Lizard Wrangling: Mitchell on Mozilla & More

Mozilla

Success and Competition

July 11th, 2013

Last week one of the regular browser competitive “bake-offs” named Firefox “speed king”, which highlights how much competition has improved Firefox.  This time we beat Chrome in performance areas where Google once had a significant lead. This has caused me to think a bit about competition, why it matters, when it goes bad, and how we think about it.

First of course, it’s fun to excel and I’m very proud of the Mozilla teams that made this happen. Competing with Google is no easy task –Google’s resources are immense and their employees are talented. Kudos to everyone involved.

Second, competition in “our” space is one aspect of success.  When we started building Firefox, no one believed a browser mattered on the desktop, and a lot of people didn’t know what a browser was.  Today that’s not the case.  The introduction of Firefox spurred the browser into prominence, and generated competition first from Microsoft, and then from Google. This competition has validated our message from long ago that creating the product through which people access the Internet has immense impact.  Google will undoubtedly surge ahead on some aspects of performance before too long, we should expect this, rise to meet the challenge and view it as success.

Third, we need to make sure we’re competing in things that matter. A neck-and-neck competition in an area that doesn’t provide value to consumers isn’t a great use of resources. We should periodically evaluate if the thing we’re competing about is worth the focus. Today raw speed is a key competitive area. That makes sense. It’s worth asking if at some point if improvements in raw speed will become overshadowed by needed improvements in other areas, but right now raw speed is important to users.

We’re also working on performance in new areas.  With Firefox  we are also bringing things like high performance 3D games and video calls to the Web. These rich activities like games and video calls were some of the last remaining challenges to prove that the Web is a capable and powerful platform for complex tasks. Addressing these challenges is another step in Mozilla’s mission to advance the Web as the platform for openness, innovation and opportunity for all.

Fourth, great products are key at Mozilla.  Firefox on the desktop allows us to enhance the key aspects of online life we care about.  It will help us connect “the desktop” to “mobile” and provide a unified online experience based on the freedoms and openness that drive us.

Serendipity

July 9th, 2013

Barcelona has a couple of large music festivals in the spring.  The largest is Sonar, which takes over *both* of the FIRAs, including the gigantic one that Mobile World Congress just moved to in 2013.  It includes a range of activities.  Another is “Primavera Sound,”  a multi-stage, multi-day event that covers an immense area of renovated waterfront on the northern end of Barcelona.  The day we went to Primavera the shows started at noon or so and continued until 5:30 am the next morning.  This being Barcelona, there are tons of shows schedule for 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 am.  This being an odd and cold winter, it was jackets and fleeces and hats to fend off the cold wind from the water and prepare for the threat of rain.

Sometime while waiting for the 4am shows to start my husband and I wandered through the vendor stalls.  It was odd — other than food, drink and a huge number of cigarettes (it is still very surprising to me, still a Californian at heart, to see how much smoking is a part of daily life here), the only item for purchase were all small print runs of posters, mostly band and venue posters.  It was fun to see: there were no mass produced items, and so we saw the return of serious, low-volume speciality printing.

One set of prints caught our eye — it was a set of eyes, not a musical print but interesting.  Here they are:eyes For those of you who are familiar with Terri Prachett’s “Only You Can Save Mankind” these remind me of the captain, although her color palate is different.

We ended up in an instant, totally comfortable conversation with the proprietor of this stall.   As we talk I am repeatedly drawn to a particular poster, very ornate, for some reason I couldn’t quite place. Here’s what it looks like:

JohnHoward

After a while we learn the proprietor of the stall is from Berkeley, CA.    That explains it — I was born in Berkeley, grew up in the town next door, went to college and grad  school in Berkeley, understand the vibe and often like the people.

Eventually it’s time for our show to start and so he, his wife, my husband and I say our “we’ll-come-by-and-visit-you-once-we-move-back-to-California” good-buys. We get along so well he pulls out his good, special business card.  Immediately I see it says “monkey.”    I say “there’s a lot of monkeys in the world.”

He responds “Yes, I made a JaegerMonkey t-shirt for Mozilla a while back.”  My husband and I stop, stunned.  Our son wears his JaegerMonkey t-shirt regularly  (actually, it started off as my t-shirt but we both realized  immediately it would become his.) There is JaegerMonkey inspired artwork, album covers and even music floating around our house, thanks to the kids  who have been drawn to the JaegerMonkey t-shirt.  On a recent trip to the coast one of my son’s friends spent the trip making an 8-bit, mine-craft like JaegerMonkey image ….

My husband points to the small Firefox button he has pinned to his jacket and describes my role.  The print-maker shows off the t-shirt he’s wearing, which is the test print for the new Mozilla shirt he’s driving down to our offices when he gets back to California.  We all stand around stunned for a bit.  I don’t  have the new Mozilla t-shirt, but thanks to this odd meeting we’ve not the copies of the prints above.  You can find the prints at the monkeyink website.

Success and Firefox OS

July 1st, 2013

Firefox OS is launching today.  With that in mind, it’s a good time to recap why Mozilla builds products, what our products represent and how our products relate to our goals.

Mozilla’s goal is to build openness, innovation, and opportunity into online life.   One of our biggest levers is of course building products.   We build products that provide a great user experience and engender openness, innovation and opportunity into the technology of the Web itself.

Firefox has done this in many ways.  Firefox was a pioneer in the world of open source consumer products, in open techniques for feedback, support, and quality, just to name a few examples.  We have always built Firefox to give developers huge opportunities for innovation in areas they care about.  We do not seek to control the ways developers can innovate, or the way people take control of their software.

As a result, Firefox helped usher in a whole new era of Web computing, bringing new experiences for users and new freedoms for developers.  Today Firefox continues to pioneer new technologies and features that benefit users.  Some recent examples include features such as Do Not Track, which allows people to tell websites they do not wish to be tracked around the Web, and our Social API that makes the browsing experience more personal and customizable.

With Firefox OS we hope to do something similar with the mobile computing environment.  We want to bring the power of the open Web to this world.  We want to bring the same kinds of flexibility, opportunity and freedom to this computing environment that the original Firefox brings to the desktop.  More specifically, we want  Firefox OS to:

  • Prove that the Web is the platform, surprise people with what HTML5 is capable of on mobile devices.
  • Advance adoption of mobile Web standards and APIs across the industry, including on other operating systems.
  • Spur developer innovation; break the mold of what a mobile app is capable of.
  • Make the open Web accessible to more people.
  • Spur competition in making the Web the platform for mobile computing.
  • Excite people.
  • Provide a powerful, exciting and open alternative to the current closed ecosystems.

You’ll note that I haven’t included something like “we want to ship X numbers of phones.”  Ultimately, we want enough people choosing Firefox OS to confirm we’ve built a great product and to move us toward  a more open mobile computing platform based on the Web.    Our goal is to provide an alternative that has a deep and exciting user experience based on openness, choice and competition.

Total Surveillance

June 11th, 2013

Imagine you live in a world where the buildings are glass and you can’t ever close the curtains. Imagine the floor is glass, the ceiling is glass and all the walls are glass. There are no curtains, no window shades, no shutters and you can’t make your own. We’re heading into this world online. A robust network, cheap sensors and massive data manipulation builds the equivalent of glass houses.

The question today is whether we can have curtains. Whether any business or ecosystem provides curtains and whether we can make our own. Today we have very little ability to close the curtains in commercial activities. Websites are technically able to track *everything* we do, from how long we stay on a page to what ads attract us to how to travel from one website to the next. The data about you can be sold to others. Online data can be combined with data from your physical world and made available or sold to others  Telephone providers know when we make a phone call, where we made it from, who we called, how long we talked, our regular patterns of calls, and more.

Now we know that the U.S. government is gathering significant quantities of this data. Currently it’s understood to be using only “metadata” about phone calls for U.S. citizens, and to be using the actual content as well for foreign nationals. Now we also know that the inability to pull the curtains applies to governments as well.  We can also wonder how many other governments are collecting these types of data.

Now is the moment to ask — do we care?  Do care how much our government watches us, tracks us without our knowing it? Do we care how  the U.S. government treats the citizens of friendly, allied states? Do we care if other governments emulate the U.S. and gather this data?   How do businesses, organizations and individuals approach the US knowing the scope of online activities that are being monitored?  How much do other governments do this — either to  citizens or to foreign nationals?

How do we balance between civil rights and national security?

At Mozilla we have a long, deep focus on individual control of online life, including the degree of privacy a person wants. We build products to promote this goal, and we will continue to do so. In essence, we try to provide the option of pulling the curtains for individual citizens.

However, products do not make government policies. This is the role of  citizens. We urge all citizens to get involved with the issue of wholesale government surveillance. It will determine the realities of  online life going forward.  Our online houses are become increasingly built of glass. Our lives our increasingly visible to whomever wants to look.

Let’s ask ourselves: do we want to live in a house or a fishbowl?

Keynote talk: Nature of Mozilla; Public Policy Approach

April 25th, 2013

Here’s a  talk  I gave at the annual public policy event organized by the Center for Democracy and Technology.  It starts with about 3-4 minutes summary of my high level view of Mozilla, using language tuned for the public policy audience.  You won’t find comments about interoperability or standards.  This talk focuses on the human experiences these approaches help create, rather than talking about the technical approaches themselves.

The first 90 seconds is the introduction.  The next 3 or 4 minutes are the description of Mozilla and what we do.  Right around the 5-minute mark, the talk moves into the Public Policy area. Given the event and the audience, Mozilla’s public policy approach is the bulk of the talk. Around the 16-minute mark, I return to Mozilla’s biggest lever –  building technology and products.  In total, about 20 minutes.

 

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