Next Generation Browser: Mozilla Firefox
By Dana Greenlee,
Monday, October 04, 2004; 3:00am EST
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 Netscape�s site in those days. It�s Netscape�s
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 it�s built in a true Open Source
development process and why the development process for it�s
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. We�re 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 didn�t 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.
We�ve 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. You�re 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. There�s 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
Baker: It is an effective model - more effective and
certainly more disciplined and structured than many people realize.
We�ve 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. It�s a model for the
future but not the only or best model.
Q: And Mozilla is particularly careful to test the code?
Baker: We have a very active testing community which people
don�t 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. That�s an element that the Mozilla project
pioneered that doesn�t get discussed as much as its value would
Q: Run down the list of products you have that people aren�t
Baker: What we have the longest is the Mozilla suite. We�re
up to the 1.7 release now. That is the combined browser, e-mail,
newsreader, chat. It�s 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 killer products.
Q: How can people interested in helping the project do so?
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 it�s 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
http://www.webtalkguys.com/. Greenlee is also a member of the The
International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences.