Gecko gains developer support

Gecko, Netscape Communications' next-generation standards-based browser technology, is scampering among developers soliciting support as the engine for a variety of Web programs. Gecko, Netscape's first software product based on mozilla.org contributions, will power Communicator 5.0 as well as the Netcenter Web site. Netscape also positions Gecko to add browser functions to non-PC devices such as handheld phones, personal digital assistants, and TV set-top boxes

Gecko, Netscape Communications' next-generation standards-based browser technology, is scampering among developers soliciting support as the engine for a variety of Web programs.

More than 10,000 open source developers have downloaded Gecko from mozilla.org, the association that manages Netscape's open source initiative, Netscape said this week.

Gecko, Netscape's first software product based on mozilla.org contributions, will power Communicator 5.0 as well as the Netcenter Web site. Netscape also positions Gecko to add browser functions to non-PC devices such as handheld phones, personal digital assistants, and TV set-top boxes.

Although Netscape officials are tight-lipped about specific Gecko features, they tout its size and speed. When Gecko's final code ships by the end of 1999, it will be less than 2MB, according to Chris Saito, director of product marketing for Netscape Communicator.

Gecko also supports incremental Web page layouts that evaluate page structure, and follows W3C standards. Gecko supports extensible user interface language (XUL) to make it more portable. XUL technology lets you build a cross-platform interface, which includes toolbars, buttons, and icons, using Web standards such as HTML and JavaScript. "And once you've constructed an interface, it becomes very easy to modify it," Saito says.

Gecko Draws Developers

Commensurate with the open source maxim, Netscape's contributions to Gecko only tell half the story. Netscape encourages hardware and software developers to incorporate Gecko into their products. So far, industry leaders haven't embraced Gecko, despite its support for open standards such as HTML 4.0, JavaScript and XML (extensible markup language).

But the roster of niche companies bundling Gecko and contributing changes to the Communicator 5.0 code is swelling, Netscape representatives say. Bradbury Software, CiTEC, Cyberworld, Imagicast (formerly Telescan), NeoPlanet and Sausage Software head the list of developers integrating the Gecko browser engine into their applications.

NeoPlanet, known for its customizable browser interface, bundles Gecko into NeoPlanet 5.0, now in beta development. "We feel that Gecko is a powerful Web-rendering technology," says Drew Cohen, NeoPlanet's president and chief executive.

NeoPlanet decided Gecko is so powerful that a group of its core developers submitted Gecko code back to mozilla.org on a daily basis. NeoPlanet hopes to accelerate Gecko's completion as a stable, functional, stand-alone component, Cohen adds.

NeoPlanet also led development of an ActiveX control that enables third-party application developers to incorporate Gecko much the same way they can include the Internet Explorer control. "This is very important to a whole community of developers who've included IE in their applications," Cohen says.

Browser Devotees and Agnostics

Imagicast, a manufacturer of interactive video display terminals for retail outlets, chose Gecko as its user interface and content browser. "We needed to manage our content in quasi-real time from a central location, and Gecko lets us do that quite nicely," says Tom Sharples, the company's vice chairman and chief technology officer.

Imagicast also uses Gecko to process specialized fonts that are optimized for television-style monitors. "Gecko supports some of the extended features, such as cascading style sheets, that many embedded browsers don't," Sharples adds.

Bradbury Software is integrating Gecko into TopStyle, its cascading style sheet editor for Windows. TopStyle, currently in beta test, will let you preview your designs side by side in both Netscape Gecko and Internet Explorer.

While Netscape has been touting the faster, smaller Gecko browsing engine, the company released Communicator 4.6 on Tuesday, an upgrade to Netscape's old base code. Communicator 4.6 weighs in at a hefty 15MB and delivers incremental performance upgrades over Communicator 4.51.

But Communicator 5.0 still awaits Gecko. Beta one of Communicator 5.0 is due this summer, and Netscape now expects to ship the final version by year-end.

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