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In: Interviews

By Craig Saila

Published on December 11, 2003

Clearing Up the Confusion
Change Is Good
What The Future Holds

Clearing Up the Confusion

Digital Web: There seems to be some confusion over the future path of the various Mozilla Foundation products. (An interview with Christopher Blizzard suggested the Mozilla Application Suite will remain, but the Mozilla Firebird browser and Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client will become the primary products when they both reach 1.0 sometime in the first quarter of 2004.) Will you clarify Mozilla’s time lines and positioning of its products?

Chris Hofmann: We should have a roadmap update out shortly which will help clarify the direction and rough timing estimates for work over the next year.

Yes, we hope to get Firebird and Thunderbird to 1.0 next spring and start to promote adoption of those programs. There is a good bit of work around the extension system and a few other things that we want to get done before 1.0 so we will see how it goes and refine the schedule as we need to.

Firebird and Thunderbird are going to be great standalone, client programs and a good portion of the Mozilla followers have switched over to these programs as their full-time primary browser and mail clients. The reviews for these products are great.

The full Mozilla suite will continue to fill a niche for users that want a fully-integrated browser, mail, IRC, HTML editor, and Web development client for a while. We were concerned about the difficulty of trying to support maintenance and development of all these applications, but so far we have been able to stay on top of all the work that needs to get done. We will be watching this closely, but right now we don’t see a need to stop any of the releases we have going.

The only support we have dropped recently is for Mac OS 9.x because we just couldn’t find the regular contributors needed to continue with development and support work to keep that platform moving forward beyond milestone 1.2.1. Even there we see part-time volunteers picking up the slack:

So even in a place where we had to drop support, there is still some work and periodic releases. That is the great thing about open source, and a big advantage for enterprises and users that demand long-term commitments and control of a product.

Digital Web: About the suite, is AOL one of those users groups you alluded to that want it to stay around?

CH: We have talked to several enterprises and large organizations that have Mozilla deployments in place, or are considering them. The stable, full Mozilla suite provides a good, low-cost solution to their needs.

These kind of organizations face big costs when trying to do any training, or roll-out deployments. So having the full suite around, and not having its UI change much, fits a real need with many of these kind of organizations.

Other large organizations that want to stay closer to the cutting edge are starting deployments of Firebird and Thunderbird. We think this will ramp up when the *birds hit 1.0.

High costs, security concerns, and the prospect of long delays in the next major release of operating systems gives us a window of opportunity to see the adoption of Mozilla grow over the next couple of years. We plan to fill all the gaps with our technology. That’s what is driving decisions about the suite, as well as the redesigned standalone apps which focus on simplicity, speed, and innovation of the UI.

At the core of this is Gecko, our well-tested technology that renders the vast majority of content on the Web and has the best standards support of any browser. All kinds of applications will be built on top of Gecko going forward. The full suite was the first, major, widely-deployed app built on Gecko; Firebird and Thunderbird will be next; and many more will follow.

That being said, we really haven’t had much discussion on this topic with anyone at AOL lately.

Change Is Good

Digital Web: So, aside from the Mac OS 9 release, the scattering of developers since the dissolution of Netscape hasn’t affected the development time on the other products?

CH: The development and testing community is still strong. We have nine people on the Foundation’s staff. IBM and others have stepped in to hire key developers. In a small engineering meeting to talk about some Gecko work at the Foundation headquarters a few days ago, we had eight or so developers representing five different companies.

We really are fulfilling the dream of Mozilla being a collaborative project with involvement from many companies and individuals with a passion for internet client software.

Other than the interruption of the move to the new Foundation Headquarters in the past few months we stayed pretty much on track for the release of 1.5. We are watching this situation closely and adjusting schedules and timelines as needed. I see a few spots where we were able to depend on full-time contribution in the past, and we are switching over to volunteer help now.

The major financial backers of the Foundation, though, are making it possible to fill any critical hole we have in the development team with full-time dedicated help.

Digital Web: Another visible change was with the new Web site, which has become more consumer friendly. (There is also the option to purchase a CD-ROM of the various programs, as well as a telephone support number.) What has been the general public’s response to these initiatives?

CH: Very positive. I think I saw a survey on MozillaZine where about 80 - 90% see the Web site redesign as an improvement, and that matches with the incoming traffic on our Webmaster alias.

The CD sales are brisk, and we see a large number of people kicking in additional donations to the project when they order the CD. Distribution is key to our efforts, so we want to fill the gap of users still on slow dial-up connections. At COMDEX we handed out a large number of CDs and under-estimated what we could have distributed at that show.

It still is a bit early to tell how the paid-support service plan is going. We should have some data on that soon.

What The Future Holds

Digital Web: This may be another element whose effect is too early to tell... Microsoft has stopped development of a standalone browser and plans on blending it in with the operating system. It’s also developing an XML-based user-interface language similar to XUL, the language initially created for your products. What does this mean for Mozilla—both the Foundation and its products?

CH: We are working up a high-level response to Longhorn in the upcoming roadmap, which you should see soon.

It’s tough to comment on Microsoft’s plans for the browser. I think I’ve seen recently where the company might be wavering on the decision not to provide any more IE releases.

It would have been nice if Microsoft would have adopted XUL as its XML user-interface language instead of re-inventing the wheel. We are pushing forward with getting XUL adopted as a W3C standard, and more people are using it to develop all kinds of interesting Internet applications. The combination of Mozilla’s Web services capabilities and XUL offers a pretty compelling set of tools.

Digital Web: What about the lawsuit over the Eolas patent? How has this affected Mozilla?

CH: We really can’t comment on this. All that we can say has been posted on our site.

Digital Web: You mentioned the importance of Gecko—which is popular in the open-source communities—earlier, but Opera seems to be striking a number of deals with prominent software companies to provide the rendering engine for their products. Is developing Gecko as an embeddable rendering engine still a goal?

CH: The Minimo Project is starting to make some ground. We are hoping to see that project ramp up and get more interest in the next year.

We talked to many developers at COMDEX who are using, or plan to use, Mozilla on Linux kiosks and small devices where low cost, no continuing royalties, high reliability, and high compatibility for a wide variety of content on the Web are critical.

I’ve been running Minimo on an iPAQ the last few weeks and really like it for getting news and frequently-updated content off the Web.

Digital Web: What are the most exciting things for Mozilla in the short-term?

CH: I think you already covered the things I’m excited about in your questions.

Digital Web: Finally, given all the extensions available for the Firebird browser, which is your favourite?

CH: I cannot live without the Google Bar and RSS Reader.

I got a chance to show all these things off at our demo booth at COMDEX and people were amazed at the power and simplicity of Firebird as well as these extensions and add-on applications.

Digital Web: Thanks, and is there anything you'd like to add?

CH: It was great talking to you.

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Craig Saila has been working the Web since 1996, and is now a Web producer for Bell Globemedia’s financial sites, including Globeinvestor. He’s worked in the past with the Ontario Science Centre’s Digital Media Publications group, and as an associate producer at one of Canada’s biggest news sites, CANOE. Throughout his work, he’s divided his time between client-side development and online journalism—dual interests which are apparent at his site, saila.com.

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