Posts Tagged with “staff”

Why pay for staff?

July 20th, 2004

Many thanks to those who took the time to comment on our anniversary message. It’s extremely gratifying to hear first hand from people who appreciate the Mozilla project. Looking back at the message, one thing that pops out at me is the single line about our development team. This really is a key element of our success, so I thought I’d add some detail.

The Mozilla project has been managed by a virtual organization known as “ staff” since the founding of the project. There’s much that could be said about staff, but I’ll leave that for another time. Over the years staff have given a good deal of though about how best to create an independent Mozilla Foundation. One big question was whether the Foundation should have employees, and if so, how many? The Apache Software Foundation doesn’t, or at least didn’t for many years. The GNOME Foundation and Python Software Foundations don’t; the Open Source Applications Foundation does. And if the Mozilla Foundation ought to have employees, how many should we start with?

We thought about a minimal model, with only 1 or 2 employees. This would certainly have been easier financially. We eventually started out with 11 employees. Mozilla Foundation personnel are divided among: (i) those focused on the project wide resources (technical leadership, infrastructure, tools, website management, builds, releases, QA); (ii) those focused on the codebase itself — Firefox, Thunderbird, Gecko, the DOM, JavaScript; and (iii) a few, like me, focused on all the other things the project and the Mozilla Foundation need to be successful — relationships with commercial contributors and other structured entities like Mozilla Europe, legal structure, trademarks, finances, etc.

It’s a small group for the scope of the project, but it’s a big group for a non-profit, open source project to support. While the minimal solution was attractive for its low-stress nature, we decided that the project was unlikely to reach its potential without a core group of 10 or so. Here’s why.

  • The World Wide Web is not finished. It’s changing all the time. New content types develop, new technologies develop, and new possibilities emerge. The browser is the means by which all this content is made available to the general population. If the browser doesn’t continue to develop, then the consumer’s ability to enjoy these enhancement stagnates.
  • Browsers and email clients aren’t done yet either. Building a great application of the scope and complexity of an email client or a web browser takes a chunk of focused time. In addition, there’s a whole range of innovative ideas that interact with browsers and email clients. For example, RSS readers can be nicely integrated with both browsers and email, and we’re working on both of these. The underlying components on which the actual end user applications are built require constant development. It’s a lot of work.
  • Speed matters. Decisions about how citizens and consumer experience the web should not be based on what’s good for the business plans for a few giant companies. And yet IE market share is generally reported at above 90%. Mozilla’s success matters in helping to keep the web an open place where the public good matters. The need for action is now.
  • The size and scope of the project. Just keeping track of what’s going on in the Mozilla project takes time. There are about 70 people actively checking into the CVS repository each month, and of course many more active participants who don’t have CVS access. So far this year we’ve released: thirteen milestone releases (four for Firefox, five for Thunderbird, four for the Mozilla Application Suite); five milestone release candidates and four alpha releases for the Mozilla Application Suite. Making the right things happen is a big job even with a set of full-time employees. Verifying the state of the tree on our three official platforms cannot be set aside for very long without making it very hard to figure out what caused a problem to develop. The international community of active participants is large enough that coordinating across the group needs pretty constant attention. And recently the press requests directed to the Mozilla Foundation have been significant. These are thrilling developments for an open source community. Responding to all these needs without a set of people available full-time (or more than full-time) would be beyond daunting.
  • Working with commercial entities. The Mozilla project has always had a high level of involvement with commercial entities and with Mozilla development teams at commercial entities. Trying to coordinate a set of full time paid contributors in these entities through an all volunteer group would be very difficult. For example, last month the Mozilla Foundation, Apple, Macromedia, Opera, Sun and Adobe announced our joint plans for improving the plug-in experience for non – IE browsers. The Mozilla Foundation volunteered to do the initial implementation as the API was being developed. This allowed the group to look at the proposed API in practice, test it out and see whether the API was on the right track very quickly. The Mozilla Foundation was able to do this because we had the right person available full time and we knew we could commit his energies to this project and other participants could rely on this work happening quickly.
  • A wealth of talented people. The launching of the Mozilla Foundation was a unique time, when a core group of key project leaders was available to join the Mozilla Foundation. If we were going to make the decision to have employees, the time to do so was at the founding and not some months later after the key individuals had dispersed.
  • Looking at this setting we decided that the project would not reach its potential without a core group of people working full-time on Mozilla Foundation activities. When I say “we” I mean primarily Brendan Eich, the technical lead of the project and I, with a great deal of help and support from Mitch Kapor. (Mitch is the founder of the Open Source Applications Foundation and now a member of the Mozilla Foundation Board of Directors as well.) Ultimately we decided that the Mozilla project’s role in helping promote an open Internet and provide open source desktop alternatives is important enough that we should aim high. The results of the last year demonstrate what can be accomplished. Running the Foundation is hard work, but I’m thrilled that we have the opportunity to do so.

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