[L]ast week's deal also calls into question AOL's ongoing commitment to Mozilla, a very capable set of applications that includes a browser, a mail reader, and an Internet Relay Chat client. Mozilla must have been a useful arrow in a negotiator's quiver for the last few months, with Microsoft fretting about the theoretical possibility that it would be embedded in the next version of AOL's client software. But now that negotiations are over and AOL has the ongoing right to use IE royalty-free for seven years, the company has a reduced incentive to spend as much developer effort on the project now.
This would make a difference for Web developers. AOL's commitment to Mozilla, the descendant of the venerable Netscape browser, and it decision to release it under a modified open-source license, has been a driving force toward creating Web sites that comply with the World Wide Web Consortium's standards. It's kept developers honest, spurring them to avoid sloppy Microsoft-specific coding that might make sites render properly only with IE.
Mozilla was a big honkin' bargaining chip for AOL in its negotiations with Microsoft, but it's a lot more than that: it's become the "air supply" for an entire industry of open source developers. A return to the sloppy days of IE-specific sites isn't the issue. Killing the only significant competitor in the "browser market" is much more important. Without Mozilla, longhaired freaks running Linux, *BSD, Mac OS X, etc. will revisit the bad old days of 1999 and before, when open source browsers on non-Microsoft platforms were laughably unusable.
It's almost poetic how Microsoft killed Netscape Navigator when it was fighting against an overly arrogant startup. Navigator goes open source, and Microsoft may very well be on the way to killing it a second time.
On the other hand, the Mosaic/Navigator/Mozilla codebase has a habit of dying every few years or so. Microsoft has only succeeded in killing it once. Perhaps we need a better name for this browser, like Sabertooth or Aslan or something.