Archive for March, 2005

PC Forum 2005

March 23rd, 2005

I’ve spent the last few days in Arizona at PC Forum, a gathering organized by Esther Dyson. This was my first trip to PC Forum. Esther contacted me a while back to say she knew she’d like me to speak on some aspect of the Mozilla project, and we then spent some time thinking about a topic. It was a very interesting process, quite different from my experience with many other conferences. This is not a case where the conference organizer come up with a desired presentation and then found someone to give it. Instead, Esther spent a fair amount time of time talking to me about the Mozilla project. We talked on the phone a few times, we met in person, we talked on the phone some more. Esther took what she learned of the project and of me, and then started thinking about how she might fit this into the event in some interesting fashion. After a while she came back and suggested a discussion with Kim Polese on some topic about how open source works in practice. I said sure. Then came a set of discussions about a bio. Most conferences ask for a prepared bio and print it up. PC Forum does this, but Esther does more. The version of Release 1.0 just before the conference contains extended descriptions of the speakers. I don’t know if Esther personally writes every one, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Esther tracked me down in Beijing for a set of phone calls to finalize the description about me. All of this means that there is a very personal feeling to the gathering — even newcomers like me are known to the conference host.

On the other hand, the content of the discussion was left quite open. Esther was developing an idea of where to start and where to guide things, but at no time did we plan the content. I approached it as a “conversation with Esther” and figured she would guide us into interesting territory. I met up with Kim Polese a few minutes before our talk and she had the same experience.

The conference itself is active. Of course a large set of attendees know each other from work and past conferences. There is the activity of the VCs and the companies looking for funding and /or partnerships. There are a wide range of very creative, accomplished people looking for interesting conversations. This year included a focus on health care, and also a discussion on the meaning of work and education initiated by Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. Everything has a very technical bent but not every discussion is entirely technical. The energy level was high.

It’s not new, but it’s still exciting to see the web take its place in all this ferment. The web enables a new set of activities, a new set of ways for people to interact, and of course the communities and businesses built on that. It was also fascinating to note the extent to which the idea of “community” has become mainstream. It seems everyone wants to develop a community around their company or project or effort. This makes sense to me, given the power and effectiveness of the Mozilla community. This focus on communities is not explicitly (or perhaps even consciously) tied to the open source experiences. However, I suspect that the accomplishments of open source communities may be a factor in this general business attitude.

It’s also great to see the extent to which Firefox is seen as playing a role in the current climate of excitement and creativity. Many people stopped to say thanks for Firefox. I want to pass those thanks on to the astonishing community of people who are helping to make our goal of innovation a reality.

Community Transition Plan for Seamonkey

March 10th, 2005

There’s been a fair amount of discussion recently about Seamonkey and Firefox development. First, never trust the headlines! I’m frequently amazed by what I find.

It is true that the Mozilla Foundation does not plan to ship official releases of the integrated Mozilla Application Suite (also known by its codename of “Seamonkey”) after the 1.7.x line. It is true that there are a group of developers who remain interested in developing and releasing new versions of the Seamonkey project. This group has proposed a plan for continuing the Seamonkey project as a community effort. In essence, the proposal is that interested developers would do the work and the releases, and the Mozilla Foundation will supply infrastructure support (cvs, bugzilla, etc.) We support this plan and will work with the developers to figure out how to implement it effectively.

These developments represent the strength of the open source development model in action. One of the benefits of open source software is that consumers are not locked into the vendor; they have the flexibility to create, maintain and use the products they want. Here we see these freedoms in action.

The Mozilla Foundation will cease development of new features for the Seamonkey product. (We’ll continue with 1.7.x maintenance and security releases to support 1.7.x users.) This decision has been discussed at length, and I won’t go into the rationale — we believe it is the correct decision for the overall health of the Mozilla project. There is a user and developer base that remains interested in Seamonkey. In a traditional proprietary world those users and developers would be out of luck, stuck forever using the last version received from the vendor or forced into an unwanted upgrade. In the open source world this need not be the case, and Seamonkey is an example of this.

The community of people interested in Seamonkey are organizing themselves and beginning to plan the tasks for the next release. The Mozilla Foundation will provide infrastructure support as described in the Seamonkey transition outline.

Like many open source projects, the Mozilla project is characterized by contributors who are fervently devoted to the technology, the projects and the releases they believe important. It’s no surprise that a portion of our community remains attached to the Seamonkey suite — these are some of the folks that made Seamonkey so good in the first place. It’s no surprise that a group wants to continue developing new features for Seamonkey — this is the commitment that gives the Mozilla project the power to be effective. An active Seamonkey community project reflects the success of the Mozilla project as a whole.

Adventures in Beijing

March 2nd, 2005

I’m in Beijing again, after a hiatus of 10 (actually 11 years). I’m here for the Fifth Asia Open Source Software Symposium and for another event which I’ll describe later. The Symposium is quite interesting, it is an update on what some 20 countries in the Asian region are doing to promote the adoption and development of open source software. I came because both the Symposium and the other event coincidentally happened to be scheduled for the same week, which made the trip seem worthwhile despite the costs of being away from the office for a week. I have some Internet access, which is wildly different than Beijing in 1994. But there are still a series of problems that make working from here difficult — the internet cable in my room doesn’t like my computer, so I have to go to the business center and try to work when it is open. For some reason I time out when trying to connect to the IRC servers, even when I can successfully connect with websites. And mail is truly wacky. Sometimes I can receive mail but not send. Sometimes I can send mail but not receive. I think the problem is with my provider, since something like this happened once before. But it’s a hard problem to fix from here.

So, if you’ve tried to contact me and haven’t gotten a response please give me a few days to get all this sorted out.

Being in Beijing has brought back many memories. I was actually in Beijing in the fall of 1994 when I accepted a job offer from Jim Clark to join Netscape. At that time I was astonished to be able to send and receive faxes from my hotel. I had lived in Beijing a few years before when I was an exchange student at Peking University. During that era the idea of sending a fax was beyond comprehension. There were a few foreign law firms downtown that maintained fax machines. But exchange students never saw these! And besides, we were at least an hour bus ride away from downtown. In those days the only way to make an international phone call was to go to a PT&T (Post, Telephone and Telegraph) office, wait your turn, and have an operator place the call. We were very lucky that the dormitory for foreign students had such an office, but it could still take 45 minutes to make a call. So in 1994 sending faxes was a novelty. Today there is a fax machine in my hotel room and my problems relate to imperfect internet access. Quite a change.

The hotel where I’m staying is in a neighborhood where I used to spend a reasonable amount of time. During my student days in Beijing this neighborhood was the transfer point between the two halves of the bus trip required to get from the University to downtown. I can hardly wait for a chance to get outside the hotel and walk around.

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