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Mozilla.org forms new non-profit foundation

Mozilla.org, the venerable keeper of the open-source Web browser flame, last week gave itself a "legal identity" with the creation of the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit corporation the group hopes will better coordinate its efforts to expand its end-user community.

"Mozilla.org was a loose-knit organization and there was nothing official behind it," Mozilla Foundation board member Christopher Blizzard told Programmers Report. "We didn't have a legal identity of our own. Now we can own the intellectual property, copyrights and trademarks associated with Mozilla. And we can receive funding as a non-profit."

Interestingly, one of the first to pony-up was America Online (AOL), which has reportedly pledged $2 million to the new foundation. Mozilla was started in early 1998 by Netscape Communications, which AOL acquired later that year. AOL has been supporting Mozilla development since then, but its continued support came into doubt when, in May 2003, AOL Time Warner announced a settlement of the anti-trust law suit filed by its Netscape unit in January 2002 against Microsoft. As part of the deal, Microsoft paid AOL Time Warner $750 million and granted a seven-year, royalty-free license for Internet Explorer to be used in the American Online service. Just two days before the announcement of the new foundation, AOL disclosed that it had laid off 50 employees in Web browser development at its Netscape Communications subsidiary due to a reorganization of its Mozilla open-source browser team.

"There's a lot of speculation out there that Mozilla.org did this [established the foundation] because AOL didn't want them any more," Blizzard said. "That's absolutely not the case. We've had this in the works for a long time. This is just a natural evolution."

Along with the promised funding, which will be distributed over two years, AOL is expected to contribute several Mozilla developers to the new foundation, Blizzard said. And the foundation is to receive all the trademarks and logos associated with Mozilla.

Other industry leaders also offered their support to the new organization: Mitch Kapor, the new chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, is making a personal contribution of $300,000 (Kapor founded Lotus Development). And Linux vendor Red Hat and Sun Microsystems are among the companies planning to continue their contributions to the Mozilla project.

Blizzard, who is a software developer for Red Hat, said that the foundation plans to hire a core staff of project managers and key technical contributors. But volunteers and staffers at other companies would continue to make up the majority of people working on the open-source browser technology.

Developers using Mozilla in their projects shouldn't expect big changes resulting from the formation of the new foundation, Blizzard said. The Mozilla Foundation will continue to be the "technology clearinghouse" that Mozilla.org had been, he said, but along with its traditional focus on developers, the group will seek to build a stronger market for the technology.

"The only big difference going forward from a technology standpoint is that our focus is going to include end users," Blizzard said, "which we hope will result in an uptake in the end-user community. We're going to start marketing; we're going to start pushing the browser for regular people."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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