Posts Tagged with “Firefox”

Firefox is a Public Asset, part 2

August 9th, 2007

I understand what Matt over at AllPeers says about finding new ways to combine open source, public benefit and the economic incentives of commercial enterprises. I’m also quite interested in seeing this happen. But we still have a different point of view about Mozilla and Firefox.

Firefox is not the place to test the effects of the profit motive.

The difference might be in a view of the fundamental platform. Matt believes (as I understand his argument) that the Mozilla platform is the fundamental building block right now. An easy way to think of the Mozilla platform is as everything that an application needs to work that a human being doesn’t touch directly. This may not be 100% correct technically, but is close enough for this discussion. In other words, the Mozilla Platform is the giant chunk of code that understands networking, is able to get information from a web server, convert that info into something a human being can understand, present that information to people and allow interaction with that information. This is sometimes called “XULrunner.” Firefox is built on top of a version of XULrunner. Myriads of other applications, are built using this Mozilla technology. So it is possible to separate Firefox conceptually from the Mozilla platform.

But the browser is not just one of many applications that understand the Internet. It is the closest thing there is to a universal client. By that I meant that the browser is the mechanism for delivering an overwhelming majority of web content to people. As more and more web-based applications (from classic style applications like spreadsheets to newer applications like maps and social networking activities) develop, more types of activities flow through the browser.

So we think of Firefox as a part of the web platform. As the entry point for actual human beings to interact with the web. Browsers aren’t the only entry point, but they are closest thing to a universal entry point that exists today. They may not be the major entry way at some point in the future but that’s a way off. And there is certainly a debate to be had about when the “next big thing” will displace browsers vs. how what we call a browser will evolve over time.

For the foreseeable future, browsers are a fundamental part of Internet life. Firefox is a key component of keeping the web open, interoperable and participatory. Thus the importance of its public benefit nature.

Firefox is a Public Asset

August 9th, 2007

Recently a Mozilla observer and contributor asked why Firefox isn’t treated as a typical for-profit, commercial effort, and why we are giving up the chance to get rich. This is a great topic for discussion, I’m glad it was raised. I’ve got a very strong opinion on this, and am quite interested in what others think.

There are many reasons why Firefox is a public asset, built for public benefit rather than private wealth.

To start with, we want to create a part of online life that is explicitly NOT about someone getting rich. We want to promote all the other things in life that matter — personal, social, educational and civic enrichment for massive numbers of people. Individual ability to participate and to control our own lives whether or not someone else gets rich through what we do. We all need a voice for this part of the Internet experience. The people involved with Mozilla are choosing to be this voice rather than to try to get rich.

I know that this may sound naive. But neither I nor the Mozilla project is that naive, and we are not stupid. We recognize that many of us are setting aside chances to make as much money as possible. We are choosing to do this because we want the Internet to be robust and useful even for activities that aren’t making us rich.

It’s possible that some participants are deferring the chance for personal wealth rather than giving up on it. Contributing to Mozilla, passing up opportunities for stock and wealth now, and planning to step back into that world after a while. This is a topic I’d love to discuss further and may write more about before too long.

But for now I want to concentrate on why I have always believed — and still do — that Firefox can not become a tool for some people to get rich. And why I believe the organizational home for Firefox (the Mozilla Corporation) must remain dedicated to the public benefit.

Firefox is not the creation of a “company” or a set of employees. The Mozilla Corporation and its employees are important, but not enough. Not remotely enough. And even if we had 2 or 3 or 4 times as much money or employees it would still not be enough.

Firefox is a great product because thousands and thousands of people care about it, and contribute to making it better. And the Firefox phenomena is even further removed from anything that could be accomplished if Firefox was a private company. Imagine 50 million people, or 100 million people or more. Now imagine getting all those people to download, install, and migrate to Firefox even though they have a similar piece of software already on their machines.

That used to be known as impossible. Today it’s known as Firefox. It is happening because tens of thousands — I believe hundreds of thousands of people — have taken it upon themselves to create Firefox, to spread Firefox, to localize it, to extend it, to tell others, to install it for others, to help others use it.

Firefox generates an emotional response that is hard to imagine until you experience it. People trust Firefox. They love it. Many feel — and rightly so — that Firefox is part “theirs.” That they are involved in creating Firefox and the Firefox phenomena, and in creating a better Internet. People who don’t know that Firefox is open source love the results of open source — the multiple languages, the extensions, the many ways people use the openness to enhance Firefox. People who don’t know that Firefox is a public asset feel the results through the excitement of those who do know.

Firefox is created by a public process as a public asset. Participants are correct to feel that Firefox belongs to them. They are correct legally, since the Mozilla Foundation’s assets are legally dedicated to the public benefit. They are correct practically because Firefox could not exist without the community; the two are completely intertwined.

Periodically someone suggests that it’s possible to build a community like this around a core of people who own a company, and use that company for the express purpose of generating wealth for a few. I don’t buy it. I don’t buy it on practical terms. The participants I meet radiate the conviction that Firefox exists to benefit all of us. I don’t buy it on a philosophical level either. A people-centered Internet needs some way for people to interact with the Internet that isn’t all about making money for some company and its shareholders.

We need a public benefit aspect to the Internet. That’s why we started building browsers in the first place. That’s why we build Firefox. That’s why we build Thunderbird, and why we’ll build future products.

Thunderbird — Why Change Things?

July 28th, 2007

One large them of responses to the Thunderbird post is the question: Why can’t Thunderbird and Firefox both prosper in the same development organization? Since there is money, what’s the problem?

The problem is trying to do two different types of things exceptionally well at the same time. This is extraordinarily difficult. (I’ll describe why we’ve found Thunderbird and Firefox are different enough to make this so in a separate post.) Trying to do two different things requires a constant balancing of the needs of each. In many cases it results in an inability to optimize for either one and both projects suffering. In our case it also results in a constant need to prioritize between the two. And in this prioritization Firefox is getting and will continue to get the vast bulk of resources.

This is because the impact of the two products is wildly different. Thunderbird is a solid product that provides an open source alternative in an important area for a set of users. That’s important and worthy of attention.

Firefox is important in moving an entire segment of the Internet industry towards a more open, more innovative place. We’re not the only factor of course, there are lots of other critical people and organizations involved. But modern, innovative browsing and web development as displayed through Firefox is part of what moves the Web landscape now.

Firefox effects are felt by people who use other products. Its effects are felt by people using other browsers (even IE has a development team again!). Its effects are felt in the standards world, where Firefox’s footprint strengthens our efforts to move web standards forward. Its effects are felt by web developers who have made Firefox their development tool of choice. The effects of Firefox go far beyond the daily user experience of its userbase.

This difference between Thunderbird and Firefox is profound. Each day the development team can work on Thunderbird, which serves its users well. Or they can work on Firefox, which affects a giant swath of the web industry, and serves a userbase that is at least an order of magnitude larger.

In this setting it does not make sense for a development group to give Thunderbird equal focus. Counting just the userbase, Firefox is 10 or 20 times bigger, so maybe one would say it should get 10 or 20 times the attention. If one adds in Firefox’s effect on the web industry the focus on browsing related activities goes way, way up until it dwarfs Thunderbird even more completely. One might then adjust these numbers in favor of Thunderbird because of a desire for diversity, a desire to continue to serve Thunderbird users, because we’ve always had mail, or for any number of other reasons.

But the point is that this is not a good setting for Thunderbird to get sustained attention and focus. Hiring more people doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t change the equation for determining relative attention.

This is our setting. This is why I say that I do not see the existing Mozilla development organization increasing its focus on Thunderbird in the forseeable future. Every time we look at it we are convinced that the current prioritization is correct.

We want Thunderbird to thrive as an open alternative for email. Thus the current effort to find a structure where Thunderbird and email can be the focus. We can imagine this happening within the Mozilla umbrella if there are separate development organizations — thus Option 2. We can imagine other possibilities — thus the other options. But the current setting needs change.

The Open Web and Firefox Focus

April 26th, 2007

The Mozilla Foundation’s Statement of Direction describes two complementary techniques for advancing the Open Web. One is to nurture a broad set of technology and community building efforts, centered around the Mozilla platform and values. The second is to focus more precisely on those areas with the greatest leverage for change. Today, this second technique translates into a focus on Firefox, the platform technology that underlies Firefox, and the Firefox ecosystem.

It is extraordinarily difficult to create the kind of impact that Firefox and the Firefox ecosystem now enjoy. The Mozilla community has done this, and the Foundation feels an acute responsibility to live up to the opportunities this creates. We have a rare point of leverage and must not let it slip away.

Because Firefox has such leverage today, the bulk of the Foundation’s resources are devoted to promoting Firefox, the Firefox ecosystem, the underlying technologies that make modern browsing possible, and the various communities that participate in these efforts. In more concrete terms this means:

  • Focus most where we have the greatest impact — Firefox and “browsing” broadly defined — that is, browser-based access to web content and applications
  • Focus on the XUL platform that underlies Firefox to keep the Open Web competitive against closed/proprietary platforms
  • Assist other Mozilla participants and projects, but not equally with Firefox and not at significant cost to Firefox
  • Be exemplary Mozilla participants (this has historically been explicitly not doing whatever people ask for, but providing evaluation, review, module ownership, etc., with a focus broader than a single product)

Clearly these expectations are very broad — what does it mean to “focus on the XUL platform that underlies Firefox?” How much is specific to Firefox? To what extent are more general platform needs incorporated as “assist other Mozilla projects, but not equally with Firefox and not at significant cost to Firefox?” This level of detail should generally be worked out by the technical leadership through the module ownership system.

And clearly there are a range of other activities which the Foundation could undertake to promote the first goal above — encouraging a broad set of Mozilla-based participation, whether or not any particular effort becomes a global general consumer product. As noted in the Statement of Direction, the Foundation intends to do so. There will be more on this topic before too long.

Firefox in All the Right Places

February 20th, 2007

Not long ago, I got a ticket while driving my son to school. He was mad about being a few minutes late to school, but I knew much more time would be required on my part 🙂

In California one can attend “traffic school” for a variety of traffic tickets. My infraction was stopping for a stop sign beyond the stop line rather than before the line, so I fell into the category of people permitted to attend traffic school. Doing so takes somewhere between six and ten hours, and prevents the long-term markers being placed on one’s record and a rise in insurance costs. The schools are independent businesses certified by each court system. Some are better than others.

California now authorizes a lot of schools to provide online courses, so I chose one of these. Fortunately, I chose a good one. They had thought of all the likely issues (such as — I need to finish in 24 hours — how do I do that?), had good customer support and a reasonable price.

Best of all, the website worked flawlessly. I was astounded. There are something like 14 chapters to read, four “security questions” to help make sure the student actually read the material, four quizzes and one final exam. Each section is timed, the time is displayed, and completing one automatically makes the next available.

At the end, I had to call the school to change where they send the completion certificate (after one completes the course this can’t be done online). Certificate delivery requires a signature, so I want it sent to work where there will be someone around to sign for receipt. Otherwise a trip to the post office is required.

Of course, customer support needed the address. I started with my name, and then “c/o Mozilla Corporation.” I spelled “Mozilla” very slowly and carefully because it confuses so many people. Not this time. The customer service representative perked up, “Mozilla? You work for Mozilla?” I replied “Yes, I do” and he continued “We all use Firefox here.” After some discussion he added “We support Firefox and, eh, Internet Explorer. But our webmaster and all of us use Firefox.”

Send that man something special!

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.

Firefox — Moving the Internet Forward

October 24th, 2006

Mozilla Firefox 2 is an important step towards an even more important goal: making the Internet a better place for each of us to experience our online lives. Firefox 2 is the result of an international community of people gathered together under the umbrella of the Mozilla Foundation — a non-profit, public benefit organization dedicated to improving the Internet experience for each of us.

There are many things that make Firefox exciting. Some of these things are clearly visible in the product; others are not nearly so obvious.

Firefox is exciting because it provides people with the best possible experience one can have online today.

This is true in the basics that have always been the hallmark of Mozilla Firefox — ease of use, performance, security, privacy, elegance in design and respect for the user. It is true in a range of subtle features that people won’t notice right away and might not ever consciously notice. It is true in the unparalleled ability for each user to personalize Firefox in easy, comfortable ways. And Firefox is a better experience for ever more people — tens of millions of people rely on Firefox today and more people find Firefox every day.

Firefox is exciting because it does more without “feature bloat.”

Firefox offers more complex capabilities while keeping the human experience streamlined and intuitive. This is really, really, difficult to accomplish. The pressure to add new features simply to have new things to point to is immense. It’s easy to dream up glitzy new features. It’s hard to bring the immense complexity of the Internet into a tool that is elegant, powerful and fun to use.

Firefox 2 makes it easier for each of us to collect the precise information of interest to us and to see more easily when that information changes. For example, Firefox’s enhanced search services provide more information about our particular search requests even as we type them. Live Bookmarks provide more info about changes in blogs and other RSS feeds. Live Titles provide real-time updates of website changes.

Firefox is exciting because of the global community of people who create it.

Some are paid to work on Firefox, through the Mozilla Foundation or by other organizations. Tens of thousands more people participate as volunteers to create Firefox and make the Internet a better place. This community of people works together closely in a organized fashion in some areas, such as getting Firefox ready to release in many languages — Firefox 2 ships today in 37 languages. This is a giant feat, and one that would be impossible without the commitment of our astonishing volunteer localization community. In other areas the community shares ideas and works in a more free-form way to improve Firefox and the Internet.

Firefox is exciting because it leads the industry.

Firefox has led the renaissance of browser development and improved experience for Internet users. Significant commercial players — industry titans in fact — are now investing in browser software. And Firefox continues to lead. The developer and extension community surrounding Firefox buzzes with innovation. The Firefox ecosystem is exploding with new ideas and new possibilities that will make the Internet an ever more compelling place. Firefox demonstrates that Mozilla can consistently ship excellent software and can improve our online lives.

Today’s release of Firefox 2 is an important step. We’re not done yet. There’s plenty left to do to make online life even more comfortable, safe and interesting.

Life online with Firefox — getting better all the time.

What do icons mean? (Part 2)

June 9th, 2006

My last post ended with the question: What is the best method of encouraging the use of the RSS icon in Firefox today by many players and still have the icon mean something clear and accurate? There are a few possibilities.

Option 1: The Mozilla Foundation allows the icon to be modified as people want, and to be used on whatever products, services or applications people want to use it on. No one has any particular ability to cause consistency. In other words, we treat the icon like code — use an open source license and turn the icon loose.

This allows maximum flexibility for software vendors and website operators — each can take a recognized image and use it for whatever one want. The flip side is that consumers won’t be able to look at the icon and know what it means. Many consumers are intimidated by the Internet as it is, and struggle to understand the difference between software, search, “the Internet” and data provided by websites. So to my mind, making things clear to the consumer is a high value. The purpose of the icon is to indicate something specific to consumers.

And we know that successful open development efforts have leadership to guide development, not just intellectual property assets floating in the wild. So even this route requires some attention and structure from someone as to how the icon is used, how it develops and how people might want to use the icon.

So to my mind attaching an open source copyright license to the icon and turning it loose seems like a bad plan; one likely to lead to maximum confusion for consumers, and minimum assistance for the groups wanting to create a useful marker for consumers.

Option 2: The other extreme is a classic trademark licensing program. In this setting the Mozilla Foundation licenses the icon as a trademark to everyone on the same terms and has a formal process for managing the evolution and use of the mark. That process might be community focused, and the Mozilla Foundation would be the ultimate decision-maker as the owner of the mark.

The advantage to this system include:

  • A level of clarity over the degree to which the icon can be assured to mean something to consumers;
  • Having a known “home” for the icon, a known place to bring issues and work out discussions
  • Not all organizations show much respect for community norms. Living within a known legal framework provides another tool for responding to bad actors.

Disadvantages include:

  • Use of trademark law in open and community processes is new and sometimes not well liked.
  • I believe the Free and Open Source Software world is due for a long discussion of trademarks, how we use them, what their value is and so on. Ultimately I’d like to see some Creative Commons type options available for trademark-type purposes. (Creative Commons licenses are all copyright licenses, and do not purport to address the trademark-like issues of providing clarity to consumers about what consumers are getting.) We haven’t had this discussion yet.
  • A formal trademark process can be a significant amount of work. The Mozilla Foundation will take that work on for key marks, like its product marks. The Mozilla Foundation should also be willing to take on leadership, organization and work for other marks that are important to the industry, including the RSS icon. However, taking on these activities before we’ve had the trademark discussion could be counter-productive. If we use the RSS icon to start talking about what industry wide icons can and should mean we should come to some shared understanding (or at least shared vocabulary, if not understanding) of the value of an icon and how best to make this visual clues mean something real for consumers.

Option 3: Another option is to try a less formal process with more authority resided in community norms and seeing how that works. To do this the Mozilla Foundation would:

  • develop a clear set of community norms and usage guidelines;
  • lead a community process for the evolution of the mark and the guidelines; and
  • identify a mechanism where companies using the icon (particularly in software products) publicly pledge to the implementation of the guidelines and complying with the results of the community process.

I believe Option 3 is the best approach for the RSS icon at this point in time. People are interested in the icon, people are already using the icon, we can learn how precise a meaning we believe it should have and how community norms function in this setting.

I’m recommending that the Mozilla Foundation adopt Option 3, publish a set of usage guidelines and proposed community norms (potential examples include: public discussion and evaluation before using the icons for new versions of file formats, proposed modifications of the icon, statement of intent that the icon continue to mean something precise to consumers, etc.) and provide a forum for discussion as soon as possible.

What do icons mean? (Part 1)

June 8th, 2006

Here’s a question with both philosophical underpinnings and a concrete set of product implications. The philosophical side of this question includes questions such as:

  • how does a consumer know what web services he or she is requesting?
  • How important is consumer clarity?
  • How do we encourage clarity across a networked base of products?
  • If consumer clarity is important, how do we get this?
  • Is it possible to provide consumers this level of clarity without some organized control mechanism?
  • Can these issues be managed through a community-based process? Or is a more formal legal structure useful?
  • Is community leadership enough, or is an ultimate decision-maker necessary?

The concrete example here is the RSS icon that’s been in Firefox for some time now. Mozilla Firefox includes an icon that represents the availability of an XML based RSS feed. When you click on the icon in the location bar of Firefox you are able to add an RSS feed just as one adds a bookmark. When you click on a bookmark identified with the RSS icon (a “live bookmark” in our parlance) you see the recent entries from that RSS feed. A number of web sites use the same icon to help consumers recognize the presence of an RSS feed that can be added to Firefox or an alternative piece of software that understands RSS feeds (such as a “feed reader”).

A while back Microsoft approached us about using the Mozilla RSS icon in the upcoming version of its browser. We thought that having multiple software products use the same icon to represent the presence of an RSS feed would be helpful to consumers. It would provide a standard visual clue for consumers and provide clarity. Of course, this only works if the icon actually represents something reasonably crisply and accurately. If a single icon comes to be used for many different things then there’s not much benefit to consumers, and might even be some disadvantages. (For example, it would not help consumers to click on the so-called RSS icon and end up downloading some wildly different format.)

So what is the best method of promoting the use of this icon by many players and still have the icon mean something clear and accurate to consumers? In an effort to keep my posts to a digestible length I’ll describe the methods we’ve thought though in the next post.

Identity and process

March 16th, 2006

Last December we had a gathering of people who were critical to shipping Firefox 1.5. It was called the Firefox Summit and it was about 100 people. I think 10 or so came from Europe, and Roger Sidje came all the way from Australia. We had volunteers, Mozilla Foundation and Corporation employees, and employees of other organizations who are deeply involved in shipping Firefox. (It was an astonishing event for me. I spent most of the dinners looking around in amazement. )

We had a general session on Mozilla Project Dynamics and a discussion about keeping the identity and culture of the Mozilla project as we grow. We’re growing in user base, user needs, contributors, program needs, scale of infrastructure, industry stature, employees (both employees of Mozilla Foundation and Corporation, and employees of other organizations), and management. How do we keep the core identify of the project in the midst of this change?

Ben Goodger made a comment that stuck with me and has been connecting with some other thoughts lately. Ben noted that our identity is deeply tied up in how we build software. A continuing focus on openness, peer review, merit, leadership through reputation, influence through action in building software is fundamental to our continued health. In one sense this seems obvious, but I have found it very helpful. There’s a lot going on with Mozilla and Firefox these days; it is very helpful to focus on the fundamental thing we have done well for years and years, even before the world knew of it — we build software in an open, distributed manner where people choose to participate because the project is worthwhile and works at least well enough. I think of this often as I think about how to manage all the new things that are on our plate today. I also think about it in relation to a set of questions about management and an open management style — more on that later.

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