CNET has posted a write-up of AOL’s new Netscape prototype based on Firefox, as well as a screenshot. It seems to be a combination of Firefox + theme + bundled extensions… plus a mode that embeds Internet Explorer for compatibility.

There are some nice ideas: adapting Firefox’s RSS capabilities to create a headline ticker, for instance, and the Firefox team has been talking about bundling extensions since it was called Phoenix. As for the embedded IE mode… on one hand it provides a convenient solution to the biggest criticism laid on all non-IE browsers: they don’t render pages exactly the way IE does. But it comes at the cost of all the security risks inherent in IE itself. It does remind me of the “View with Gecko” option Konqueror used to have (and probably still does on some systems).

But the clutter… The sheer number of buttons, icons, widgets etc. in that screenshot is staggering. Even after installing the web developer extension I don’t think I have that many buttons on Firefox. 3+ buttons on the tab bar, 3 icons on each tab…. I hope that CNET was just enabling every feature they could find to get them all in one screenshot, but if AOL is trying to bill it as “easier” than Firefox (which was created with a simple user interface as a design goal), they’ve got to try another approach.

Update (via WaSP): It seems BetaNews has more information on the dual-engine setup. Apparently they do have security settings to mitigate the IE issues… but then so does IE, and we all know how well that’s worked. Also, another screenshot, which looks even more cluttered than CNET’s. I think this will be a browser that requires you to run it maximized at 2000×1500. (Also of note: Firefox developer Blake Ross’ Open Letter to Netscape and Henrik Gemal’s collection of screenshots.)

Further Update: MozillaZine has posted a more thorough review.

Well, it’s official. After months of rumors and vague announcements, Netscape 7.2 has been released!

It’s been just over a year since AOL closed down Netscape and spun off the independent Mozilla Foundation. Despite the uncertainty of that transition, no one can deny that Mozilla has flourished. People everywhere are switching to Firefox and recommending it on security, usability, and capability grounds.

It’s really quite surprising, particularly since Netscape the company no longer exists. But Mozilla has been marching ahead, and all that stood between AOL and an updated Netscape was updating their proprietary features, like the AIM sidebar and access to AOL email, to work with the new Mozilla code.

For the past year, I’ve been advocating that people switch from Netscape to Mozilla, since it seemed the best upgrade path. (Someone on Mozillazine pointed out that AOL is actually promoting the Mozilla connection — an interesting switch.) I’ve been skeptical about the new version actually materializing, but here it is.

I’m going to stick with Firefox myself, but for Netscape fans and those looking for the full browser suite (complete with AIM/ICQ)…

  • Download Netscape 7.2

To be honest, I haven’t used any instant messaging system much since college. But every once in a while I fire up Gaim just to see if anyone I know is on AIM or ICQ. I have a Yahoo account, but I’m not sure anyone I know actually uses Yahoo Messenger, and I’ve been avoiding MSN mainly on principle.

Sadly, it seems the IM wars have returned.

This time it’s Yahoo that’s blocked other clients from connecting to their networks. The most high-profile victim has been Trillian, another client which talks to multiple IM networks, but of course Gaim was hit as well. What’s interesting, this time, is that Yahoo claims it’s doing this to cut down on spam.

Now let’s think about this: In order to send and receive instant messages on Yahoo’s network, you need a Yahoo account, correct? So no matter what software a spammer uses to connect, he still needs to log in, which means Yahoo can control them inside the network. This is where current IM systems are fundamentally different from email: instead of many independently-controlled systems talking to each other, each IM service is one system with many accounts, more like a website with required registration. Place limits on what clients can do, and (barring bugs in your server) no matter what client someone uses, he can’t get around your spam/virus/hack controls.
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OK, that may be a bit melodramatic, but there are two interesting and complementary bits of news:

The Mozilla Foundation was announced as a non-profit that will be the new home for Mozilla. AOL has donated $2 million for start-up funding, and various other companies have announced plans to support it.

AOL is dismantling Netscape. Some people are being laid off, others are being reassigned. Many of them intend to keep working on Mozilla, either for the Mozilla Foundation or on a volunteer basis. Heck, Dave Hyatt has kept contributing despite working on Safari for Apple, and I’m fairly certain I’ve seen Ian “Hixie” Hickson on Bugzilla since he started at Opera.

Pros: Mozilla will be fully independent. No more choosing the lesser of two evils (Microsoft vs. AOL)! The last few versions of Netscape have been pretty redundant anyway, and Mozilla has been making a name for itself over the past year.

Cons: Certain drop in funding, possible drop in confidence, likely drop in visibility (or at least name recognition). Mozilla’s already going through a transition period in terms of the project architecture (from monolithic suite to separate components using a common base). And news sources that don’t understand the implications of open source, or don’t connect the first announcement with the second, are going to assume Mozilla is disappearing as well.

Other projects (Apache, Gnome, KDE, and of course Linux) have shown that you can keep a resource-intensive open-source project going. I don’t know how rough the transition will be, but I have no doubts that Mozilla can keep going.

I saw this and was absolutely certain CNET’s software had accidentally re-posted an old news article about Gnutella.

A day after developers at America Online’s Nullsoft unit
quietly release file-sharing software,
AOL pulls the link to the product from the subsidiary’s Web site.

As it turns out, Nullsoft did it again, with an encrypted collaboration program called Waste.

Anyone want to take bets on whether its brief posting will be enough for third-party developers to pick it up and run with it?