Archive for June 26th, 2006

The Big Picture — Part 2

June 26th, 2006

Here is the first half of Mike Shaver’s marvelous summary of the discussions relating to Mozilla project goals held at the Mozilla Corporation in the spring of 2006. (More info about these discussions can be found in my summary discussionof this topic.) Mike outdid himself in capturing the themes of these discussions, and deserves greats credit for taking this on. I’m of course responsible for any problems 🙂

Major Themes

1. Our Work and Legacy Transcends the Browser

This was a nearly universal sentiment (possibly, in fact, universal, but my notes don’t permit me to be certain): what we are doing with the browser is vitally important to the future of the web, but what we are doing as a project and the technology that this project is building has ramifications that go well beyond that. Exactly where the project and corporation should invest to extend that influence is not a well-agreed point (see below), but that the browser is not the whole of what we do was not controversial.

Of the areas in which we hope to have a lasting effect on the industry and the world, some representative sentiments were:

  • “Kept the web open, making the Next Thing possible”
  • “Showed that open source can product great products, not just great technology”
  • “Built and sustained a culture of software development focused relentlessly on real people”
  • “Showed that open source and business can be mixed to the ‘benefit’ of a public-good mission”
  • “Grew, nurtured, and deserved a strong and energetic community of supporters and contributors.”

The openness of our communication and, of course, software licensing were seen by many as critical to our ability to achieve a lasting legacy. That the artifacts we produce — applications, platform software, records of decisions, organizational processes, business models — will remain for others to build upon even if our project or Corporation should cease to exist is itself a key part of what we do and how we do it, and not just a side benefit or tactical decision.

(An interesting intellectual excursion briefly explored if it was even *possible* for the Mozilla Project to cease to exist, while people continued to use our products and technology and such. Ended in a draw, I believe.)

2. The Need to Appropriately Balance Focus and Diversification

Unsurprisingly, a frequent topic of discussion was how we should balance efforts directed towards leveraging Firefox’s current opportunities and success with investment in other applications (such as Thunderbird, Minimo, or Sunbird/Lightning), or “generalized” technology (such as XULRunner or embedding support). While there is not widespread agreement about the relative value of different tradeoffs, it seems that we largely agree that the managing of such tradeoffs is an important factor in the direction of the project and Corporation both. Also, it was frequently expressed that guiding people in these sorts of tradeoffs should be an important goal for the mission

Discussion and positions on the issue itself were predictably wide-ranging:

  • How many different things can we (project, or Corp) manage successfully?
  • We should be ready to undertake things that are not as clear to us as “the browser” is today.
  • Related: if we were to start today without the history of Netscape’s source release, would we still be building a browser?
  • We should devote whatever we can to driving Firefox forward, lest we lose the window of opportunity.
  • We should not put all our eggs in the Firefox basket, and should “share the wealth” with other related projects and areas of work.
    • Related: is it easier to “convert” success with Firefox into opportunities in other areas, or vice versa?
  • How much of the “rest of the internet” (VOIP and IM were common examples) will be affected by our current work, and how much is outside of our influence as we currently operate?
    • Do we want to encourage more services to be brought into “the content area” via web services, discourage that trend, or remain neutral?

    3. “Choice and Innovation” Is At Least As Hard As It Sounds

    Whenever the conversation turned to our motto of “choice and innovation,” there seemed to be agreement that it was not concrete enough to be a useful guide in many areas. In particular, the opportunity cost element of choice, as reflected in the previous section, was felt to be especially troublesome. But for all that “C&I” is in sufficient to guide the bulk of our work, most felt that it was a good starting point for determining what the project could and should undertake.

    As noted in the overview of the “legacy” threads, the innovation element here was widely and strongly believed to extend beyond “mere” product and technology choices. The organizational, fiscal, and social innovations that the project produces are clearly an important element of our work as a project and as a Corporation, and areas in which people wish to see us continue to invest effort.

    Another common thread was that of “indirect innovation.” Whether through packaging our technology for others to use, improving the viability of standards on the web, or demonstrating a “third way” open source/business model, many of us believe that work to help *others* innovate was as important as innovation that we perform directly. (Several people mentioned that the changes in IE7 were an example of this indirect innovation, albeit where we helped create demand for improvment rather than the improvement itself.)

    “Choice” is of course no crisper than “innovation” in its impact on specific decisions, but virtually everyone agreed that “choice of browser” is not the only interesting choice for us to work towards. Whether choice of operating system, choice of device, choice of language, or of interaction independent of disability, though, most expressed that the user’s choice was paramount. One person remarked specifically that “putting it in the hands of the user makes [choice and innovation] real”.

    Our success in providing the user with meaningful choice is something that’s hard to assess (let alone measure quantitatively), and several people asked what we could use other than browser market share to track our progress there.

    Finally, how would a future in which Firefox’s success brought it to 50 or even 90 percent market share affect our pursuit of choice? Would a Firefox hegemony be better than the IE one we’ve been working to break? Would we be as happy with a browser market (for instance; as always, the discussion was frequently about non-browser domains) carved into ten equal slices as into three [or four]?

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