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Mozilla after AOL

Over the past few days, I’ve been spending time covering what happens now that AOL and Microsoft have settled their dispute. However, one area that I have not covered is what could happen to Mozilla moving forward.

With the new agreement, AOL has received a royalty-free license to use Internet Explorer for the next seven years. Since the browser has been sitting at the core of their online service client, it is doubtful that this will change in the future. As a result, AOL is now supporting an open source project which adds little value to its bottom line. The Netscape browser holds very little strategic value for the company moving forward. Considering its enormous debt, AOL Time-Warner might eventually reconsider its investment in the Mozilla project.

In its initial iteration, a large part of the development for Mozilla was done by Netscape developers. In fact, the Mozilla browser is distributed under the Netscape Public License, which still ensures that the company has some level of control over what goes on there. While it is an open source, it is one with a clear sponsor.

And that sponsor may now rethink its participation. So who will pick up the slack once they do?

My best bet on this is that IBM will step in if this happens. While it may seem like an odd choice, it seems to be the only logical one when studying the matter more closely. First of all, the company has been making sizable investments in Linux has already paid some hefty dividend for the company and has allowed it to gain entry into new markets. As a result, IBM is placing itself as a clear competitor to Microsoft on the mid-range to high-range server end, using open source projects as its own horse in that race.

But why should it matter to IBM, one might wonder? Well, for starters, the server market is the entry point to larger scale application offerings in the future. With the era of web services now upon us, IBM wants to make sure that it will still remain relevant moving forward. The web services world is one in which both IBM and Microsoft are currently happy to play together, jointly defining specifications for the space, there is a clear understanding that they are in competition for this future space. History has obviously shown that Microsoft and IBM can partner up and have eventual fallouts. It is a lesson that probably was not lost on IBM and that now permeates a lot of what they do.

So back to Mozilla. While it is mostly seen as a browser, Mozilla is much more than that. For starters, it offers a complete suite of Internet products, ranging from the well known browser to a bug tracking system, an email client and much much more. At its core, Mozilla is a development platform on which other applications can run. This is significant in that it provides a cross-platform development environment which offers a nice alternative to the Microsoft windows platform. So, while Microsoft is trying to use the net as a way to bring everything back into windows, Mozilla can be used to bring net components into a variety of operating systems (hence benefiting Linux, because you are not locked into a particular operating system).

As more and more application require access to the Internet, the browser window becomes the de-facto UI for the computing world. It’s something that Microsoft understands, and this is why they are more tightly integrating the browser into the OS and why tools like Mozilla are important.

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