Internet Outlook with Richard Wiggins | 79 | WebReference

Internet Outlook with Richard Wiggins | 79

EXTRA!!! January 28, 1998

East Lansing, Michigan
Netscape Releases Source Code: A Conversation with Tim O'Reilly

By Richard Wiggins


ast week was a tough one for the editors who lay out the front pages of major newspapers. What with Lewinski visits Clinton, John Paul visits Fidel, and Kaczynski avoids a visit with the executioner, there wasn't much room on the front page for Internet news. We saw brief coverage of Microsoft's announcement that they had finally figured out how to remove the Internet Explorer icon from Windows '95 in compliance with a federal court order. As an aside, reporters noted that Netscape had decided to make its Navigator available to the world for free.

A tiny footnote to the aside was lost in the shuffle: not only did Netscape announce that the Navigator would become freeware, they also announced that the source code to the browser would be made freely available as well: Netscape believes that harnessing the creative abilities of all Internet developers will be an unprecedented way to advance the features and quality of Communicator for all customers. Detailed license terms, additional information, and a developer version of Communicator Standard Edition 5.0 source code is scheduled to be available by March 31, 1998, on the Netscape Web site. Was this an inspired strategic maneuver, or a foolish pawning of the family jewels? No one reacted more positively to Netscape's move than Tim O'Reilly, founder of the publishing company that bears his surname. In a press release, O'Reilly stated: It's no accident that despite all the ink spilled over the war between Netscape and Microsoft, the dominant web server software is still the freeware Apache server, and that for all the hype about Java, it is still the freeware Perl language that activates the majority of web sites….

After spending three years trying to act like Microsoft, Netscape is returning to its roots and starting to act like a real Internet company again.

In a telephone interview, O'Reilly expanded on his deep conviction that the freeware model is right for Netscape and for the good of the Internet in general. O'Reilly faults Netscape for straying from its roots when it tried to wrest control of the HTML standard by launching proprietary extensions: About three years ago I argued that the one company that represented the greatest danger to the Internet was Netscape. They really started the movement to take HTML private. This led to the browser war with Microsoft. Netscape's move back to a freeware model is an admission that the proprietary approach just didn't work. O'Reilly sees Netscape's earlier moves as violating the core values of the Internet standards process: The IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) has long had a motto of "No kings, no presidents, no voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code." When Netscape sought to establish itself as the king of the Web standards process, they deviated from the way Internet standards have always been developed. Now they seem to have come back to the fold. More...

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Created: January 28, 1998
Revised: January 28, 1998