Archive for November, 2006

Brief History of Governance Principles

November 30th, 2006

We’re getting started on a series of activities relating to governance principles and policies. I’ve listed the topics I’m planning to start with in the Mozilla newsgroup known as “governance.” You can access this newsgroup by subscripting to it directly from Mozilla ( or through Google groups at

The Mozilla project has a set of policies that were developed in the early days, starting in 1999. These policies have served us well, and I expect most of the basic principles will remain. Nevertheless, many of these policies need updating. They should all be reviewed and either confirmed, updated, expanded, retired or replaced.

As we get started I thought it might be helpful to describe how the first set of policies was created.

When I arrived at full time in 1999 — a year after its founding — I spent a bunch of time learning how the organization was working. This involved a lot of watching and a lot of questions. It involved an amazing amount of trying to pull from people’s heads various descriptions of what they were already doing and why they were doing it. (Brendan can no doubt attest to my endless questions during this period.) Then I “translated” the various bits I had learned into a somewhat consistent picture, wrote it down, checked to see if it matched reality, and iterated when it didn’t. The next step was looking at the points of tension — with Netscape and other commercial participants, with volunteers, among various groups of engineers and between engineers and other participants. I took the various perspectives and wove them into a proposal that I thought would benefit the project as a whole and satisfy at least broad elements of the community. Then we implemented the proposals. In many cases there was general agreement. But not always. As a project, we shouldn’t be afraid of difficult decisions — we’ve made them before. This is how we came up with the various governance policies.

In other words, we did not try to imagine what a good system would look like and then decree it. We looked at what we were doing, described those things that were working well, lived with pain until we could find solutions for things that needed improvement and then codified them. We had some knock-down drag-out fights in the early days. But we ended up with a set of governance principles and policies that have served us very well, even through the last few years when they’ve been neglected. I became known and accepted as the final decision-maker for governance and policy issues, much as Brendan is the final decision-maker for technical topics.

Our governance principles need updating now, there’s no question of that. I’m very hopeful we can do so without the coming-of-age angst we went through the first time. And I’d like to start with the same techniques that worked so well the first time — codify what we’re doing now that’s working well, try some new things where we need improvement, see what works and codify that. We’ll need to be creative since we’re in a new reality. But it’s still critical to identify work patterns that actually produce good results, and not to make up a system because it sounds good.

Living with Computers — the Morning Alarm

November 28th, 2006

When I came back home from some recent travels I learned that my husband and son had had some trouble getting to school on time. How did I know this? No one said much about it, but the family computer gave the secret away.

Our “family computer” lives in the kitchen. It’s a combination of a Mac mini (the little box) with a Dell combination TV / monitor. My husband has long wanted to be able to watch the football while we’re in the kitchen. So a year or so ago he hooked up this system. It turns out that we still rarely turn the TV and we use the computer a lot more than the TV. (It’s not enough to have both our work laptops in the nearly dining room and various other bits of computer gear through the house. No, we really “need” an extra computer 🙂 )

The morning after I got home I was groggily dragging myself around the house trying to wake up when a giant booming voice came rolling out of the kitchen. After a bit I realized it wasn’t my son yelling, it was a distorted computer voice announcing “School Departure Blast-off! Five minutes and counting!” Followed by a loud and perky version of Devo’s “Time-out for FUN.” After 5 minutes of Divo, it is time to get out of the house. Weeks later, it’s still working. Periodically we change the voice. My son is horrified by the idea of an alarm clock, but finds this approach completely natural.

Follow the Data

November 27th, 2006

An interesting theme has come out of the Firefox Summit. It’s a new focus on data. It’s not classic “browsing” in that what people want is not necessarily a web page. Instead it’s a set of specified data from a web page. Often what we want is more like “data-browsing.” It’s actually not necessarily browsing at all, since sometimes people want very specific information. Maybe it’s “unbrowsing” 🙂

We’ve talked about this in the mobile space, we’ve talked about this as a way of making it easier for people to assemble the information they care about, we’ve talked about it in the context of user — generated mash-ups, and as part of a general improved web experience.

I’m not sure where this will go, but I suspect something very interesting will develop.

Bob Lisbonne and Carl Malamud Join the Mozilla Foundation Board

November 22nd, 2006

The Mozilla Foundation has enormous opportunities in front of it. These include building on the success of the Mozilla project to date, extending the understanding of our community-based development processes, and articulating the vision of the Internet that motivates us. The Mozilla Foundation is in the fortunate position of being limited not by opportunity, but by capacity.

So I’m very pleased to report that the Mozilla Foundation has added two additional Board members to increase our capacity to act effectively: Bob Lisbonne and Carl Malamud. Bob and Carl join Mitch Kapor, Brendan Eich, Brian Behlendorf, Joichi Ito and me.

Bob Lisbonne is a long-time friend of the Mozilla project. Bob was involved in the launch and early days of the Mozilla project at Netscape, and has been involved in the browser space since the early Netscape versions. Bob has consistently provided reasoned and thoughtful advice to me, both at my request and on his own initiative. Bob is currently a general partner with the venture capital firm Matrix Partners. His involvement with Mozilla is a personal effort, not to be associated with or attributed to Matrix Partners.

Carl Malamud has a long history of involvement with Internet and web-based projects supporting the public good, including most notably getting the US Securities and Exchange Commission to release EDGAR filings over the Internet and establishing the Internet Multicasting Service and Internet Talk Radio (home of the “Geek of the Week” show). Carl brings a depth of operational experience to the Board.

The Board is responsible for the assets of the organization, financial controls and overall operation. In addition, a Board provides leadership in setting the overall direction of the organization and represents the organizations and its causes to the world at large.

As part of the selection process, a set of community members participated in interviews with each of Carl and Bob, with feedback provided to the Board. In the future the Board plans to take further steps to involve the Mozilla community in the governance of the Mozilla Foundation. Whatever mechanisms we ultimately adopt, our intent is to have the Mozilla Foundation Board of Directors reflect and be influenced by the views of those who are ultimately responsible for the success of the Mozilla project and thus the Mozilla Foundation -– the many active and dedicated members of the Mozilla community.

Engineering for People

November 20th, 2006

Something very interesting has been happening with this Firefox Summit. It’s something that started at the FOO camps as well. The first FOO camp or two were very focused on technology nuts and bolts — lots of languages issues, lots of programming tips and brainstorming. There were some non-programming sessions, but they were distinctly different from the engineering focused sessions -– licensing, let’s go disassemble a Prius, here’s my system for mentoring. Then things changed. There were still the hard core engineering sessions and the “other” sessions. But there was something new.

The “product” discussions and the “technology” discussions had a much greater social aspect. The rise of “social networking,” use of a “folksonomy” (decentralized cataloging capabilities based on individual actions) and collaborative tools (e.g., wikis) led to a new type of discussion. A large number of the product and technology discussions began to have a very strong focus on human beings.

This has happened at the Firefox Summit this year. We still have a large amount of deep technical discussions. We still have a set of different discussions -– integrating our international websites into a consistent whole, supporting and building community. But we’ve also had this new type of discussions. We had a series of product and technology discussions focused on what people might do with the Internet, and not at all focused on technical implementation.

This sounds simple, but I think it’s a big deal. People are doing –- and trying to do — all sorts of new things on the Internet. Bringing a focus on these attempted activities deep into engineering discussions is an important step in figuring out where our products should go. It’s important to figuring out what needs to happen to promote an open Internet. And it avoids an artificial distinction between “engineering” and “product/project managers.”

Many engineering — based organizations struggle to take this step. We’ve always had a very strong focus on how to make our technology the most useful for individual people. Now I’m also seeing the ability to think about people’s activities first, and technology second. We’re not in danger of losing our focus on effective technology — that’s deep in our DNA. Adding another perspective is a big step.

It’s great to see that this is happening in the Mozilla world.

Putting names to faces

November 16th, 2006

This is the week of our second annual Firefox Summit, where we gather a set of the people who make Firefox possible to plan what comes next. It’s an exciting time, especially since this is our opportunity to meet people face to face after long online collaboration.

Yesterday I arrived at Mozilla just as the bus arrived bringing people from the hotel. It’s an odd moment. My first reaction was, “Hmm, there’s a giant bus parked in front of the office.” Then people started to get out, and I realized “Ah, that’s the Firefox Summit bus.” And there’s Tristan, there’s polvi, there’s three, four, no, five people I don’t even recognize yet. Sometimes when we’re introduced I don’t recognize the name, and we have to get to the email name or IRC or IM name to recognize each other.

Choice, Innovation and Participation

November 13th, 2006

We’ve long described the mission of the Mozilla Foundation as “promoting choice and innovation on the Internet.” I’ve been thinking about how to make this more concrete. How to answer questions like:

  • Is all choice equally useful? How do we figure out which choices we actively try to accomplish?
  • Is all innovation good? Or are some types of innovation more likely to promote the goals of an open Internet?

I’ve found these questions harder to answer than it might seem.

More and more I come back to the concept of participation. One of the things that makes the Internet so exciting is the ability for many people to participate in the development, use and direction of the Internet. People can participate in many ways, in many languages, on many machines, in many different activities. Also, people can participate in a highly decentralized way, making their own choices about if, when and how to participate. Some participate by creating content, some by creating software, some by building communities, some by creating websites. Those who participate help determine the direction in which the Internet develops.

So, what kinds of choice matters to the Mozilla project? What kinds of innovations should the Mozilla project focus on? My current thinking is that we should focus on:

  • Innovations which promote widespread, decentralized participation in online activities; and
  • Choices — in technologies, products, community projects — that make it easier for people to participate in building the online experience that works for them.

Does this resonate with you? Is this a helpful way to think about our goals? Please let me know.

Welcome Tamarin

November 7th, 2006

Today we welcome the Tamarin project to the Mozilla world. Tamarin is the JavaScript virtual machine created by Adobe for use with the Adobe Flash Player. JavaScript — the language of the web — and the Mozilla project have always been intimately tied. JavaScript was originally created by Brendan Eich in 1995. A few years later Brendan was one of the founders of the Mozilla Organization. The Mozilla project has hosted the development of key JavaScript technologies since its founding in 1998. (Originally known as JavaScript, the technology was given the name ECMAScript when submitted to the ECMA standards body.)

More specifically, the Tamarin project means:

  • Adobe has contributed Tamarin to the Mozilla project
  • The source code is now open source (MPL, with the tri-license option) and available from Mozilla source code repository
  • The Mozilla Foundation now hosts the development of Tamarin as part of the Mozilla project and development process
  • Adobe and Mozilla developers will work together to create a version of Tamarin that will be used both in Adobe’s products and in Mozilla’s products, including Firefox.
  • Mozilla contributors will be able to participate in development of Tamarin as they do in all other aspects of Mozilla open-source development.

This is an exciting development. It represents many years of work, and highlights several important developments.

  1. Convergence on a key technology. We will be sharing resources to build a single community working on a single version. That’s good news. Web developers will be able to focus on a single, more robust technology. That’s great news.
  2. The Mozilla project is about creating a vibrant, open Internet. We are best known for Mozilla Firefox, but our goal is much broader — to promote development of an open, standards-based Internet, with low barriers to participation and useful innovation. Firefox is one tool in this effort. Technologies such as JavaScript are another. JavaScript provides a low barrier to entry, uncountable people and websites use JavaScript quite separately from any focus on Firefox, and improving JavaScript improves the capabilities of the Internet itself.
  3. Vitality of the Mozilla project. The Mozilla project is undoubtedly the correct home for Tamarin. The Mozilla project has demonstrated a long-term ability to host and lead JavaScript development. We have the community, the infrastructure, the will and the experience to welcome a new project like Tamarin, and to help a company like Adobe make a transition into our project. We’ve been around for a good while and we demonstrate both staying power and leadership in innovation.
  4. Resources. The Mozilla Firefox web browser generates revenue. This revenue has allowed the Mozilla Corporation to fund an increasing number of developers. This in turn has allowed us to devote more of time to forward-looking ECMAscript design and development. Brendan is the convenor for the ECMAscript working group on ECMAscript Edition 4, in which Adobe is also playing an active role. Improvements in ECMAscript are a significant part of our Mozilla 2 technology roadmap. Brendan is leading work on both the specification of the language itself and on Mozilla’s future implementation. The ability to do so and simultaneously deliver high quality JavaScript capabilities in Firefox is a demonstration of the degree to which the Mozilla project has been able to scale our efforts.

The Internet is still new. Our Mozilla 2 roadmap lays out areas where we can help improve the overall usefulness of the Internet. It’s a challenging roadmap with a lot of great work to be done. The challenge matches the benefit -– an Internet where user experience is improving, where key technologies are both open standards and open source, and where increasing numbers of people can participate. It’s exciting, it’s fun and it’s worthwhile.

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