Mozilla (in response to episodes 43 & 44)

Hi,

I’m a Bad Voltage listener and a Mozillian (who happens to be employed by the Mozilla Corporation to work full time on Firefox OS as an engineer).

I’m sorry you were disappointed by the response you got from the Mozilla Corporation’s PR team, I guess they don’t have the resources to follow up with every communication as fully as they’d like to. I’m disappointed by their response too. But I can’t speak for them so I’m going to speak for myself instead. Not to represent the views of the Mozilla Corporation (which is just one contributor to the Mozilla Project), but to represent my personal views as an individual contributor to the wider project. I guess I’ll ask for forgiveness rather than permission :wink:

Firstly, to your concerns about Mozilla’s financial state, let me put it this way: I do not fear for my job for the foreseeable future. As Chris Beard said [1], each of the partnership options available to Mozilla when the Google search deal came up for renewal had “strong, improved economic terms”. I personally saw it as a positive move for Mozilla to declare independence by leaving behind the single global search deal to pursue a strategy with a more local and flexible approach (not just Yahoo) which aligns much better with our mission to promote choice and innovation on the web. I think any impressions that Mozilla somehow “lost” the Google search deal or suddenly took a massive cut in revenues by switching partners are simply false. In conjunction with other efforts to diversify Mozilla’s revenue streams I see it as making a lot of financial sense. Also, as a mission driven not-for-profit organisation with money in the bank, I think Mozilla has a responsibility to continue to invest that money in furthering our mission, and software development and marketing sound like great ways to spend that money.

Secondly, as Aq says browser market share numbers are notoriously difficult to measure. The impression I have is that the widely reported steady decline of Firefox market share has actually levelled out recently and Firefox is at least gaining new users at about the same rate its losing them. The fact that it’s still losing users is taken very seriously, and I see the Firefox team trying new things [2] and taking bigger risks every day in order to improve user retention and tell Firefox’s story [3] in a more effective way.

But having money in the bank and a healthier trend in desktop market share mean nothing if Mozilla isn’t moving its mission forward. And that’s what I worry about, that’s what keeps me up at night.

If you think about what success looks like to Mozilla, it doesn’t have so much to do with market share or how much money is in the bank (though those things are needed to keep the organisation running), it has to do with the health of the open web. On desktop, to all intents and purposes, I think Mozilla won. The desktop browser market we have today has multiple major players who compete on features, performance and usability but co-operate on open standards, and broadly speaking a web page written to those standards will work in any of those browsers. That’s what success looks like to Mozilla.

But on mobile the picture is different, and the web faces new challenges. Few people bother to switch from the browser that comes bundled with their mobile operating system and the terms set by the commercial owners of their app ecosystems can make it especially hard to compete. But more importantly, much of mobile Internet usage is moving away from the open web, into the walled gardens of proprietary app stores.

Firefox OS is an effort to challenge those walled gardens by showing that the web can provide a viable alternative which doesn’t lock users in to one company’s ecosystem. The first phase of the Boot to Gecko project was to prove that it was possible to build a mobile operating system entirely using web technologies, and I believe it succeeded. Firefox OS shipped as a working OS built on HTML5 on over 15 different smartphone models in over 30 countries and is still growing and expanding into new countries. Mozilla doesn’t really have sales numbers from all our partners but analysts show that Firefox OS sales are at least in seven figures.

But think about the scale of this market. The sales of Firefox OS devices could well be more than Ubuntu Phone, Sailfish, Tizen and other upstart mobile operating systems combined, but still be less than 0.1% of the global market. That’s not enough to get Firefox OS out of the “other” category in sales charts, let alone for Mozilla to have the kind of seat at the table on mobile that it had on desktop. So despite promising sales and incredible support from OEMS like ZTE, LG and Alcatel One Touch and network operators like Telefonica and Orange, Firefox OS still faces a huge challenge.

Trying to play catch up with Android and iOS on mobile, which have a head start of many years and many more resources behind them than Mozilla can muster, is futile. But remember, this is what Mozilla is good at. Mozilla has always punched above its weight, it’s taken on an incumbent Goliath before, and won. We won’t do that by competing on their terms, but by doing things differently.

That’s why the second phase of Firefox OS is not about building an OS which looks like every other OS but built with HTML5, it’s about identifying and working to the unique strengths of the open web to go places its competitors simply can not go because they’re now so invested in a particular strategy. It’s about focusing on what users actually need and creating a compelling experience they want to use.

Over the last six months I’ve seen Mozilla do a lot of soul searching about where to take Firefox OS next, in order to best serve our users and our mission. That’s meant cancelling some projects that weren’t showing enough success, and re-focusing on some key areas, with a three year strategy of where each of Mozilla’s product lines are heading. It has meant re-focusing on working to Mozilla’s strengths as an organisation, on the web’s strengths as a platform, and crucially on engaging the community more deeply (which made the PR team’s response to you particularly disappointing to me). It’s meant more focus on how we can create a compelling experience for consuming, creating and curating the web - extracting more user value from the web that exists today, and shaping the web of tomorrow.

The realisation that we were spreading ourselves too thinly and subsequently trying to re-focus on doing fewer things better [4], and saying no to some business opportunities, has meant a lot of internal change, and has unfortunately lost us some people along the way. But I believe Mozilla will come out of this stronger and more focused on solving the challenges that face the web today.

In addition to Firefox OS I see Mozilla preparing itself to ride a recent surging wave of mainstream interest in the topic of privacy, which is an area in which Mozilla has a lot of trust and a strong voice. I also see Mozilla taking the long term view by becoming more active in some new post-smartphone frontiers of the Internet, like the IoT and VR [5], where we can make sure Mozilla has more of a voice from the start.

A lot of people want Mozilla to succeed, and recognise the important role they play in keeping the web open. Mozilla certainly has a lot of challenges facing it right now and that’s why it needs the support of the community more than ever. If that’s something you care about then I encourage you to vote with your feet and find a way that you can contribute to the Mozilla Project [6] to help push its mission forward. And do keep telling us how we can improve, there are people listening, Mozillians are everywhere :slight_smile:

I hope that Mozilla can continue to earn respect from the open source community in its role as a defender of the web, and re-engage people like Aq, Jono, Jeremy and Bryan and the rest of the Bad Voltage community in fighting for a cause we all care about [7].

Lots of love

Ben Francis
Mozillian

  1. blog.mozilla.org/blog/2014/11/19/promoting-choice-and-innovation-on-the-web/
  2. foxyeah.mozilla.org/
  3. blog.mozilla.org/blog/2015/06/02/firefox-puts-you-in-control-of-your-online-life/
  4. cnet.com/uk/news/mozilla-overhauls-firefox-smartphone-plan-to-focus-on-quality-not-cost/
  5. mozvr.com/
  6. mozilla.org/en-US/contribute/
  7. mozilla.org/en-US/mission/

(sorry for the non-clickable links, the forum wouldn’t let me post more than two links in one post). [links edited to be links – sil]

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For those of you new to this, listen to the “Bad Voltage Fixes the F**king World: Mozilla” discussion in http://www.badvoltage.org/2015/05/28/1x43/ and then the follow up in http://www.badvoltage.org/2015/06/12/1x44/


Thanks so much, @benfrancis, for responding. We respect that you are responding personally and not speaking for Mozilla in an official capacity.

Agreed. I am no concerned by Mozilla’s financial security. Mozilla has a global brand that many will want to partner up with. I am also sure that senior leadership always knew the day would come when Google would pull out, and thus they reserved some rainy day funds.

I think Mozilla are in a tough spot here. From a consumer perspective I think most users don’t care that much about web browsers: they just want then to display their websites and be quick. As such, Firefox, Chrome, and even IE are not all that different. Thus they rate them on distinguishing factors such as performance.

Where Chrome gets the upper hand, as discussed in the show, is the Google services integration into the browser.

I think Moz is in a tough spot exploring how to evolve a piece of software that is “done” for many people. The risk here is Zawinski’s law:

“Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.” Coined by Jamie Zawinski (who called it the “Law of Software Envelopment”) to express his belief that all truly useful programs experience pressure to evolve into toolkits and application platforms (the mailer thing, he says, is just a side effect of that). It is commonly cited, though with widely varying degrees of accuracy.

Moz clearly need to evolve Firefox, but I am not sure what direction they need to go in. One possible option here could be some kind of social thing.

Well, there are two types of success going on here. There is mission success and sustainability success. I would agree on the mission: Mozilla are largely the reason we have an open web today. As I mentioned in the show, I think this is another challenge: Moz essentially brought us the open web and now we have it the fire in their belly seems to have petered a little. As such the org needs to go for the next major challenge to human communication and collaboration.

This is where I think Moz could play a leading role: addressing market failures as they relate to digital literacy, freedom, and accessibility. They took on the web and won, but what about instant messaging, digital video, collaboration, data standards? There are lots of places Mozilla could be the shining light for openness and accessibility.

This is true and I think Mozilla can play a valuable role here, but the solution won’t be replacing those app stores (in my mind), it will be in encouraging open standards and interchange.

The issue here is with return rates more than anything else. For FFOS to succeed it will need to get into the big box retailers and the issue there is maintaining acceptable levels of return rates. The challenge with this of course is training.

Personally I think competing with Android or Apple is going to be difficult, but where there does seem to be opportunity is for the next billion that come online in developing nations. I know Moz want to get out of that market, but I suspect this is less because the market isn’t a viable option, but more that they don’t have a desirable product.

Spreading too thin is often a side effect of growth and reeling that in is great. This has been a constant concern I have with Canonical, so I am glad Mozilla is getting things in check.

Privacy seems a very logical place for Mozilla to focus.

Ben, this was a great response…it was thoughtful, detailed, human, and insightful. It was responsible to the place where you work, but realistic in terms of the challenges.

You should be working in the Mozilla PR team. :wink:

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Firstly, let me join with @jonobacon in saying: thank you for the detailed and engaging response. Hopefully you won’t have to ask for forgiveness. (Not just for your sake, but because it is worrying that we even have to wonder about that. I’ll come back to this point.)

Yep. As @jonobacon notes, there is mission sustainability and financial sustainability; it’s pointless having a strong mission if you don’t have the money to keep it going, and I think most people understand that Mozilla need to have some way to generate revenue in order that the real mission can be funded. There are some who do not understand that at all and will condemn anything which is money-over-mission, but they’re knee-jerk protester morons. However, thinking that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of money and away from the direction of the mission is a reasonable discussion to have.

I’d agree with that; some might try to suggest that Mozilla is not responsible for that shift on desktop, but I’d disagree; I’m happy with Mozilla taking the lion’s share of the credit for inspiring and shepherding that move to open competition among mostly open browsers on the desktop.

Mobile, as you note, is a bigger problem. There are too many mobile OSes, and they’re all pushing for app formats and app deployments and app searches which only work on that platform. And so Mozilla have taken on the challenge of solving this…

…by building another platform.

Sigh.

The issue with platform-proprietary software is not that it’s closed source. It’s that it’s specific to one platform. And… that’s just as much the case with Firefox OS as it is with Android or iOS. Can I run a Firefox app on another platform? No. Can I browse and install apps from the Firefox Marketplace on another platform? No. Do I have to write a manifest which only applies to Firefox OS for my apps? Yes.

I have said this before, but “Firefox Marketplace” ought to look like this:

<ul>
    <li><a href="https://somewhere/">Great app number 1</li>
    <li><a href="https://somewhere/">Great app number 2</li>
    <li><a href="https://somewhere/">Great app number 3</li>
</ul>

and instead it looks like this

In what way is that stopping me being locked in to one company’s ecosystem? In what way is that exhibiting the best of the web? I’ve castigated Google for making Inbox available only in Google Chrome on initial release; the Firefox Marketplace is no better and it annoys the hell out of me. Being open source is completely orthogonal to this point; if I ship an app for Ubuntu desktops that’s open source then I wouldn’t dream of claiming that you can run it everywhere and you’re not locked in to Ubuntu just because the source is on github. (Also, see Alex Russell’s progressive web apps for a better way to think about this stuff, I think.)

Now, I understand that at least one of the motivations behind creating Firefox OS is that it’s close to impossible to make a meaningful dent in the market if you’re always a second-class citizen on the competition’s locked-down platform. Firefox managed it on the desktop because there was less lock-in; Microsoft were and remain bastards about lock-in, but they wouldn’t have dreamed of banning alternative web browsers as iOS has. I can see that attempting to build diversity in browsing is very hard when done on a set of platforms which could cut you off with a single button click. And Firefox OS should exist on that basis. I can see that argument. I’m not sure I agree with it, but I’m pleased that Mozilla are trying something here, and this is not my objection; even if I think it’s the wrong thing to do, I’m happy to defend your right to do it and not be disappointed by it; it’s an attempt to further the mission, and the mission is what we all support.

… and this is where we come to it. There is a very, very big difference between engaging with the community and merely saying that you engage with the community. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mozilla PR aren’t interested in talking to us because we were critical of the company. If we’re just too small then, fine, I could understand that, but that seems to not be the reasoning here. And to be clear, engaging with the community does not mean obeying it. Mozilla were right to do Australis even though lots of people didn’t like it, because they believe that it’s the best move long-term, and they’re the best judges of that (if someone else disagrees, then they are welcome to get more involved in the Mozilla project, but sitting on the sidelines bitching that someone made a thing but didn’t make it the way you want does not get you listened to. Vote with your feet and go somewhere else, and if Mozilla turn out to be wrong then everyone will leave, but that doesn’t mean they have to obey people telling them to change.) I honestly believe that the core culture of Mozilla internally is still open. But I don’t think I believe that new hires to the company are correctly immersed in that culture. PR people from outside the open source world have a completely different way of working than those inside; the community is, in the world of business, not something to be engaged with but something to be marketed to. It’s good that Mozilla have enough commercial stuff going on that they need to hire people with experience in the commercial world, but it’s critical that such people are correctly inculcated in the culture, in what makes Mozilla different from Disney, when they join. Canonical have this problem too; it’s what I believe caused the “lawyer’s letter to fixubuntu” thing, because a lawyer from a commercial software company would see that as a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and a lawyer who understood open source and community relations would see it as an abhorrent terrible idea… and if you hire one, you gotta teach them to be the other. I don’t think Mozilla’s PR team understand what it is to engage with the community properly, and it has to be the responsibility of the Mozilla execs to propagate the culture they want to see to every new hire to the firm.

Hah, you’re preaching to the converted, brother. And believe me, the times they are a changin’ [1].

Part of the soul searching we did was to talk about how we could make Firefox OS more “webby”. We never set out to create a new platform, we set out to prove the web could be the platform. To build v1 of the OS that meant adding a bunch of new APIs to Gecko to do things like make telephone calls and send text messages, with the intention of standardising those APIs. Timelines forced us to cut corners by creating signed packaged apps to safely provide access to the most privileged APIs, because the web simply didn’t have an existing security model fit for that purpose.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many “temporary” solutions in software, we got stuck with that. People started creating packaged apps for the Firefox Marketplace rather than hosted web apps even when they didn’t need to, just because it was the easiest way to make their app work offline (because AppCache). Also it turned out that despite our best efforts [2] nobody was really interested in standardising a lot of those APIs and they would remain proprietary to Mozilla.

This is all going to change in version 3.x, we are re-factoring the whole OS. We have a new architecture [3] heavily based on Service Workers, a new security model [4] more like the rest of the web, a new permissions model [5], a new app model [6] and an experimental new UI [7] which removes the artificial distinction between “web apps” and “web sites” (these wiki pages are not all up to date, things are moving fast, see the public mailing lists for the latest discussions).

The gist of it is that all apps (including the built-in apps) should be hosted at a real URL on the web, not distributed as a package through a Firefox-only app store. We are adding support for the new W3C web app manifest (which is also supported by Chrome and soon Windows), so that the vast majority of apps will not be Firefox specific and will work cross-platform.

Unfortunately for some of the most privileged APIs (like telephony) there is still a need for Mozilla to sign content which uses them, as we still don’t have a safe way to expose them to the whole web (and meet regulatory requirements). But that content will still be hosted on a web server rather than packaged up and distributed through an app store. Where packaging is needed we will use the streamable hosted package format proposed by the W3C [8].

We’re working on ways to deprecate as many of the Firefox-specific APIs as possible, with more webby and cross-platform solutions. Firefox OS should showcase what is possible with the web, not just with HTML5 + a bunch of proprietary APIs in a zip package.

We’re discussing what the Firefox Marketplace will look like in this new model, but it’s likely to become more of a community curated guide to the best of the web than an app store, with links directly to content rather than including a Firefox-only install button.

I hope this sounds more like what you envisioned for Firefox OS :smile:

I asked about this, and based on what I found out I now think that PR took the right decision not to provide someone for an interview given the circumstances. Unfortunately I feel Bryan mis-represented Mozilla in episode 44 and didn’t tell the whole story. But let’s discuss that privately if you’d like to.

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujNCOdslzH4
  2. http://www.w3.org/2012/sysapps/
  3. https://wiki.mozilla.org/Gaia/Architecture_Proposal
  4. https://wiki.mozilla.org/FirefoxOS/New_security_model
  5. https://wiki.mozilla.org/Security/B2G/PermissionReview/New_permission_model
  6. https://wiki.mozilla.org/Gaia/App_Definition
  7. https://wiki.mozilla.org/FirefoxOS/Pinning_the_Web
  8. http://www.w3.org/TR/appmanifest/
  9. http://www.w3.org/TR/web-packaging/

It’s already been said a couple times, but thanks again for your participation here.

This sounds good, but I suspect it may not work out as well as intended from a monetary perspective in the long run. Like it or not, Google has the most available inventory and monetizes that inventory far better than their competitors do. I do not see this changing in the short to mid term. That said, I still see the move as a net positive because the deal was unsustainable.

The independence, flexibility and alignment with mission all sound like very good reasons to make the change. Overall I think Mozilla will be better off, even if they have to become a leaner organization because of the move.

This is very good to hear.

I’m not so sure the pendulum isn’t starting to swing in the other direction on the desktop. The number of sites/apps I see that claim to work better (or only) in Chrome has increased recently from what I can tell. Combined with the state of affairs on mobile, the health of the open web worries me a bit.

Scale of the market indeed. That’s roughly 8 hours of Android sales.

It’s good to hear that Mozilla does realize they have some issues internally. They may want to work on letting that be known externally, as the perception and feedback I’m seeing leads me to believe many don’t think it to be the case.

Pehaps most of the issue is just a messaging one then. Or perhaps, as I said in my blog post, this new Mozilla really is the best organization to move the open web forward. You’re correct in saying “A lot of people want Mozilla to succeed”. Hopefully open dialogue such as this ensures that happens.

–jeremy

Just another data point, but I reached out on behalf of LQ (LinuxQuestions.org) unrelated to Bad Voltage on this and the results have not been much different. People who were happy to do an interview previously (and when we were a much smaller organization) have not responded at all and others have declined. Would be happy to discuss that offline if you’d like.

–jeremy

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I obviously don’t speak for Bryan, but if you feel something was factually misrepresented on the show please do let us know so we can correct it. Having someone come on the show to refute would be ideal, but a point by point breakdown here in the forum is also welcome.

–jeremy

Wow. It really does. Nice! I am now looking forward to that quite a lot!

As an update, someone has agreed to do an interview with LQ. Will hopefully have it posted in a couple days.

–jeremy

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@jeremy: I’m slightly surprised by this since I would have thought you were just as well known for Bad Voltage as LQ. But hey they are both excellent sites – I guess Mozilla think that LQ will be slightly less confrontational than the full BV team would be. Not that we want to come across as confrontational at all: Mozilla has done an excellent job in trying to keep the internet open source and making it possible to be cross platform.

Personally I hate the idea of individual browsers having propriety extensions. We should be able to design a web site with the confidence it will look good on any browser irrespective of whether I’m using my Ubuntu phone, my daughters Nexus4, my Nexus 7, My ex wife’s iPhone, Firefox on my Ubuntu desktop, IE on my daughters Win7 machine or any other platform without needing to test them all.

Mozilla have done excellent work in bringing this closer to being a reality than it would have been otherwise. We need to congratulate them on what they have achieved so far, but they are also at a cross-roads and we need to know in what direction they are planning to turn.

I trust your interview with Mozilla will be seen in this light: concerned users looking to keep the internet open to all and helping to ensure we keep the right to privacy. I look forward to reading the results of this interview. Don’t forget to post a link in this thread to the full report on your website.

That’s an interesting perception. LQ will have been around for 15 years next Thursday and gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each and every day. We are, to my knowledge, the largest distribution independent Linux community on the web. Bad Voltage, while rapidly growing, just recently turned 1.

–jeremy

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Hi @jeremy I am well arware that LQ has been around for several years. I did not realize its nearly 15 and would have guessed it was around 10 but congratulations are definitely owed to you for running such a good site. However, LQ is not a site I personally need to check several times a day, Bad Voltage is: Not only for the thoughts of your self @jonobacon, @sil and @bryanlunduke but for lots of other people too who are not presenters but are proud to be fans of the show.

I trust you understand that as an Ubuntu user if I have problems I am more likely to search Ask Ubuntu, the Ubuntu Forums or Launchpad than LQ. This does not take away anything from LQ or you just reflects how much, to me, Bad Voltage plays a more significant part in my life.

Indeed I do understand… although keep in mind that Ubuntu does officially participate at LQ, as do over 30 other distributions that have dedicated LQ distro forums. We’re not just a technical forum, but a community where you can discuss anything Linux or Open Source related. Enough about LQ though; back to Bad Voltage and Mozilla.

–jeremy

Before I respond to this, I want to jump on the “Praise @benfrancis bandwagon”. Very cool of you to hop in the forum and add in your two pennies. I have found it to be incredibly interesting – I’m still digesting some of it.

Feel free to toss me an email. I don’t feel that I misrepresented Mozilla at all… but, hey! I’ve been wrong before! If you think I’ve overlooked something – or, worse, said something that’s not true – definitely let me know.

I sincerely meant what I said in the show: I want to love Mozilla. I want to heap praise upon them (in podcasts, in articles, in videos… hell, from the very roof of my home). The ball is in Mozilla’s court to show me that they’re worth it.

Now this is interesting. Very curious how this turns out. And even more curious to see if this is a bit of a change for Mozilla to be a bit more open with the media.

As an update to this, the first Mozillian to do an interview with LQ back in 2002 has responded. He was on medical leave and is now back. Once he catches up he indicated he’d be happy to discuss or do another interview with LQ.

–jeremy

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Is that someone from their PR, marketing or executive teams… Or one of the other functions?

I guess given those options, I’d say: one of the other functions. I believe his current title is “Participation Director for Firefox OS, Mozilla Corp”. He’s been with the company for a long time and has had a variety of titles/positions in the interim.

–jeremy

The interview has been posted: Interview with Gervase Markham of Mozilla http://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/interviews-28/interview-with-gervase-markham-of-mozilla-4175545838/

–jeremy

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Great interview!

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Well done, Jeremy.

My primary take-aways:

Q: Why didn’t you appear on BV?

A: Someone might disagree with me and I fear that person’s power.

Q: Concerned about Firefox’s dropping marketshare?

A: YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND WE DON’T EVEN LIKE MARKETSHARE WE DON’T EVEN CARE IF PEOPLE USE OUR STUFF STOP LOOKING AT ME.

Q: What about Mozilla’s financials?

A: Whatever, we have more money now than ever. It’s a secret though. Because we’re a non-profit focused on being “Open”.

I’m paraphrasing, of course. :smile:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Gerv decided to do this interview. I’m just disappointed in most of his answers. And equally (if not more) disappointed that Mozilla PR is still refusing to engage.

Please respect our code of conduct which is simple: don't be a dick.