Mozilla 0.9 (release notes: here, download here) has been released. Mozilla is a web browser that is the open source base code for Netscape Communicator 6.x. This release now clearly surpasses the creaky old Netscape 4.7x program in most areas and is rapidly advancing on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in terms of features, usability and performance. It appears on track for a 1.0 release this year. This is significant to medicine for several reasons.
1) Once again proves open source development works and works under harsh conditions (can you say medical computing?) The project has endured several years of adversity but is closing in on developing the real thing. Other development methods such as closed source methods would have likely folded by now, come up with a product that missed the mark or be short on features. This wasn’t a toy program by any means, neither is clinical computing. Score a big one for open source.
2) Open source means it is likely to have more adaptability and security as well as carry on even if individual players stop participating. Medical applications that depend upon it will not get stranded. Wouldn’t it be great to have a guarantee that clinical computing software will never get stranded if a company folds or is bought out? Contrast with the current medical computing landscape.
3) Convergence is beginning to happen on several fronts: the Nautilus file manager is likewise moving along rapidly and will make the Linux desktop interface as good or better as any other. Anti-aliased fonts I predict will be widely available by years end further enhancing the user experience. The only question mark is whether the front-running office suite StarOffice will be able to deliver 6.0 this year. Adoption of it would result in a likely huge cost savings for medicine.
Prediction: December 2001 will likely be the month Linux comes of age on all fronts: server, desktop, commercially and possibly in medicine. This release of the Mozilla web browser performs well and has a rich feature set. It could be a bellweather for things to come in medical open source.