Yesterday I came across the image of the launch day version of Netscape Navigator 1.0 – the first commercial browser that set the World Wide Web on fire, and caused the explosion of Internet technology into everyday life. Here’s an image of an early info Netscape provided — how to click a link, find things in that era, etc. Some fun history of the early, early World Wide Web. It’s so early that the list of search engines does not predates Google.
The image has a link labeled “LICENSE.” I found myself trying to click on the link. Silly, but still I wanted to see it. I wrote the license that link used to point to. I wrote every end-user license in Netscape’s products for many years, until the mighty Liz Compton took over. The licenses were complicated. They reflected something new — free product. Today we are used to getting consumer grade software for free, but Netscape was a pioneer. Netscape Navigator was free until the 1.0 version, and then they were free to charitable organizations. (This change was quite controversial among Netscape employees; I was not the decision-maker.) That made for complicated business terms and license terms. We had long negotiations with organizations that supplied code we integrated, explaining to them why Netscape would not pay them for every copy distributed. Explaining that the software was sometimes given away led to astonishment at first, and long negotiating sessions. I was responsible for all these negotiations with external vendors of software bits as well, so at least I knew how important it was.
One time I had to rewrite the license because our installer program had a length limit. I think that’s when we combine the licenses for the free and the paid versions into one document. Perhaps that was a good forcing function to shorter licensing terms, but it did require the business owners to take some risk with less specific language.
All these licenses were training for writing the Mozilla Public License 1.0 (now superceded by the 2.0 version). I see the MPL as the highlight of my time in the licensing world. I had help, including Liz and Harvey Anderson, both now with Mozilla. Even so, I “held the pen” and by the time I was done I had memorized almost every clause. Harvey had a big role in the patent pieces of the 1.1 license, which may have been the first open source/free software license to have a patent defense clause. It’s the first I know of so far, and I know we didn’t work from examples, so at least it was an original creation. (Ironically, original creation is not a patent defense although it is for copyright infringement.)
The idea of Mozilla was announced on January 22, and the project launched March 31, 1998. I wrote the MPL within that period, as the engineering team got ready for the release and we all worked to figure out how the first iteration of Mozilla would work. A bunch of today’s Mozillians have stories of that time. Many people told us a license couldn’t be created, let alone in 2+ months, but those of us at Netscape just went ahead and did it. We had public review via newsgroup — appropriately called 331. If anyone has archives of that newsgroup I would love to get a copy. Once again, a part of Mozilla’s history predates the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
(As a side note, the wondrous Internet Archive suffered a fire which damaged its building and its digitizing materials. The fund-raising campaign to support rebuilding is underway. Mozilla is contributing to this invaluable asset and we hope to see the Internet Archive fully restored as soon as possible.)
I still wish I could click that “LICENSE” link … “-)