15 years of Mozilla

Tristan Nitot

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Fifteen years ago on March 31st, 1998, a company called Netscape published the source code of its flagship product: a Web browser called Communicator. The Mozilla project was born. I immediately fell in love with the idea. As I was an Emacs user, I already had some experience with Open Source and Free Software, and I saw the potential of combining World-scale nature of the Internet with the collaboration and sharing of the Open Source world. But not many people could envision this with us. To be fair, like Eric S. Raymond said at the time, “Netscape is the first major company to exploit the power of the open source strategy”.

Things were very different back then. Proprietary software was the norm, and as far as I can tell, Open Source applications where mostly unknown.

What motivated Mozillians (volunteers or paid staff) at the time was the contrast between the promise of the Web and the fact that the Web was technically stagnating – thanks to one browser having a monopoly position. It was very frustrating.

From this frustration an idea was born: let’s build the Internet we want, not the one that’s handed down to us. It sounded crazy at the time, and to a certain extent it was. How could a handful of people under a not-for-profit banner threaten the most powerful IT juggernaut?

Paris team celebrating a Firefox release

Fast forward to 2013. Mozilla can be proud of its accomplishments: competition is back on the browser market, the Web is faster, safer and more innovative than ever, and Open Source software is widely spread. Mozilla can be proud of its achievements during the past 15 years!

However, the future of digital is not that reassuring. Mobile is the new frontier, but the open nature of the Web is not the norm in this new realm. The Web brought the freedom for all to create and publish without having to ask for permission, the freedom to learn by viewing the source, and the freedom to create content and apps that will run everywhere, built with technologies that are not owned by anyone in particular.

Mozilla has decided to tackle this problem, to make the Web a first-class citizen on smartphones, and to make it the obvious choice for mobile application development. The first step is Firefox for Android. The next step is Firefox OS.

Just like 15 years ago, it’s about building the Internet we want, not the one that’s handed down to us – and just like 15 years ago, this may sound crazy. It could very well be. But for those of us who see the potential of this idea, it is irresistible. I see the potential of this grand idea. Do you?

Mozilla’s DNA and Mobile World Congress

Tristan Nitot

Firefox OS booth at Mobile World Congress 2013

I’m just back from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where Mozilla announced partnerships with 18 operators and 4 device manufacturers, who will launch devices to become available in 2013 in several countries around the world, with a focus on emerging markets. Combined with Mozilla’s massive and gorgeous booth, Mozilla’s announcements made an quite an impact on the show. There were hundreds of press briefings, and probably more than two thousand articles published about Firefox OS. At the same time, in the midst of the biggest event in the world of mobile, Mozilla stayed true to its values.

Innovation with Open Web standards

Mozilla is introducing Firefox OS. Many visitors to the booth asked if Mozilla could be successful in building a third mobile ecosystem to compete with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. But this is not Mozilla’s perspective: We’re building a mobile Web ecosystem, with applications that can run on several mobile operating systems, thanks to HTML5 being implemented on most platform. For this, we’ve been creating new Web APIs, APIs that enable Web applications to do as much as native applications. For example, with these new Web APIs, Web pages can access mobile phone features such the GPS, the accelerometer, etc.

Another standards-based innovation presented at MWC was WebRTC, an initiative that enables audio, video and data (chat) communications between two HTML5 endpoints. The WebRTC demo was extremely popular amongst operators.

Bringing the Web to the masses

Because Firefox OS is highly optimized, it can run on inexpensive hardware that will be affordable to feature phone users who want to upgrade to a smartphone experience. As Gary Kovacs, Mozilla’s CEO, puts it, “we want to bring the next 2 billion users online.”

Community participation

Mozilla would not exist without participation of volunteers in every aspects of Mozilla’s work. On the show floor in Barcelona, paid staff and volunteers participated inn in doing demos and talking to attendees and members of the press.

Mozilla volunteer Nukeador presenting Firefox OS at the press conference

Mozilla volunteer Nukeador presenting Firefox OS at the press conference

Mozilla volunteer Guillermo doing a demo on the MWC booth

Mozilla volunteer Guillermo doing a demo on the MWC booth

Open Source & not-for-profit

Mozillians have been doing things the Open Source way for so long, we sometimes forget how surprising it can be for commercial partners. I can’t count the number of times booth visitors were surprised to learn that we are a not-for-profit organization whose role is to make the Web open and accessible for all, or to hear that Firefox OS is developed in the open and its source code can be downloaded for free on the Internet.

What this means for developers and users

Mozillians (volunteers and paid staff) work tirelessly to provide a more level playing field to developers and end users. It’s at the heart of our mission to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web. Here’s how developers and users will benefit:

  • Developers will be able to leverage their HTML5/JS/CSS knowledge to write mobile Web apps that run on Firefox OS. They can then optimize this code to reach other mobile platforms. Apps can be offered on the Firefox Marketplace. They can also be made available directly to consumers from the developer’s website or from other marketplaces as they open. Firefox Marketplace will be one distribution choice among many.
  • Users will enjoy an affordable smartphone experience with the ability to use the HTML5 applications they have bought on all the devices they own, provided they use a digital receipt. Firefox OS users will also be able to enjoy the very innovative “dynamic app search” that offers direct access to apps based on a keyword search.

Interested by Firefox OS and Mozilla’s vision of mobile?

If Mozilla’s approach and goals are interesting to you, if you want to be part of the upcoming metamorphosis of the mobile industry, there are two ways you can help:

  • As a developer, you can start creating Web Applications that will run on Firefox OS and Firefox for Android right now. Get started with our Developer documentation.
  • If you want to contribute to Mozilla, we’re always looking for more help. Refer to our Contribute page.

One less browser engine

Tristan Nitot

7

It’s a sad day for the Web. Opera Software has announced the following:

this year Opera will make a gradual transition to the WebKit engine, as well as Chromium, for most of its upcoming versions of browsers for smartphones and computers.

This means that there will be less diversity with rendering engines. Why is this an issue? My colleague Robert O’Callahan explains why it’s bad for the Web.

We’re also losing an ally in the battle for Web standards: Opera’s voice in Web standards discussions has always been important. But they soon won’t have their own browser engine, and they have recently laid off quite a few people in their “developer relations” program.

From a business standpoint, it may make some sense for Opera to stop being the sole investor in their proprietary browser engine. The upside of this announcement is that Opera has finally understood the value of Open Source.

But while this may make sense for Opera’s shareholders, it’s not a good thing for the Open Web. More than ever today, the not-for-profit nature of Mozilla and its commitment to protect the Open nature of the Web matter.

Some more reading:

What if the browser disappeared?

Tristan Nitot

16

I was reading the other day a provocative article titled The end of the browser?. This article basically argues that with the world using more and more mobile devices, mobile applications are replacing Web browsers for various reasons, the main one being that they’re more convenient to use than Web pages displayed in browsers.

While I disagree with the author, I think this is a very interesting question that raises two different issues:

  1. What if the Web is replaced by Mobile Apps? Why would it be bad to lose Web browsers as a primary way to access information and services?
  2. What can be done to ensure that the Web browser doesn’t become a thing of the past as the world goes mobile?

What if the Web was replaced by Mobile Apps?

I think the world would lose a lot in this case. It would actually lose so much that I don’t even know where to start…

Freedom of expression

The Web is not only made of commercial content. Having the ability to express oneself is fundamental. The Web provides this, and having a decentralized place to publish things is necessary. Centralized commercial AppStores have shown a tendency to censor content aggressively to avoid litigation, whether it’s about artistic content, political content, freedom of the press or plain bad taste.

Freedom to shape my experience

Modern Web browsers feature add-ons that enable users to customize their experience. But even before Firefox made such add-ons popular, it was possible to use alternative style sheets or user style-sheets to alter the presentation of the content. It’s not just about taste, but also very important for Web content to be experienced by people with special needs.

Let’s not forget that every major platform features a Web browser, from Windows to MacOS to GNU/Linux and all smartphones: users don’t have to purchase specific hardware of software to access the Web. All they need is a computer that can run a Web browser.

Freedom to learn, tinker and create

What makes the Web different from other media is that people can participate. Unlike TV, you don’t have to own a TV station to share your point of view with an audience. Everyone can publish a blog post that links to other pages, share photos or videos, and it’s fantastic progress for democracy, compared to the times of TV, radio and newspapers.

But the Internet and the Web are not just media. They are platforms for innovation. Because anyone can learn how the Web works by viewing the source code, the Web allows anyone to create a Web application, which leads to more innovation, coming from more people.

What can be done to prevent the Web browser from becoming a thing of the past as the world goes mobile?

This question has a much shorter answer, and I’ll describe what Mozilla is doing about this:

  1. Keep making a great desktop Web browser: Firefox
  2. Keep making a great mobile browser: Firefox for Android
  3. Work on an open mobile operating system to make the Web the mobile platform of choice: Firefox OS (soon on mobile phones near you!)

The Open nature of the Web is giving people freedoms of all kinds, and this is why Mozilla is investing in Firefox OS: it’s the best way to make sure that the Web has a future in a world where most people use the Internet on mobile phones.

What do you think he world would lose if the Web browser was to disappear? Tell us in the comments below.

Data privacy day

Tristan Nitot

Today is Data Privacy Day in Europe and in the US, and a a study performed by the Ponemon Institute puts Mozilla in the spotlight by naming it Most Trusted Internet Company for Privacy in 2012 (see the 1.4MB PDF document). I’ll leave it to Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s General Counsel to explain how this reflects Mozilla’s efforts:

This is certainly quite a distinction and the product of a user-centric philosophy implemented by contributors to the Mozilla project over the past decade. Engineers, UX designers, security, engagement, IT and privacy folks have made thousands of small decisions over the years that have collectively created the user trust reflected by this survey.

It’s really nice to see Mozilla’s work in the privacy domain being recognized by consumers.

Want to learn more about privacy and Mozilla? Here are a few links:

Getting ready for FirefoxOS AppDays

Tristan Nitot

firefoxOS-app-days_graphic

In two or three days, in Paris and in 23 other cities in the world, the FirefoxOS AppDays will be held. Last week, my colleagues celebrated an important milestone in the development of FirefoxOS. Yesterday, a partner has announced the phones that are going to be made available to application developers. Colleagues are working on the developer documentation for HTML5 Apps. Next to me, a volunteer is packing T-shirts T-shirts that are going to be given away during the FirefoxOS AppDays. Another one is on the phone finalizing catering. In a few weeks, many Mozillians are going to be in Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress.

There is some tension around me, but also laughters: we occasionally need to blow up the steam. it’s my favorite moment at Mozilla: everything is falling into place. Everybody is lining up. Shipping time is approaching. I’m impressed by everyone’s dedication, from employees to partners to volunteers. Everyone has everyone’s back. We’re a team, what we do is important for the Web and for Mozilla. We’re going to ship, soon, and everyone is excited.

Education and great products

Tristan Nitot

2

I was invited earlier this week to a round table about Net Neutrality organized by the French government. During the conversation, someone pointed out that Net Neutrality is pointless if mobile platforms are not neutral and lock people into their respective ecosystems. Consumers are to be educated, someone else said. But who should educate them? Is the government supposed to do this? Would software vendors do it? Unlikely. The media? They certainly have a role there.

Mozilla certainly wants to play a role in education. That’s the point of our Webmaker program.

The goal: help millions of people move from using the web to making the web. As part of Mozilla’s non-profit mission, we want to help the world increase their understanding of the web, take greater control of their online lives, and create a more web literate planet.

Webmaker.org site screenshot

These initiatives are important but not enough to ensure that Free and open systems win the battle of mobile.

There is a battle taking place in the mind of the consumer when choosing a technology solution between the mind that recommends picking an open source solution that promotes freedom and the heart that wants something beautiful, cool and exciting. And in most cases, emotion — the heart — tends to win.

Does this mean that we need to give up on education? Absolutely not. If we want free and open to win, we just need to compete with amazing products.

I’ll quote Mozilla founder Brendan Eich’s latest blog:

We can’t fulfill our mission without winning products.

This is why Mozilla is working so hard on FirefoxOS: if we want to win on mobile, if we want mobile users to be empowered by Mozilla products, we need to keep conquering both the heart and mind of our users with great products and great education programs.

Firefox OS App days around the world

Tristan Nitot

firefoxOS-app-days_graphic_RGBAs you may know by now, Mozilla has been working on Firefox OS, a new, open and powerful mobile platform that will launch in 2013. At Mozilla, we believe that smartphone platforms should be open instead of proprietary. We believe that bringing the openness of the Web to mobile devices would benefit developers, OEMs, operators and consumers.

Competition is fierce when is come to mobile platforms, as the stakes are high. Apple and Google fight tooth and nail, while Microsoft is having a hard time catching up with the two leaders. How can Mozilla compete in such an environment, considering our small size compared to the dominant players? Mozilla has only a fraction of the budget and a much smaller number of employees than its competitors.

Mozilla will of course rely on partnerships with OEMs and carriers , but Mozilla’s unique advantage lies elsewhere: in its community. Firefox OS development is truly open and collaborative (i.e., the code is available during development) and the community is not only focused on code or product and Website localization. Case in point: the upcoming Firefox OS App Days.

Mozilla is organizing events to educate and inspire developers to work on Web apps that run on Firefox OS and submit them to the Firefox Marketplace. If these events were left to Mozilla employees to organize, only a handful of such events would take place. But thanks to the Mozilla Reps (volunteer Mozillians who represent Mozilla), more than 20 of these events will be held around the world over the course of few weeks in late January, a feat that could never have been achieved by Mozilla employees alone.

A pilot Firefox OS App Day was held in Athens, Greece, in December 2012, and more than 20 of these events will take place at Mozilla Spaces like Paris, Toronto, London, Berlin, Vancouver, and Silicon Valley, but also places like Rome, Bangalore (India), Madrid, Warsaw (Poland), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Manila (Philippines), and dozens of other cities.

Pierros demonstrating a Firefox OS prototype

During the Athens App Day, photo by Nikos Roussos used under CC license

Should you want to come and learn how to write applications that will run on Firefox OS and Firefox for Android, please go ahead and sign up for the event of your choice! It should be an opportunity to understand how Mozilla is bringing HTML5 and Open Web Apps to smartphones, and a great way to see how the Mozilla community works and become a participant!

Hugs and infographics

Tristan Nitot

Ok, this may seem like a weird headline for this blog post. Let me explain two things that happened this week at Mozilla, and it will hopefully make sense to you.

Let’s start with the infographic. Mozilla published a new infographic called Mozilla in 2012 that gives an overview of our many achievements in 2012. When I see all the things that we did, all the goals achieved, all the progress that took place, I can only be proud of this fantastic organization that is Mozilla. Of course, not everything is perfect, but Mozilla’s efficiency, its achievements compared to its size are something that Mozillians can be extremely proud of. Mozilla is a very streamlined and focused organization, a lean and mean machine, especially when compared to competitors.

Infographic about Mozilla's achievements in 2012

Now, let’s talk about the hugs. Over the past few days, I’ve been in the Paris office, then I have spent a few days in a seminar with a small group of peers, and then a day with colleagues from our Mountain View, California, office.

Let me describe interactions I had with a few people:

In Paris, I worked with Vincent, a bright and quirky high school dropout, who recently showed up at our offices, wanting to help. He had some time on his hands before starting a job in January, and wanted to use his time wisely.. He did just that in a variety of ways: by drafting a User Experience design proposal for a future product, refining graphical details in a slide deck for me, he even set up the Christmas tree in the Paris office. Vincent is a Mozilla contributor: he’s not making money, but he’s learning a lot and meeting people that share his passion for computers, smartphones and the Web.

Then there is Stormy, who heads Developer Engagement at Mozilla. I had dinner with her after our seminar. We shared funny and not-so funny stories and had a deep, courageous and authentic discussion about how we could work better together.

Finally, there was Pascal, a tall passionate German guy who exchanged with me reading suggestions that would make us grow and improve Mozilla as an organization.

I picked just three people, but I could have mentioned dozens of other colleagues I interacted with, including David A. and David B., two wonderfully nerdy and super smart people that serve Mozilla’s mission with a passion, Havi, Johnny, Lori and so on.

All of these people have shared something with me, some energy, some wisdom, some fun. All of them are a source of inspiration for me, and each of them is part of what makes Mozilla such a wonderful place that makes people grow. This is why I wanted to hug each and every one of them.

Where does the infographic fit in? It just proves that Mozilla is more than a social club, it’s a community of passionate people who work hard, care about each other and deliver fantastic products that make the Web a better place.

The beauty of all of this is that we are open. This makes Mozilla a very precious thing. You can be part of Mozilla if you want, it’s as simple as clicking on one of these two links to get started:

Think about it. Mozilla changed my life; it could change yours.

Teaching the next generation not to be passive consumers

Tristan Nitot

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Apple 2 computer

I recently had to give a talk at a conference about digital natives, so I went for a walk down memory lane to remember what where my favorite computers back when I was a kid. At the time, the Apple II was the king of the hill, the absolute dream machine. Thanks to Woz, its creator, it was open in every possible way: a BASIC language interpreter enabled everyone to learn programming, a built-in disassembler enabled power users to understand how the operating system worked, the case was easy to open (no tools needed) and you had more extension slots than you needed to connect peripherals. You could even design your own extension cards, since the electronic schematics where shipping with the computer. In short, the Apple II was built to encourage tinkering and hacking.

Fast forward to 2012. Kids in developed countries are all digital natives, and Smartphones have outsold PCs.

Graph showing that smartphones outsell PC

In other words, kids are going to learn computing with smartphones and tablets. These are systems that are not open to tinkering at all. Users are left with very limited options:

  1. Download an App
  2. Use it
  3. Rinse, repeat

In short, we’re training kids to be passive consumers, to use their devices in “read-only” mode.

Of course, not everybody wants or needs to “hack” (e.g. tinker with) their devices. Most of use want something that just works, but I claim that in order to have a generation that is creative and takes control on its digital lives, our society needs systems that kids can tinker with.

This system is the Web. The Web is fantastic because it encourages participation, just like the Apple II did back in the days. It’s easy to understand, source code can be made visible with the “view source” command, and there is no need to pay a fee to participate nor beg approval from a gatekeeper (the App Store).

To support this approach, Mozilla is working on two initiatives:

  1. Webmaker.org, a set of tools and events that aim at helping the world increase their understanding of the Web and take greater control of their online lives.
  2. Firefox OS, a mobile operating systems that enables the Open Web as a platform for mobile devices.

We need your help! It’s easy and possible in many different ways.

Here are two links for you to help Mozilla on this important topic: