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Netscape gets help from the 'Net

By James Hanback Jr.

JUNE 22, 1998:  Along with the thousands of Netscape users and fans out there in cyberspace, Netscape Communications Corp., the World Wide Web browser pioneer, has finally realized the full potential of the Internet.

A few months ago, Netscape made public the C++ source code for its in-development Communicator 5.0 Web suite. As a result, anyone can download the source code, tweak it, compile it, and add to it.

According to recent reports, more than 250,000 programmers out there on the 'Net were doing just that.

Netscape plans to take the submissions from those 250,000 programmers, pick out the best tweaks and add-ons, and use that code in the next incarnation of Communicator.

That means Netscape's own developers won't be responsible for every feature built into the new browser, which already promises to rival Windows '98's Web-integrated desktop environment.

Netscape plans to create a Windows Explorer-style Web browser, which allows users to surf their own hard drives and networks, as well as the World Wide Web.

For once, Microsoft products seem to have inspired the code for Netscape software, instead of the other way around. But unlike Microsoft, the thousands of programmers who are now playing with Communicator's source code on the Internet can contribute something more to Netscape. Those programmers are out there surfing with the masses every single day. They know what they want from a Web browser and, more important, what the general public wants.

Many operating-system gurus may remember that the Unix offshoot Linux, originally developed by Linus Torvald in 1990, found a similar home among Internet programmers, who to this day continue to add to and tweak the Internet's favorite 32-bit operating system. Unix has been a popular OS for networks and Internet servers for a long, long time, although Windows NT is catching up. The original Unix operating system was released by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie in 1971.

The result of the Internet programming of Linux? The OS came freely packed with features that couldn't be handled by other operating systems or, in some cases, cost users a fortune. In fact, the entire operating system is freely downloadable off the Internet from sites like Walnut Creek CD-ROM-- http://www.cdrom.com. Of course, you can also purchase a CD-ROM edition of any version of the OS from the same location. It's quite a large download.

And beware. Unix-type operating systems are not for computer newbies. They're difficult to install and difficult to learn, compared to graphical operating systems like Windows and MacOS, although many versions of Linux have available a graphical interface called X-Windows.

Netscape Communicator 5.0 will doubtless benefit from the same drive among Internet programmers that made Linux popular.

Officials with the company say all programmers with code included in the final product will be credited in Communicator 5.0, although only Netscape's own developers will be paid for their efforts. Also, the authors of any foreign code used in Communicator will retain their rights to that code. That means they can use it outside of Communicator.

It's a good idea. Netscape has created an opportunity for otherwise unknown programmers to become a part of computer history. And it's also providing us with a small glimpse of what the Internet can really do.

Communicator 5.0 source code is available at Netscape's development Web site, http://www.mozilla.org. Ideas for enhancements to the source code may be found at the same location. It would be wonderful to see some Nashville programmers listed in those Communicator credits. If you make it into the final code, let me know, and I'll brag for you.


See you in court; here's the URL

As a former police reporter, I can only hail Microsoft's latest initiative to create "ECourt." It may be the scissors that will finally cut through all that red tape.

In courts in California and other states, Microsoft officials are testing Web-based software that will allow lawyers to file their suits with courts electronically, and even allow court fee payment online. Not only that, but reporters and others who traditionally had to trudge over to the courthouse to look through mile-high stacks of paper will instead be able to log on and sift through all the publicly available documents.

Sources from www.news.com indicated that the ECourt system, if it catches on, could be used in any court in the nation.

Some courts charge small fees for copies of public record documents. It remains to be seen whether the online versions of those documents will be available without charge.

Microsoft also claims that ECourt can save millions of dollars in storage costs alone by moving to an electronic system.

Perhaps the justice department owes Bill Gates more than they think.

Java for your TV

Sun Microsystems has beat Microsoft to the punch in licensing its JavaOS (a Java programming language-based computer-operating system) to a hardware manufacturer outside the computer industry.

For a while now, Microsoft has badly wanted its Windows NT to become the standard operating system for devices other than personal computers, like television set-top boxes that allow users to connect to the Internet through their television sets.

Although the software giant recently acquired the most popular television-Internet company, WebTV, Sun's deal with television manufacturer Hitachi means there's one less device in the world being run by Microsoft technology.

Sun promised that the Java programming language would allow users to "write once, run anywhere." That means a computer program written in the Java language could be run on a computer using almost any operating system.

If JavaOS catches on in other electronic device markets, it could mean a tough race for Microsoft and Windows NT.

James Hanback Jr. is systems administrator at the Nashville Scene. E-mail him at james@nashscene.com.

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