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Beta Plans

Mitchell Baker <>


I've been around full time for about a year now, listening and learning and working in the background. My job as general problem solver (aka Chief Lizard Wrangler) means I've touched many aspects of the Mozilla project, although not the code itself.

Now it's time to stop lurking. So I'll be writing a "column" for the site from time to time when there's something worth talking about; the first instance follows. I'm not sure how often I'll do this or how regularly, but let me know if you have topics you'd like me to address.

Beta Plans

There's a beta coming. That much is clear. Manifestations include bugs in Bugzilla nominated for beta1 status, postings from Jim Roskind of Netscape regarding Netscape's plans, and the Drive to Beta document. It's less clear what this "beta" is, and what getting to "beta" means for the community. This is particularly true since the target audience for the Mozilla project is the developer community, and the target audience for Netscape is an end user community; a beta for one community might not be a beta for the other. So some focus may be useful.

The upcoming beta is an early release of the mozilla-based end-user product that Netscape is creating. It's a beta release showcasing mozilla technology in a particular and high profile end-user product: the next generation of Netscape's client software. So it can be thought of as a Netscape release. We've all been waiting for this and are excited to see the Netscape product reach this state.

The coming beta is not a beta of the Mozilla codebase aimed at the mozilla developer community. That's because a few important elements of particular concern to developers (but less to end users) remain in flux. For example, APIs have not yet been finalized. We anticipate these features shortly, but they are not yet done. Also, the mozilla irc client, an important means by which active mozilla deveopers communicate via IRC, is not available in the Netscape product. So the Netscape beta will not be a release which developers can use to participate in the full range of mozilla development activities. did label M13 as "Alpha". We've learned that "alpha" and especially "beta" have a range of meanings, often contradictory, depending on to whom one talks. Some believe beta means feature complete and only bug fixing remains. Some believe beta means the APIs should be frozen. Some believe that beta is a word best used for end-user releases; others are equally adamant that beta is best used for releases aimed at developers. will mark upcoming releases of particular importance to the developer community. It's unclear whether we should call that release (or those releases) "beta". If we do use the word beta, we'll probably want a set of criteria that explains what we think we mean. Otherwise, we're likely to generate more confusion. Maybe we'll do something like identify a milestone as the "Stability Release" or "API Release". It might be something a bit new, as are many aspects of the Mozilla project. This would also have the additional advantage of reducing confusion with Netscape's ongoing activities. We're not sure yet, we're looking for input.

We're working to label information more precisely so that releases and product releases such as Netscape's are more clearly identified. We hope these distinctions will become clearer as we move forward. It would be simpler if and Netscape were the same thing, producing the same release for the same target audience. Simpler, but not better. Netscape and are ultimately different organisms, serving different target audiences. They have complementary goals, but a decidedly different focus. Vive la difference!