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Making It Happen

The body of Communicator source code at Netscape was called ``Mozilla.'' Mozilla was a term initially created by Jamie Zawinsky and company during the development of Navigator. The team was working at a similarly frantic pace to create a beast vastly more powerful than Mosaic, and the word became the official code name for Navigator. Later the big green dinosaur became an inside joke, then a company mascot, and finally a public symbol. Now the name came into use as the generic term referring to the open-source web browsers derived from the source code of Netscape Navigator. The move was on to ``Free the Lizard.''

There was an amazing amount to be done to make the code ready for prime time. As issues surfaced, they separated themselves into categories and were claimed. The next three months were devoted to resolving issues at the fanatical pace that Netscapers knew well.

One of the largest issues was the disposition of the third-party modules included in the browser. Communicator contained over seventy-five third-party modules in its source, and all of the code owners needed to be approached. Teams of engineers and evangelists were organized to visit and sell each company on the concept of joining Netscape on the road to Open Source. All of them had heard Netscape's Open Source announcement, and now each company had a choice to make: their code could be removed or replaced, shipped as binary (kept in its compiled state), or shipped as source code along with Communicator. To complicate matters, many of the third-party contracts were unique and ran for different lengths of time. No one scenario would be appropriate as a solution for all situations.

Making the deadline for Project Source 331 was considered essential. And that required tough choices. This was surely the case when it came to the participation of the third-party developers. The rule was either you're in by February 24th, or your element will have to be scrubbed from the source. Those kinds of deadlines are not hard to set early on, but they became brutal when we hit the wall. When the time came, some code had to be removed.

Java was a proprietary language, so it had to be removed. Three engineers were assigned to perform a ``Java-ectomy.'' The browser had to build, compile, and run -- without Java. Since the overall code was so tightly integrated with Java, this was no small feat. The goal was to have the source code ready by March 15th so that the final two weeks could be devoted to testing. Engineers had to disentangle all Java code from the browser in an inconceivably short time.

Cleansing the code was a huge project. Early on, many felt it just couldn't be done in time for the deadline. But as steam gathered at meetings, strategies formed. The wheels began to turn. The Product Team dropped their entire workload (most were developing the next generation of the browser) and everyone got down to the business of surgery. Not only did the inclusion (or excision) of each third-party participant have to be resolved, all comments had to be edited from the code. Responsibility for each module was assigned to a team and they went in to scrub.

One of the great innovations that happened early on was the decision to use the Intranet bug-reporting system as a task manager. ``Bugsplat'' was the name for Scopus, a bug-reporting program fronted with an HTML interface. It was ideal as a workflow management system. New jobs were reported to the system as they came up, input in a simple HTML form. Just as with a bug that has been reported to the system, priorities were set, relevant participants were determined, and mailing lists grew up around each task. When the task (or bug) was resolved, all of the mailing lists and prioritization collapsed and disappeared from view. Engineers were able to track the progress of their modules and watch the project unfold by logging on to the Intranet.

The removal of the cryptographic modules was another tremendous task for the engineering team. Not only did the government insist that all cryptographic support had to be removed, but every hook that called it had to be redacted. One team's sole job was to keep in constant contact with the NSA and manage compliance issues.

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Next: Creating the License Up: Freeing the Source Previous: Freeing the Source

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Last updated: 1999-08-06