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One Browser Many Names

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Peter-Paul Koch

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User since: 12 Sep 1999

Articles written: 8

Now that the world has been enriched by both Netscape 7 Preview Release and

Mozilla 1.0 Final,

many people have lost track of all Netzilla/Moscape releases.

The naming and versioning system (if any) is completely

incomprehensible and becomes stranger with each new name and release. Personally

I feel that this confusion is a deliberate policy of both the

target="_blank">Mozilla project and

title="NCC corporate info">Netscape Communications Corporation,

since both are very consistent in their inconsistency.

So it's time for an overview. What are the names of the various tries to produce a viable Netscape

browser? Do these names mean anything?

Netscape 5

In 1998, Netscape released the source code of its (then still popular) Netscape 4 browser. The goal

was to make the production of the new Netscape 5 browser an open source project, involving thousands

of programmers from all over the world.

Pretty soon, the

project decided to start all over again: the old Netscape 4 code engine was too complex and couldn't form

a stable basis for a new Netscape release (in fact, it didn't form a stable basis for Netscape 4


So a new browser would be written.

Eventually this brave new browser would become Netscape 5. So far so good.


From the earliest days of the Netscape browser, the code engine that actually took care of interpreting

HTML, (later) JavaScript and (still later) CSS was called Mozilla. This strange name started out

as a combination of Mosaic and Godzilla. The message was supposed to be that this

new code engine would sweep goold old Mosaic away, as Godzilla swept away King Kong. Something like

that, anyway.

Netscape 1 ran Mozilla 1, 2 ran 2, 3 ran 3 and Netscape 4 ran Mozilla 4. Remember that back in those

days a new version number actually meant something: each new Netscape version could do far more than

its predecessor.

Almost every browser identification string still starts with the name Mozilla,

even those of non-Netscape browsers. The reasons behind this are

target="_blank" title="An explanation of the use of the name 'Mozilla' in non-Netscape browsers."

>another story

When the project to write a new Netscape code engine started, it was named

target="_blank">The Mozilla Project. One would expect the goal of this project was to

produce Mozilla 5, being the fifth version of the Netscape code engine.


Not so. In the beginning each code engine release was named Gecko for reasons I've

forgotten. (Well, a gecko is a lizard and a godzilla is, too, so there might be some obscure point in giving it

this name.) To this name was added an M for Milestone and a version number. So the Mozilla

project delivered Gecko M1, then Gecko M2 and so on.

From the very earliest releases, the browser identification string started with Mozilla/5.0,

indicating that the browser would eventually become Netscape 5.

So eventually Mozilla 5 would form the core of Netscape 5, and until that time web developers would

be entertained by the various Gecko releases, numbering their Milestones from 1 onwards

until the Nirvana of standards-compatible browsing would be reached.

So far so good (well, OK-ish).

Netscape 6

Not so. The project took too bloody long. Microsoft had had a working Version 5 browser

almost since the start of the Mozilla project, which would mean that the new Netscape 5 would be seen

as a laggard, appearing on the scene while Microsoft already prepared its Version 6 browser.

So, unbeknownst to us web developers, marketing geniuses inside Netscape (or its corporate owner

AOL) decided the new Netscape would be Version 6. So when, on 14 November 2000, a preview

based on Gecko M18 was released, it was proudly named Netscape 6.0 Preview Release. So Netscape

has altogether skipped Version 5.

Nonetheless the browser identification string still proclaimed it to be Mozilla/5.0,

in keeping with the old Netscape tradition. So technically it was a Version 5 browser, marketing-wise

it was a Version 6 browser.

Keeping track of the names started to get confusing, but it could be managed.

Mozilla 1.0

Therefore the Mozilla Project decided the situation wasn't vague enough. When Netscape 6.0, based

on Gecko M18, had been released, the Gecko name was altogether dropped. Instead, the new goal of the

project became the production of Mozilla 1.0.

One wonders why the new code engine wasn't named Mozilla 5.0, the only name that actually

makes sense: the fifth version of the Mozilla code engine.

But the Mozilla Project was not to be denied.

In quick succession Mozilla 0.6, 0.7, 0.8, 0.8.1, 0.9, 0.9.1, 0.9.7, 0.9.8, and 0.9.9 were released.

The Project was working towards 1.0, no doubt about it.

Then, when everyone expected Mozilla 1.0, the Project came with a new subtlety: Release Candidates.

Mozilla 1.0 Release Candidate 1, Mozilla 1.0 RC 2 and Mozilla 1.0 RC 3 were released. Personally I'd

expected even more confusion, culminating in something like Mozilla 1.0 Release Candidate 2.1 beta 3,

but the Project has unexpectedly become sensible and given us Mozilla 1.0 Final.

Mozilla 1.0.3 Preliminary Review 3.5a ?

This latest release in fact seems to be a pretty good browser (though I've only done some preliminary

tests). So the Mozilla Project has done what it has promised so many years ago. Cause for celebration,

certainly, but personally I don't feel like it at all: I'm too confused.

The Project has already announced Mozilla 1.1, which makes sense, but I'm afraid we'll have to

deal with Mozilla 1.0.3 Preliminary Review 3.5a and such arcana first. Then again, I might be wrong

(in fact, I hope I'm wrong).

Of course the browser identification string still starts with Mozilla/5.0, and not Mozilla/1.0,

which would cause people to confuse it with ancient Netscape 1. To make it even more complex, Gecko

is also mentioned in the string. I don't know what all this means. Just nod wisely and pretend it's completely


Netscape 7

So from Mozilla 0.6 onwards it was clear where the Mozilla Project was heading. Therefore fresh

confusion initiatives had to come from Netscape, or rather from its corporate owner AOL.

It succeeded admirably. The latest Netscape release is not Netscape 6.3 but Netscape 7.0

Preview Release. So the browser version number has once again been raised. Why?

Rumour has it that AOL is considering the use of the Netscape browser in its newest AOL 7. This

rumour may be true, it may also be another ritual move in the eternal dance of Microsoft and AOL, a

threat that might cause Microsoft to make some concessions. No way to tell. Fact is that AOL subsidiary

Compuserve does use a modern Netscape as its browser (I forgot which version exactly).

In any case, to make sure its users understand what's going on, AOL has decided on the combination

AOL 7-Netscape 7. Not the worst of ideas, from a corporate point of view. The suffering of web developers

trying to keep track of the various versions is less important, of course.

What's next?

I have no idea what will come next. I'm reasonably sure a browser named Netscape 7, based on

the Mozilla 1.0 code engine will be released fairly soon. This will be a Version 5 browser

(hence Mozilla/5.0 in its identification string).

It might even be that AOL will start using this browser in its own setup.

As you see version numbers have become completely void of all meaning. Where, up until Explorer 5,

you could be reasonably sure a new version number meant the support of exciting new technologies,

nowadays it means no such thing.

The past cause of events has shown both Netscape and the Mozilla project are completely unreliable and

unpredictable in the assignment of names and version numbers. So the situation will continue to be confusing

and I suppose I'll write an addendum to this article in half a year.

Peter-Paul Koch is a freelance browser expert and JavaScript guru living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He has been an Internet professional only since 1998, so he's definitely second generation.

His personal site is It includes the W3C DOM Compatibility Tables, currently the best resource on the Internet for this subject. Because of this research, he has been asked to co-edited chapters 17 to 19 of Flanagan's "JavaScript, the Definitive Guide", O'Reilly, 4th edition.

He is an administrator of the WDF-DOM mailing list, that counts most international JavaScript gurus among its members.

He has written the "Keep it Simple" column on Digital Web Magazine, as well as articles on A List Apart, Apple Developer Connection, and O'Reilly's Web Dev Center, in addition to Evolt.

The access keys for this page are: ALT (Control on a Mac) plus: is an all-volunteer resource for web developers made up of a discussion list, a browser archive, and member-submitted articles. This article is the property of its author, please do not redistribute or use elsewhere without checking with the author.