Netscape releases Communicator 5.0 source code

XML 1.0 to be supported

By Nancy Weil and Jeff Walsh

April  1998
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Boston (April 1, 1998) -- As expected, Netscape Communications Corp. has begun to give away the source code for its Communicator software.

The source code is available for Macintosh, Windows, and Unix platforms, and it will have support for XML 1.0 according to Netscape engineer Ramanathan Guha.

At a press conference yesterday, Netscape executives, including president and chief executive officer Jim Barksdale, heralded the source code release as an Internet milestone.

"It will change the way people develop, distribute, use, and promote software products" on the Internet, Barksdale said. "We believe it is going to change the way people use these software products for years to come."

Perhaps more significantly from Netscape's point of view, providing the source code for free will help in "stanching the erosion of market share" the company has experienced, Barksdale said.

Microsoft has made steady gains in the browser market with its Internet Explorer 4.0. Netscape, which once held undisputed browser dominance has been the subject of takeover rumors in recent months, and posted a fourth-quarter loss of $20.8 million.

After posting this loss last January, the company announced that it was giving away Navigator and Communicator software and that it would release the source code for Communicator 5.0.

As a condition for downloading the source code, developers must agree to share modifications and additions with others. The code and licensing agreements can be found at, a site created by Netscape employees. The Mozilla site with its Godzilla-like mascot, carries the slogan "Free the monster," and includes details about the source code as well as allowing developers to post messages and share information.

Bob Lisbonne, Netscape senior vice president for client products, said at yesterday's press conference that he does not believe that giving away the source code will unleash uncontrollable development of conflicting browser applications. Developers know that the beauty of the Internet is its interoperability, he said.

He predicted that consumers will benefit as developers create specialized browsers, for example a browser geared toward youngsters. He also forecast broader platform support for Netscape's browser and localized versions on a variety of languages.


XML: "Expect something much better in a couple of months"
Speaking at last week's XML: The Conference in Seattle, WA, Netscape engineer Ramanathan Guha claimed that Communicator's XML implementation is totally standards-based with "no hacks."

Guha said Netscape has included the building blocks for XML in the initial release, but that it would be up to the XML development community to continue the integration.

"You folks will be the ones to decide how XML will be used in Navigator," Guha told the audience.

The criteria for developers adding XML capabilities to Navigator are that it add user value, be cross-platform, and be reasonable, Guha said.

With XML capabilities in Communicator being upheld by the XML developers, Microsoft will be held to that same standard in Internet Explorer, which is has already pledged to uphold. This situation should ensure there are no cross-browser issues such as those that plagued rapid deployment of Dynamic HTML.

Guha said Netscape envisions XML being used for transmitting data on the Web, but said "the most important use for XML today is for documents."

Netscape's current plan uses Cascading Style Sheets to convert XML data into HTML display. He said the Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) isn't ready yet, but that the architecture Netscape built into the XML component will enable XSL to easily be integrated.

Guha said XML support from this point on is in the hands of the development community. "The developer community for XML has the ownership rights and Netscape is completely behind you," Guha said. "Expect something much better in a couple months, and I'm looking at you guys to do it. We can make this happen really fast."

Communicator 5.0 software should be available by the end of this year, Netscape officials said.

--Nancy Weil is a correspondent for the IDG news service. Jeff Walsh writes for InfoWorld, a SunWorld affiliate.


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