Generation Browser: Mozilla Firefox
By Dana Greenlee, WebTalk Radio
Most of us used the Netscape browser during the
early days of the Net. Netscape is still around,
but it did birth an open source sibling browser
named Mozilla. The original (Mosaic Browser) development
project of the Netscape browser was created by
Mark Andreessen in 1993.
Mozilla, the dragon that was Netscape's original
mascot, could be seen everywhere on Netscapes
site in those days. Its Netscapes
main logo before 1995, when Mozilla was replaced
by the familiar Netscape stars. Mozilla is also
the internal name of any Netscape browser to date.
Mitchell Baker, president of the Mozilla Foundation,
took a few minutes to tell me about Mozilla and
the new browser, FireFox, and its Thunderbird
e-mail program, how its built in a true
Open Source development process and why the development
process for its non-profit foundation may
be a significant and industry-changing way software
gets written in the future.
Q: Tell us about the Mozilla Foundation.
Baker: The Mozilla Foundation is an independent,
nonprofit organization. Were just over a
year old but the Mozilla project has been around
for a long time.
Q: What were the reasons to form the foundation?
Baker: There were several. The Mozilla project
has always been a project trying to bring together
open source developers with commercial software
developers and distributors. Many of these commercial
entities didnt know how to approach Mozilla.org
staff since they were a virtual organization.
The organization is a way for people to find us
and deal with us and know how we operate.
Q: With the open source development process, are
you finding the development process a lot faster
being open to a large group of developers? What
kind of checks and balances you have with code
Baker: The way our project works is pretty structured.
The Mozilla project is big in terms of lines of
code and complexity. Weve broken the code
base into logical chunks, called modules, and
the foundation staff delegate authority for the
modules to people with the most expertise. If
you are the module owner for a piece of code,
you have two responsibilities. Youre responsible
for the day-to-day operation and improvement and
development of that code, and representing whatever
code goes into your module. You are also responsible
for some long-term planning; what you want to
happened with that module.
Beyond that, we have a highly structured review
process for that code. Many people think that
open source projects are sort of chaotic and and
anarchistic. They think that developers randomly
throw code at the code base and see what sticks.
Everything is tracked through our bug tracking
system called Bugzilla.
Q: Are your code developers working as volunteers?
Baker: People participate in the project for whole
range of reasons. There has always been a course
of developers that were paid to work full-time
on the project. That came out of the Netscape
heritage and it is true today. In addition to
that, there has always been a very active volunteer
community and an active set of people employed
by other companies.
Q: Why would someone volunteer?
Baker: Some people are really drawn to technology
and I liken them to artists. There are dancers
and painters and writers who pursued that whether
or not they are paid for it. There are a lot of
technologists who are the same. There is another
set of people who are honing their technical skills
- either they are students or they want to retrain
themselves. Theres a third set of people
who are not fulfilled in their work life but they
may be technologists or working in some other
field that requires good technical skills and
they participate because they do get a sense of
fulfillment. We actually have a real community
of people doing useful things. People notice it
and they help you participate and see your work
included in this project and when we ship our
browser, you and millions of other people get
to see the fruits of your efforts.
Q: Do you think this is the model for software
development in the future?
Baker: It is an effective model - more effective
and certainly more disciplined and structured
than many people realize. Weve always been
the development project that lived in a time pressured
setting and always where commercial entities were
relying heavily on releases in a certain time
frame. Its a model for the future but not
the only or best model.
Q: And Mozilla is particularly careful to test
Baker: We have a very active testing community
which people dont often think about when
you have open source. Over the history of the
Mozilla project, it turns out that the product
browsers exists on many different kinds of machines.
We get hundreds of thousands of downloads off
of any milestone and our last FireFox download
was in the millions. Those allow a set of testing
and responses that would be hard to get any other
way. Our quality, when we do label something a
1.0 quality, is more than you could expect. And
certainly if one tried to do that kind of testing,
it would be phenomenally expensive. Thats
an element that the Mozilla project pioneered
that doesnt get discussed as much as its
value would suggest.
Q: Run down the list of products you have that
people arent aware of?
Baker: What we have the longest is the Mozilla
suite. Were up to the 1.7 release now. That
is the combined browser, e-mail, newsreader, chat.
Its a big application, does a lot of things,
has a lot of functionality. What we have done
in the last 12 - 18 months is rewrite the application
layer. We have a new browser known as Mozilla
FireFox and a new e-mail client called Mozilla
Thunderbird. The application layer itself is totally
new and great. The underlying layer, the infrastructure,
is the same surge of the benefit of all the stability
and maturity and performance that we spent years
developing an infrastructure, plus the benefits
of lightweight, next generation that new browsing
male applications on top. Those are the really
Q: How can people interested in helping the project
Baker: Go to Mozilla.org and click on an area
for developers. You can look at the tools. A lot
of people start in the testing and quality assurance
area because its an easier way to get familiar
with the project. There is an independent fanzine
online at www.mozillazine.org and that has a lot
of information about the new products and forums
for helping and how to get involved.
About Source of Article
Dana Greenlee is producer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys
Radio Show. WebTalkGuys, a Seattle-based talk
show featuring technology news and interviews.
It is broadcast on WebTalkGuys Radio, Sonic Box,
via Pocket PC at Mazingo Networks and the telephone
via the Mobile Broadcast Network. It's on the
radio in Seattle at KLAY 1180 AM. Past show and
interviews are also webcast via the Internet at
http://www.webtalkguys.com/. Greenlee is also
a member of the The International Academy of Digital
Arts & Sciences.