January 11, 2006

SeaMonkey Project picks up where halted Mozilla Suite left off

Author: Stephen Feller

After what one lead developer called a "very good" beta release in mid-December, the SeaMonkey project expects the final release of version 1.0 to be out this month, rescuing jilted users of the former Mozilla Suite of Web applications from the abyss of non-integrated applications.

The Mozilla Foundationannounced in 2003 that it would stop developing the Mozilla Suite with the 1.7.x line of releases, handing off the code base to the SeaMonkey Council. Version 1.0, according to a letter signed by most members of the current Council, is the project's efforts to release a SeaMonkey front end running on a Gecko layout engine version 1.8 back end.

Although SeaMonkey version 1.0 will not deviate much from the last Mozilla supported version of the suite, the development team behind the project is looking to add many of the features currently available in Firefox and Thunderbird -- as well as some that are not.

The council has rough plans for a version 1.1 later this year, and version 1.5 potentially sometime in 2007, said Christopher Thomas, release engineer for the project and a member of the Council. Like 1.0, version 1.1 will be based on Gecko 1.8.x, he said, with 1.5 expected to be based on Gecko 1.9, which is currently under development.

Despite speculation that Mozilla is planning to use Firefox and Thunderbird in a new suite of Web applications, Christopher Beard, vice president of products for the Mozilla Corporation, said only that the Foundation and Corporation "continues to evaluate how our products can best meet the needs of consumers." The corporation is the for-profit arm of the Mozilla Foundation, formed to support, develop, and market both Firefox and Thunderbird, as well as fund the range of projects and development done by the Foundation.

Mozilla halted development and testing on its application suite to focus more specifically on its Firefox Web browser and Thunderbird email client, Beard said.

"Even though Mozilla no longer officially issues new feature releases of the Mozilla Suite, we're supportive of the community's efforts to continue to build upon this open source legacy code base," Beard said.

As it does with other projects it supports, Mozilla provides the SeaMonkey project with server space, access to its concurrent versions system (CVS) for builds and releases, the https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/">Bugzilla bug tracking system, development tools, and legal support. Thomas said Mozilla also offers SeaMonkey tinderboxes -- machines that retrieve code from the CVS and compile it to help developers see where patches to the software have affected its other parts.

"Without the resources they provide, we'd likely need many thousands of dollars and would still have a hard time," Thomas said, offering as an example that the project would likely not be able to afford the bandwidth to ship its releases.

Thomas, a dedicated user of the Mozilla Suite since the release of version 1.0 in 1998, said users of the old suite, and now SeaMonkey, are looking for an application that integrates a Web browser and email client, among other things. The all-in-one goal of the project is what attracts its users, he said.

Former Mozilla Suite user Taran Rampersad documented his switch to Firefox and Thunderbird in a January 8 post to KnowProSE.com, as well as in a shortened version of the post on his own blog. Although he wrote that the switch was relatively easy, he was less than happy "being practically forced to do this.... I think it's poor form to have left the Mozilla Suite without updates while Firefox gets all the plugins and updates."

His apprehension to just switching to SeaMonkey at the time of the post, he wrote, was that it was still in beta testing, and he is not willing to trust his data with the beta version. He also wrote that switching to SeaMonkey, even if it means getting back the integration of a suite of applications, wouldn't be worth it if Firefox plugins don't work with the suite and its users can't maintain a similar level of functionality to the standalone browser.

For versions 1.0 and 1.1, Thomas said that some Firefox extensions will work with SeaMonkey and others won't -- though he adds that with a little tweaking, most of them can be made compatible with the suite. He said, however, that many of the Mozilla Suite extensions work with SeaMonkey, and that some developers on the MozillaZine forums also have ported some to it.

Though there are additional features being worked on for SeaMonkey 1.1, the real differences will come in the version that follows. Thomas said that some "large internal changes" for the release of version 1.5 will "make it much more likely that Firefox extensions will just work" in SeaMonkey -- changes that come with further incorporating parts of Firefox.

According to Thomas, SeaMonkey currently is based on Mozilla's cross platform front-end (XPFE) toolkit, where Firefox and Thunderbird use a fork of the original called Toolkit. Although both "do pretty much the same thing," he said they have grown apart over time, and with SeaMonkey making the switch, the suite will benefit from work done on Firefox, at least partially because extension authors will see an application program interface (API) that is similar to the one they are used to.

While users can build SeaMonkey with a calendar function now, Thomas said it isn't shipped with official releases because it's not ready yet. He expects that a calendar function of some sort will be incorporated into the suite in the future, though he was unsure whether that would be something Mozilla-based or derived from another open source calendar project.

Thomas said that the only major goal set for SeaMonkey 1.5 is the toolkit change, but that with a roadmap yet to be finalized and 1.1 slated to come out at least a year ahead of it, there are bound to be more features and functions added before 2007.

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