In not-entirely-unexpected news, MozillaZine reports that AOL dropped the axe on Netscape today, dismantling what was left of the Netscape team. In what could be a positive spin on the whole deal, AOL has pledged $2 million in cash to help launch the new Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization which will continue development, testing, promotion, and distribution of Mozilla applications.
As the market for standalone browsers shrinks even smaller, it leaves me wondering how much longer we’ll continue to see completely free browser distribution and innovation if the application is not already developed by a major OS company. Both Microsoft and Apple can market the heck out of IE and Safari, respectively, effectively lumping the browser in as a benefit of using a particular OS. Opera Software already charges a small fee for the ad-free version of their browser. Several other small browser makers do something similar. Even with a couple million streaming in from AOL over the next two years, and possibly more from Red Hat and Sun Microsystems, is it possible for Mozilla to continue to exist without starting to charge even nominal amounts for key product upgrades? The mainstream public will never [be reluctant to] pay for a browser upgrade as long as larger companies are still tossing in browsers for free, or as long as the Web continues to “work” in the free browser they already have.