision to drop [Netscape] 4.7 until some
other browser has the same functionality," Brown said.
Thus the current speculation that Mozilla 1.0 will be the
Netscape-killer in Red Hat is not entirely accurate, because if
Netscape 4.7's features are not fully duplicated, then the browser
will not be replaced.
Brown even raised the hypothetical solution of using the Linux
browser Konqueror as a Netscape replacement, if it managed to
duplicate Netscape's features to Red Hat's satisfaction.
One way or another, expect to see Netscape dropped from Red Hat
in future releases.