Mozilla

Archive for March 13th, 2006

History of “Choice and Innovation on the Internet”

March 13th, 2006

I’ve been thinking about how to describe the goals of the Mozilla project, and how the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation fit into that. By “Mozilla project” I mean all the people who are involved, unrelated to any employment relationship. The Mozilla Foundation, including its subsidiary the Mozilla Corporation, together make up only a small portion of the people involved. It’s important that the Mozilla Foundation remain in sync with the larger project it seeks to lead, and that we have healthy discussions about that goal.

We’ve been using the goal of “choice and innovation on the Internet” for some time now. Recently someone asked me for a history of this phrase. I did a bit of research, here’s what I found.

I. Pre-Foundation website.

As far as I can tell, I think we started using the specific phrase “choice and innovation” when we created the new web pages for the Mozilla Foundation. Before the Foundation existed, our web site and communication was mostly internal, aimed at developers and participants in the project. It was less aimed at end-users or at the general public. So the mozilla.org site did not have a focus on explaining the importance of the project in general terms.

II. Pre-Foundation Public Statements

In the pre-Foundation era I did explain the importance of the Mozilla project to the press, particularly around the release of Mozilla 1.0 in June, 2002. I’ve found and copied a few of these interviews that were done by email below. The comments show their age a bit (2002 was a long time ago in Internet time) but overall still seem relevant today.

Question: “What is your view on the market share currently held by the Mozilla browser? Is it important to take on Internet Explorer? (if it is, how to do that?)”

Answer: “The Internet is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. ‘Browser’ software is the means through which consumers and citizens access and manipulate data via the Internet. It is an unhealthy situation to have only one means of accessing Internet information. It is unhealthy to have our means of accessing the Internet determined by the business plan of a software vendor. The goal of the Mozilla project is to provide alternative, open source software through which people can access the Internet. This is a critical piece in allowing the needs of citizens and consumers to determine the development of Internet technologies.”

“The Mozilla project provides a viable, vibrant technical alternative to Internet Explorer. This alone is not the entire story, distribution is also important. But distribution is impossible until a viable technical alternative exists, and Mozilla provides such an alternative.”

Question: “Going further than the published roadmap, where do you see the Mozilla browser five or ten years from now? Which kind of features may be incorporated in the future?

Answer: “The Internet is a diverse environment. Human beings can access their data and conduct transactions on the Net based on their goals. Different people choose different means of doing so, some focus on convenience, some on protecting their privacy. Innovation has returned to “browser” software, providing new convenience to users. Many of us use devices other than desktop computers to access the Internet, and Mozilla based software helps power the change.”

Answer: Our goal is a World-Wide-Web where consumers have choice, and where no single entity dictates what the consumer can do or see. In other words, to maintain effective consumer choice in how our personal information is transmitted and used. We’re dangerously close to losing that choice now, as more and more websites provide their data and services in formats only IE can understand.

III. The appearance of “Choice and Innovation”

I believe the “choice and innovation” phrase first appeared in Nov. of 2003, when we set about finding a good way of describing our purpose that could be easily absorbed and understood. “Bonsai” (our web-based tool for showing what has changed in our source repository) suggests it appeared in version 1.2 of the “about” page. The phrase also appeared on the front page of the mozilla.org website when it was revised in mid to late Nov. 2003. In this case the reference was:

What is Mozilla?
The Mozilla project maintains choice and innovation on the Internet by developing the acclaimed, open source, Mozilla 1.5 web and email suite and related products and technology.

IV. What I take from this

“Choice and innovation on the web” has been an excellent way to describe our goals or mission so far. The phrase has developed staying power because it expresses a basic nature of what we’re doing. My believe is that “choice and innovation” is a great starting point, has served us well and is part of our heritage that we should look to. I also suspect it is not enough to guide our daily activities. Is any innovation equally desirable for us to pursue? And do we care if choice lead to a better overall better experience? If so, for whom? “Choice and innovation on the web” is a great foundation, and I’m proud of it. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to build upon this foundation and define what we think the Mozilla project can and should do to make the net a better place.

Mozilla Corporation, part 1

March 13th, 2006

As part of talking about organization, goals, etc. it might be helpful for me to lay out where I think things stand today. To the extent other people agree we’ve got something written down. To the extent others have corrections, changes and disagreements we can identify those and start discussions. I’ll start with the Corporation.

1. Mozilla Corporation Employees. The Mozilla Corporation has about 40 people working for it now. That’s about 40 “FTEs” or” full-time equivalents.” Some people work part time. Most of those employees are in the United States or Canada. That’s partly because of the history of people working on the project from before the Foundation/Corporation were formed. It’s also in part because it is difficult to hire people without having a legal organization in the country in which they live. It’s hard for the Mozilla Corporation to hire people in Europe of Asia without having either a series of branch offices or forming subsidiaries. We are able to engage people as contractors in some cases, and try to do this when the work involved fits with the legal definition of “contractor” applicable to us and the potential contractor. One of the things on our list of things to do is to try to figure out how to improve this. I’m distressed at the idea of forming more legal organizations. But the difficulties in not able to hire people outside the US and Canada is a bigger problem. More legal organizations is annoying but living with the limits on hiring is something that has to change.

The largest number of Mozilla Corporation employees in a single place are in Mountain View, California. The next largest concentration is in and around Toronto. Others are spread out, often one person to a locale.

2. Mozilla Corporation Revenues. The Mozilla Corporation pays its employees from the revenues we receive from our product. We are very fortunate in that the search feature in Firefox is both appreciated by our users and generates revenue in the tens of millions of dollars. People sometimes ask if there are other features from which we could make money. The short answer is: We don’t know. Perhaps search is the only feature that will both benefit users and generate this kind of revenue. We’ve seen browsers that appear to have sold off all sorts of features and links to website with an eye to revenue rather than helping people make sense of the web. We won’t do that. The people working on the product couldn’t stand it and our users would abandon such a product.

I sometimes hear people refer to Firefox’s “Google bar.” I understand this but it’s not quite accurate. The Search Box has Google as default in many languages, but always has options for the consumer to choose. I think it’s a *big deal* that both Google and Yahoo are next to each other in the same product so that consumers can choose. (The UI for this is tough, I agree about that.) And Yahoo is the default search for Japanese, Chinese and Korean. So if you are using Firefox in those languages the “Google bar” wouldn’t make sense.

We’ve been using the money generated from the search providers exclusively to build the capabilities of the Mozilla project. We’ve hired people. We’ve built a much more robust infrastructure. (This may not sound like a big deal, but the server load of what we’re doing with update and extensions is significant.) We’ve got a “reserve fund” now which I view as extremely important. Having savings means that people are much more likely to believe us when we say we will turn down revenue if it doesn’t benefit the user. We’ve always said this, and we’ve meant it. Or to be more personal, I’ve always said it and meant it. One sounds na├»ve when one says this, particularly to large commercial enterprises. It helps people comprehend my statements when we have a reserve fund that allows us to operate whether or not we’re interested in them.

In the near future the Corporation will be looking at how to disperse some of the funds generated outside of our corporate structure (and here I mean outside both the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation). I’ve been told by some people that this is risky and that the thought of money distorts the community. I’m sure all that is possible. But we do have money in the project now and some of it should get spent on a project-wide basis unrelated to employment. I’m hoping we can do this in a way that reflects our community organization and distributed authority. I’m not sure what the mechanism is yet but I know it needs to happen.

3. More Topics. Now that I’ve started, there’s a lot more to say. Topics that are on “the tip of my tongue” include: the health of the community, the relationship between the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation; long-term goals of the Mozilla project; developing a more open communications style in non-code topics; how do coordination and “management” fit in; what roles has the Mozilla Corporation been hiring for and why. But in the spirit of writing more informal, *digestible* posts I’ll stop here now and put those thoughts in separate posts.

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