Although several news agencies are reporting that AOL Time Warner is making strategic shifts toward Red Hat Linux internally and Netscape's Mozilla-based Web browser in its AOL software, these stories seem to spring from one report from a less-than-reputable source. However, given the report's plausibility, I'll present it here with the understanding that this is just a report and that none of the parties involved have officially verified the information.
According to the report, in an effort to trim costs, media giant AOL Time Warner has struck a deal with Linux maker Red Hat to convert many of its internal server systems to Linux. Currently, AOL uses expensive proprietary UNIX solutions inhouse. AOL has no plans to replace its Windows desktops with Linux, however, and no plans to port its AOL client software to the Linux platform. Rumors of AOL and Red Hat working together first surfaced last month, lending credibility to that aspect of the story.
In addition, AOL is reportedly testing a new version of its AOL client software, AOL 8.0, that will use Netscape 6 (which is based on the open-source Mozilla browser project) as its underlying browser module. AOL currently uses Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) technology for this purpose, and the company testified during Microsoft's antitrust trial that it wouldn't use IE if it had a choice. The Mozilla technology has improved dramatically, and AOL has already tested a version of its CompuServe front end that uses Netscape and Mozilla instead of IE. These events, combined with AOL's innate hatred of Microsoft, make a move away from IE almost inevitable.
Any AOL move to strike back at Microsoft's IE would have serious repercussions. Currently, more than 90 percent of users accessing the Web use IE. When AOL eventually drops IE (and it will, this news isn't exactly a scoop), IE's market share will drop dramatically, for the first time ever. Based on current market share numbers and the size of AOL's user base, Netscape could see its share of the browser market jump from 8 percent to 16 to 20 percent within a year. Browser Wars II? You never know.