Mozilla

Archive for March, 2008

Mozilla Turns 10 Today

March 31st, 2008

Today is a special day.

March 31, 1998 is the date that Mozilla was officially launched. It’s the date the first Mozilla code became publicly available under the terms of an official open source license and a governing body for the project — the Mozilla Organization — began its public work. It’s always been known in Mozilla parlance as “3/31.” We’ll be celebrating Mozilla’s 10 year anniversary throughout 2008. Today I want to look at our first ten years, and a bit at the next ten years.

Ten years ago a radical idea took shape. The idea was that an open source community could create choice and innovation in key Internet technologies where large, commercial vendors could not. This idea took shape as the Mozilla project.

Mozilla was not the first group to pursue this idea. GNU/Linux and the BSD operating systems were already providing a very effective alternative at the server-side operating system level; the Apache web server was already proving that an open source solution could be effective even in areas where the commercial players were actively competing. Each of these gave strength to the idea that this new effort could be successful.

At its inception, Mozilla was:

  • An open source codebase for the software we call the browser
  • A group of people to build and lead an open source development effort — the Mozilla Organization (also known as “mozilla.org”)
  • A larger group of people committed to the idea — and the enormous work involved — in building a browser we all needed
  • An open source license granting everyone expansive rights to use the code for their own goals — the Mozilla Public License (which is now at version 1.1)
  • A website
  • A mascot (the orange T-rex, alternatively referred to as a lizard)

During the years since 3/31 we have taken that radical idea and proved its power. We have broadened the idea beyond anything imagined at our founding. And in the next ten years we’ll continue to be radical about building fundamental qualities such as openness, participation, opportunity, choice and innovation into the basic infrastructure of the Internet itself.

What have we accomplished?

  • Converted a closed, proprietary development process into a vibrant, transparent, open source project.
  • Grown into a massive global community, quite possibly the largest open source project in the world
  • Developed exceptional technology
  • Developed a set of long-term, vibrant projects — Firefox, Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, Camino, Bugzilla, Calendar –most, and possibly all of which have millions of users
  • Become the software provider of choice for over 170 million people
  • Proved that open source development can product great end user products
  • Brought the Internet to millions of people in their language
  • Moved the overall state of browser software forward dramatically
  • Become a technology platform others use to create products built on Mozilla technologies, and in some cases competitive with Mozilla products
  • Developed and implemented systems and community norms for a massive distribution of authority
  • Conducted all sorts of new activities in a transparent and participatory way, including product planning, marketing, public speaking, UI and organizational decisions
  • Developed a reputation that people trust and feel they have helped create
  • Developed a sustainability model using market mechanisms to support a public benefit mission
  • Become a significant force in the development of Internet technology industry-wide
  • Developed a sophisticated organization that can — for example — service, update and respond to 170 million users
  • Built and operated giant open-source web applications — where the source code that runs the application IS open source and available to others;
  • Articulated our mission in broad, non-technical term
  • Encouraged others to try open, transparent and collaborative techniques in a broad range of activities
  • Created public assets of enormous value

That’s a lot. And we’re not done yet. The next ten years have challenges and opportunities equal to those of our first decade. The Internet is now interwoven into modern life, and it will certainly grow to be more powerful. There’s no guarantee that it will remain open or enjoyable or safe. There’s no guarantee that individuals will be able to participate in creating or (for the general non-technical consumer) effectively managing their experience. There’s no guarantee that there is an effective voice for individuals benefiting from the increased power of the Internet.

Mozilla can and should fulfill this role. But not as a guarantor. Mozilla is an opportunity for people to make this vision happen. Mozilla is about opportunity and participation. Mozilla is people getting involved, “doing” things, creating the Internet experience we want to live with. We’re not alone in doing this. Other open source and free software projects play a strong role, as do other organizations focused on participation, collaboration, and openness.

We want the Internet to be an open environment, where it’s easy to innovate, and where individuals, small groups and newcomers all have rich opportunities to create and lead. So, we’ll build technologies and products that make this happen. Mozilla offers each person who wants to see this happen an opportunity to do something. Using Mozilla products is an important step in its own right — every person using Mozilla products makes our voice stronger. And there is much, much more that any one of us can do.

What do we know is ahead of us?

  • Hundreds of millions of people relying on us for the quality of their Internet experience
  • Ensuring that the Open Web itself remains the developer platform of choice for new web applications; providing a compelling alternative to closed, proprietary development environments
  • Bringing openness and consumer choice to the mobile environment as we have to the desktop world
  • Handling data in a more transparent, participatory way for general consumers
  • Bringing openness, paticipation and opportunity to more — and as yet mostly undetermined — aspects of Internet life
  • Evolving the “browser” to support the new things we’re doing on the Internet
  • Creating a new style of global organization: one where local involvement around the globe has increasing project-wide influence
  • Broadening the sustainability options for “hybrid” organizations — that is, organizations that support public benefit activities through market funding mechanisms as well as traditional fundraising

And these are just the things we can see today. Many of the best, most exciting activities of the next ten years will seem to come from nowhere. In reality they will come from people combining their own ingenuity with Mozilla tools, techniques, technologies to build new, wildly innovative aspects to life that none of us can imagine today. And because the Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization we are focused on creating the maximum possible public benefit rather than revenue. We don’t limit how people can use our technology to maximize revenue; we encourage people to challenge us to be better.

Opportunity, Challenge, Excitement, Fun

During much of our first ten years people “knew” that our goal of creating choice and innovation in the browser space was impossible. From that perspective we have achieved the impossible. It certainly wasn’t easy, but here we are today in a radically different setting.

The challenges before us are great. But the opportunity is many times larger. We have the ability to affect aspects of Internet architecture and user experience. We have the organization, we have the frameworks we need to work in, we have the voice. And most important of all, we have the Mozilla community. The many thousands of people actively engaged, and the multiples of that who support Mozilla goals and offerings.

It’s our world. Let’s make it great.

FISL in Brazil

March 28th, 2008

Mozilla will be participating in the Fórum Internacional Software Livre (FISL) this April, which is exciting both for Mozilla and for me personally. FISL is a non-governmental organization that promotes the adoption, distribution and contribution of free software. This is the 9th year of the forumРhence FISL 9.0 as they put it on their siteРand will be held in Porto Alegre. Over 5000 participants from a variety of backgroundsРend users, contributors, professionals, government officials, and corporate partnersРwill gather to meet and share ideas.

This will be my first trip to Brazil, but it is only one in a growing series of interactions between the Mozilla Foundation and free software / open source participants in Brazil. JT Batson and Asa each wrote about their trip last year, which made it very clear to us that Brazil has very high enthusiasm for free and open source software. There are also some fascinating experiments going on in Brazil today, such as energy self-sufficiency. It’s clear that greater interaction between Brazilian participants and Mozilla could have some very interesting results.

FISL will be a great chance for my Mozilla colleagues and I to learn much more about what’s happening in Brazil and how we might work more closely together. And hopefully, to meet some of the people we’ve heard so much about!

At the same time we’ll be hosting a set of activities. You can find information about Mozilla-specific events on the Mozilla wiki, and Chris Blizzard has posted an annotated schedule of events that is well worth looking at. Mozilla will be hosting a workshop on April 18, and my talk is currently scheduled for the 19th. This should be a very exciting chance to experience the free software and open source community in Brazil first-hand. Now, if only I could find a way to get my family there as well!

Module Ownership – Part 2

March 27th, 2008

New Module Proposal

In a previous post I proposed that we create a group of people to be responsible for the overall health of Mozilla’s module ownership system. I also proposed that the group itself be a module within the module system. This way we can build on our shared understanding of how modules work.

More specifically, I propose we use the module and sub-module model currently used by the Firefox front end teams. This system adds another layer of delegation to deal effectively with the scope of activities, while ensuring there is an owner and peers responsible for the integrated whole that people experience as the front-end.

For those interested in more detail, there is an uber-module, known simply as the “toolkit” module. It has an owner and peers. This group has authority across the toolkit module. Within the toolkit module there are sub-modules. These are more specific aspects of the front-end. Each of these has sub-module owners and peers. The sub-module owners and peers have the standard degree of authority in their sub-modules, subject to the authority of the uber toolkit module owners and peers. In reality there’s a lot more consensus and back-and-forth than “subject to the authority of” might imply. But there is an identified escalation path and decision-maker when the need arises.

In this case I propose we create an uber-module called Governance, for which I will be the owner. (For those not familiar with Mozilla, this is not new. I’ve been the ultimate decision-maker for all non-technical decision at Mozilla, including policy and governance, since 1999.) We then create a sub-module called Module Ownership. In the future we’ll create other sub-modules. An example of one that comes to mind immediately is our policy for handling security bugs, for which Frank Hecker has always been the owner.

For the Module Ownership module we should have two owners: Brendan primarily for modules relating to technical matters, and me for modules relating to non-technical matters. We would have a set of peers. This would be a group of about seven to ten people with authority to address issues relating to modules and module ownership. They would act as peers generally do, giving us a set of experienced people, any one of whom could become qualified to become the sub-module owner. This will help us build a deepening set of people with the reputation and authority to lead.

I view my involvement here as part of my Chief Lizard Wrangler role, not related to my employment status. I will count it as a mark of success when it becomes clear that there are several people other than me doing the relevant work who could be a good sub-module owner. It’s a mark of success not because I’m not interested in this. It’s a mark of success because our organization is healthier when there are several people who are able to lead in important areas.

Designating Members

In this proposal, Brendan and I would behave as module and sub-module owners generally do, delegating authority to peers. I don’t have a complete list in mind now, and I don’t think Brendan does either at this point. Naturally, I hope to soon.

Module Ownership – Part 1

March 26th, 2008

The Module Owner System

The module owner system is at the heart of how we manage ourselves. We’ve used this system for coding activities for many years, and I’ve got an open bug for extending this to cover non-coding activities as well. We have an identified set of modules, module owners and a policy document describing the responsibilities and authority of a module owner. (In brief, we divide our code into logical chunks called modules. A person with a good reputation for the area covered by a module is tapped to become the module owner, and he or she is responsible for that module.)

We also have a final decision-maker for conflicts among module owners or issues with a particular module owner; that decision maker is Brendan Eich. Brendan has been doing this since 1998. For those not familiar with Mozilla, our basic rule has been that Brendan is the ultimate decision-maker for technical matters within the Mozilla project, and I am the ultimate decision-maker for other issues. We each try to use that authority only when necessary– when the people involved in the daily activities get stuck, or there is disagreement or some other problem that requires a decision. This is not weakness. It stems from the realization that Mozilla succeeds because many people make decisions, find ways to solve problems, and provide leadership. It is more effective in the long run for us when a group of peers solves a problem together. Distributed authority is the norm. Overuse of a central, final decision-making power will not make Mozilla healthy.

So we have a system that works well for us on a daily basis and we have an ultimate decision-maker for settings where we need one. But what we don’t have today is a group of people with responsibility for the health of the module ownership system. These topics include:

  • Filling vacant roles where appropriate;
  • Ensuring module owners are fulfilling their responsibilities, and replacing those who are not;
  • Creating and staffing new modules as new parts of the project evolve;
  • Figuring out what to do if a module isn’t getting enough attention;
  • Resolving conflicts among module owners.

I propose we create such a group. More precisely, I propose that we create this group as a module within the module owner system. I’ve put the details of how I think this module would be organized and operate in a subsequent post. First I want to address the functions of the group and why I believe it’s important. Then we can turn to whether the precise structure I’m proposing makes sense.

Responsibilities of the Proposed Group

There should not be a giant amount of work to do on a daily basis. Over the years David Baron and Brendan have periodically updated the list of module owners. Last year Stuart took on and completed a review and updating of our modules, which was overdue. These things should happen periodically. Occasionally there is a question of whether a particular module owner is still active enough to be a module owner, or we need to identify new module owners. Every so often there are questions about a module owner’s work. We should look at whether the policy document governing modules and module owners should be updated. We might want to think about better ways to handle modules that are under-owned, or where someone is module owner out of a sense of civic duty rather than an inherent interest in the module. One part of the role will probably be providing advice as we extend the module owners system to non-coding activities. So I don’t envision this group having a giant amount of work on a daily basis. There will be some periods of focused activity.

If there isn’t a huge amount of work, why do I think it is worth formalizing a group of people to do it? Several reasons.

  • The work is really important. Module owners have a high degree of authority. This is part of ensuring our vitality as a project, and ensuring we have clear roles based on merit, reputation and general acclaim. We will be stronger when we have a group of people proactively thinking about the module system and working though some of the issues listed above.
  • It’s important to build a group of people who are knowledgeable and experienced in governing important areas of our project such as the module ownership system. Even if Brendan and I were quick and perfect in all our decisions (which we most certainly are not) having only one or two people involved in making decisions is a weakness in our system. More people with experience is better.
  • We’re bound to have some conflicts, that’s how life is. Having a group of people who have been working through issues in calm times is very helpful when something comes up and tensions rise.
  • The clearer the system is the easier it will be to extend it to new, non-coding activities.

Criteria

Members of this group should be module owners (of either coding or non-coding activities). In addition they should have:

  • Interest in how we govern ourselves. Ideally, a person has previously demonstrated this interest by some set of activities. Someone could be a great module owner but still poorly suited for this role;
  • Appropriate understanding of Mozilla activities as a whole and the “pulse” of a good chunk of the project;
  • A good feel for whether suggestions, comments, and complaints are broadly applicable or represent an unusual viewpoint;
  • Interest and ability to help others accomplish things. This is probably more important than what one can accomplish oneself for this role;
  • Ability to balance varying perspectives and needs;
  • Internal understanding of the value of non-coding activities to the Mozilla project.

Structure of the Group

I propose we create this group as a module and use the module ownership system as the basic governance. That way we’ll have a module owner, peers and a way of interacting that we understand. I will put a more precise description of how I think this will work in the module owner system in a follow up post, mostly because I think it will be helpful to separate the mechanics of how this might work from the discussion of whether such a group is valuable in the first place.

Comments welcome here. If you’re interested in the full discussion, head over to the mozilla.org Governance newsgroup. You can also read a set of past comments and participate through the mozilla.governance Google Group.

Revenue and Motives

March 25th, 2008

John has a post today about how some people impute revenue motives to everything we do. In his case John made a statement about how one of Apple’s business practices is bad for the overall security and health of the Internet. (In this case the practice is to encourage consumers to download and install new software by identifying it as an “update” to software the person already has on his or her machine.)

Some of the reactions address the actual issue. But there’s also a set of responses along the lines of: ‘All Lilly really cares about is using Firefox to make money from Google, and all this talk of what’s good for the Internet is just a smokescreen for protecting the revenue stream from Google.’ (This is not an actual quote, it’s my description of a set of responses.) I’m coming to wonder if any statement or action we take that is controversial or based on mission with get this response. I’ve had this experience myself when discussing a number of topics.

Periodically I’ll be in a discussion about Mozilla’s plans for something and people respond by saying “Oh, that’s because Google cares about [fill in the blank] and your revenue comes from Google.” On several occasions I’ve been utterly dumb-founded and speechless because I have never even thought of Google in relation to the discussion. (I’d give some examples but I am concerned that we’ll end up rehashing old issues. )

But much of the world is driven by money and all sorts of people say they have different or additional motivations. So suspicion may be warranted. At Mozilla we can only do what John notes — keep pursuing the mission, keep demonstrating by our actions that our mission is the critical piece, and being authentic.

A separate problem is that a focus on money makes it easy to miss other, important topics. In this case the question is: what happens if consumers stop accepting security upgrades because they don’t trust the other software that comes along with it? That’s a disaster for all of us. That’s the question John is raising and it’s an important question to consider. Those commentators who dismiss this topic because Mozilla competes with commercial offerings and generates revenue miss this point. If the commentators you turn to dismiss everything for this reason, then I’ll hope you’ll add some additional commentators to your resource list.

Executive Director Search Update

March 11th, 2008

The Mozilla Foundation is looking for an Executive Director. We’ve been doing this for a while now. We suspected that the number of people who can understand and lead something of Mozilla’s complexity and history would be small and hard to find, and we were right. Here’s where we are.

We’ve had three or four meetings of the search committee where we talked to a number of potential candidates. So far we haven’t found a candidate the search committee thinks is close enough to introduce to the broader Mozilla group. (And of course, this process is sensitive for the candidates, so we only want to introduce candidates who we think have a reasonable chance of making sense for Mozilla.)

One important thing we’ve learned so far: It’s hard to find someone who understands both open source software and the consumer space. This is an area where Mozilla is truly a pioneer and this has been clear in the search process. We’ve talked to a number of people who understand software and open source software in particular. We’ve found that many of these folks are almost exclusively focused on things like conferences for open source developers, understanding the various open source stacks and so on. Most of these folks have not spent time living in a consumer world, or building consumer software or trying to talk to consumers. I think our massive contact with consumers is one of the unusual — almost unique — characteristics that Mozilla brings to the effort to promote openness, interoperability and participation on the web.

Another set of people understand consumers well but don’t have much background in software or open source development. Some of these folks are very smart, understand the Mozilla mission and could do a lot to help us bring the Mozilla vision to a broader set of people. For these folks the issue is generally: do they understand — or can learn – enough about Mozilla and Internet technology to be effective? That includes both being accepted by our developer community as a viable leader and understanding enough about Internet technology to be creative in our world.

We’ve come across a couple of people who seem likely to bridge this gap, although there have been setbacks. One potential candidate had to withdraw due to family circumstances. But we haven’t given up by any means.

I’ll try to do updates more frequently, and/or encourage another member of the Search Committee to do so. When we have a candidate who looks promising there will certainly be public discussion.

EFF Pioneer Award

March 10th, 2008

EFF Pioneer AwardThat’s a photo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award awarded to the Mozilla Foundation and Mitchell Baker.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit organization that defends consumer and citizens’ rights in the digital world, primarily through the judicial system. Each year the EFF presents its Pioneer Awards, recognizing “individuals and organizations that have made significant and influential contributions to the development of computer-mediated communications and to the empowerment of individuals in using computers and the Internet.”

The award ceremony was last Tuesday at the O’Reilly ETech conference in San Diego, California. There was a brief introduction for each award winner. John Perry Barlow, one of the original co-founders of the EFF, introduced Mozilla. He spoke about the significance of the name — the Electronic Frontier. He said they choose this name believing that there will be a frontier in the digital world for a long time to come. He also said that the Pioneer Awards reflect the ongoing presence of a frontier and its pioneers. There are vast new territories before us — unknown, wildly exciting and yet potentially dangerous. The future of the electronic frontier is unclear, we are defining its character as we go along. And thus, the pioneers today are no less pioneers than those of 20 years ago.

This is of course great to hear. It’s personally satisfying, but it’s also a perfect lead-in to talk about Mozilla. Each recipient was asked to speak for about 5 minutes (or, more precisely, “more than one minute, less than 20 minutes, and somewhere between 3 and 7 minutes.”) John’s introduction let me jump right into what makes Mozilla work. Mostly I talked about how at Mozilla we know there are pioneers, because we see them every day. We have massive numbers of people working to build an Internet that has civic and social value — as well as personal economic gain — built into its fabric. I noted that we focus on interoperability, transparency, openness, participation as the social factors that build and define a great Internet experience as well as our products.

In was a very rewarding evening, and an honor to be recognized.

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