E pluribus unum
When I wrote my article The faster release process of Firefox, I did not expect so many reactions outside of the inner mozillian circles. I did not expect that Mike Kaply, who was thinking in the same terms and himself pondering an article, would jump on the bandwagon. I did not expect Asa's incredibly rough answers to his posts. In fact, I got many private messages thanking me for my article. I need to say it again here: I never said the faster release process is entirely bad. But that's another discussion.
I read things that really hurt the community and I think some conclusions have to be drawn, and some changes probably have to be applied.
- Mozilla is a lot of things. It's a Foundation, a Corporation,
a large Community, millions of users, followers and evangelists.
It's also a Manifesto, Products, Projects, Add-ons,
Translations. For most of us in the Community, and for various
reasons, Mozilla is also a very large part of our lives. We say
"Mozilla should..." or "Mozilla should not..."
because we do care about Mozilla, and we're not all nerds with
only coding or localization abilities. We come from various
landscapes, and if the coding skills of the community are used,
the other skills are mostly ignored. The private comments on my
blog post I received are very clear: some people did not want to
express or delayed an opinion similar to mine in public (on a
blog for instance) because they feared the
reaction of Mozilla. Someone told me that "as soon as you
start criticizing in public such high-profile decisions,
you're tagged as a troll". I also got messages from
add-on developers (XUL add-on developers I should say) saying
they're fed up with the add-on update process, are afraid to
have to do it now 10 times per year, and stating the new SDK
supposed to resolve the issue does not offer them enough power
for their extensions anyway. Like it or not, this is an
indicator of a flakier relationship between the mothership and
the community that has to be dealt with. Community does not need
more goodies, it needs better integration and probably better
support. Important detail: bugzilla and newsgroups are merely
communication, and certainly not integration; and blogs
sometimes, given the logorrhea of planet.mozilla.org, are a weak
communication channel too.
- Freedom has many meanings, as we all know it. In the US,
freedom of speech is almost total. Well, unless you start saying
things that hurt your corporate employer for instance. In that
case, freedom of speech often triggers the employer's freedom to
let the employee go... Between the collapse of Netscape/the
second birth of Mozilla and now, Mozillians (I mean employees
here) have rarely, extremely rarely crossed the line. My old
friend Tristan Nitot for instance always takes extreme attention
to what he posts on his blog or even says in public because the
distinction between perso and pro is never
obvious. This is not easy to live like that when you work in a
Free/OpenSource domain and I am the first one hit by the issue.
My blog is my open diary, and I'm used to publish here exactly
what's on my mind. But there's a big difference between my
little, so little person and the Director of Firefox though: my
visibility is low, very low. I don't represent officially an
application used by hundreds of millions of people around the
whole world and the whole world tech press is not all ears/eyes
when I say or write something. Should the Director of Firefox be
able to say in public, in the name of his personal freedom of
speech, he/she finds brother product Thunderbird's UI offending
and ugly and he/she stopped using it? Yes, he/she should
be able to do it. But he/she should also be able to
never forget again contributors are free to stop contributing. A
balance of powers, clearly.
- Of course, given his visibility, his new position and the tone
of his words, the whole world tech press has repeated ad
nauseum Asa's words. Even if I think there's a serious
strategic hole at the root of the problem, miscommunication did
not help, to say the least. And miscommunication was created by
misunderstanding and manichaeism. Nobody ever said Mozilla has
to address all corporate needs, or has to provide ridiculous
requests (Shaver said on his
blog "one tab only", it's an excellent example) with a
solution. As I said somewhere else, there is a large range of
possibilities between "make corporations' lives easier"
and "make corporations' lives harder". Given the
world-wide reaction, I think it is now clear that the faster
release process with fast EOLs causes the latter. Shaver and
Sullivan said conversations with enterprises are ongoing. Better
late than never. Don't forget governments, governmental or
international orgs and military, please.
- The Community does not make any kind of difference between
corporate and individual users. Their involvement in Mozilla is
for all users, wherever they are, at work or
not, in all countries, whatever the religion, race, colour,
gender or opinions. It has to be understood that decisions that
leave a given class of legitimate users on the side of the road
- whatever the reason - are often seen as destructive by the
Community. Hey, that's the weak side of OSS: you benefit from
the good bits and have to live with the bad bits.
- The whole story reminds me of the "Get rid of the JS
Console" frenzy a few years ago. The Community reacted
loud and clear to that, and that decision was overturned. Now, a
few years later, Firefox nightlies offers more and more
developer tools and even
more are coming. Firebug and the Developer panels of
Chrome have shown that early adopters need web development
environments that are not add-ons to the browser, maintained
outside of the main stream, but built inside the main stream.
Firebug is not distributed with Firefox probably because it
induces footprint/performance hits but otherwise, it should be
in. Please note this is why xulrunner-based app developers cry
so much about Venkman: Chromebug has many issues in that
environment and Venkman is most of the time broken, not really
supported, and its feature set and severe bugs' list have not
changed in years. Anyway, I wanted to mention the "Get rid
of the JS Console" history because it seems to me (and it
could be related to item 1 above and how the Community feels)
that MoCo is more and more reacting as a microcosm. My
discussions with the rest of community show an increasing number
of "they're not listening, they say they are Mozilla and
know" signals. MoCo, please, even if reading this you
think this is a wrong reaction from the community, this is now
far more than a few "trolls", it is factual and something must
- There is a major difference of perception between
Users/Community and MoCo about what is Mozilla and what should
be its strategy. This is absolutely normal. MoCo has to deal
with daily operations of a large and visible organization having
a lot (yes, a lot, even if it's small compared to other big
names of the industry) of employees distributed all around the
planet. It has to secure revenue streams and make strategic
choices. Even sometimes painful strategic choices. It's fighting
for survival in a highly competitive landscape. Users and
Community see Mozilla only as the browsing alternative, the
freedom of browsing choice, the ability to get rid of IE
handcuffs in corporate environments, and the cool kid around the
block allowing a well-customized browser on all platforms. For
them, Mozilla is the expression of its Manifesto, period.
- That feeling does not touch only the users or the Community.
It apparently touches MoCo too. Reading #developers' monday IRC
logs, the first word that came to my mind was "mutiny"...
- Users are versatile. Show them something cool and they'll
adopt it. Both at work and at home. IE10 will be cool. Fast and
reliable. Given the specs Microsoft is pushing inside the CSS
Working Group (grid layout, templates, flexing, etc.), it is
clear that standards-based apps and add-ons are in sight. Fear
the revenge of the blue e... Those who think corporations will
never have any incentive to go back to IE if they left it are in
my opinion plain wrong. Those who think the only competitors to
Firefox are now WebKit-based browsers are also plain wrong.
It's an old couple needing just a bit of couple therapy. Nothing more but nothing less. They still love each other, no worries.
Now, back to code.