Back in April, 2003, the Mozilla Project stirred
by announcing a set of changes to its development model and
roadmap. Rather than continue to develop one huge suite which did
everything, the project would shift its efforts to the creation of smaller,
standalone applications. In particular, future development would go into
the browser then known as Phoenix, and the mail client called, at that
time, Minotaur. The full Mozilla suite was expected to fade away.
Over time, as the project continued to make new Mozilla releases, it seemed
that the suite might stay around for some time after all. The project made
several Mozilla 1.8 alpha releases, and one beta, leading some users
to believe, reasonably, that there might just be a Mozilla 1.8 final release
afterward. So the February 28 staff
meeting summary surprised a number of people with this brief item:
*Mozilla 1.8 final*
- To be discussed tomorrow whether we do one
The ensuing discussion was long and noisy. The suite still has a large and
dedicated user base, even if it has been somewhat overshadowed by Firefox
and Thunderbird. Some developers had been
working on Mozilla 1.8 and now wonder why. It seems that, over the
last couple of years, the big-picture plan had faded from view, and the
Mozilla Foundation didn't go out of its way to remind people of where it
That ended on March 10, when the Foundation posted its transition plan
for the Mozilla suite. According to that plan, the "alpha" and "beta"
1.8 releases were intended simply to test out the Mozilla backend code.
There will be no final, stable, supported Mozilla 1.8 release.
The Foundation does seem to recognize that not everybody will have expected
There is no doubt that the series of 1.8 alpha and beta releases
have caused some confusion about whether there would be a 1.8
product released by the Mozilla Foundation. In addition, a set of
people have done a non-trivial amount of work on 1.8 features,
thinking this would be part of an official Mozilla Foundation
release. This has been a major error on our part.
The confusion was also clearly to be found within the project itself, as
can be seen by the fact that the question of whether a 1.8 release would
happen or not was
left as an open item for discussion at the February 28 staff meeting.
In any case, the decision has now been made. And that decision is
consistent with the project's stated long-term goals, even if people did
have reason to believe that things would happen differently. The interesting
question now is: what happens next?
What's next, it seems, is that the Mozilla suite gets a new name (almost
certainly "SeaMonkey," its longstanding name within the Mozilla Project)
and is developed and maintained by a group of volunteers. That group is
already organizing itself, and has posted a plan of sorts on the SeaMonkey home
page. The first priority will be to get a real 1.8 release out, but
the developers are already looking beyond that milestone. A
commonly-mentioned longer-term goal is moving over to XULRunner;
porting back some of the better Firefox and Thunderbird features is also on
The Mozilla Foundation claims to support this course of action. So
SeaMonkey will be able to use the Mozilla support infrastructure - CVS,
BugZilla, etc. It also appears that it will be able to use the SeaMonkey
name, though it appears that there may be a significant debate within the
new project about naming before this is all over. The Mozilla Foundation's
primary concern, it seems, is that the SeaMonkey releases cannot appear to be
an official Mozilla product.
The Mozilla Foundation's motives in making this decision are easy to
understand. The Foundation's resources are limited, so it wants to
concentrate those resources on the standalone applications which are at the
core of its stated plans - and which, it must be said, have been rather
suite ever was. That suite is free software, however, so it can survive
abandonment by its creator as long as there are developers with the time
and interest to maintain it. The fact that the Foundation is providing the
support infrastructure (and, of course, Gecko engine and the rest of the
support code used by the Mozilla suite) is an added bonus. There is every
reason to expect that both projects will thrive; in a year or two, this
decision may be seen as a good thing by all parties involved.
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