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Is Mozilla Actually AOL-Netscape's Mozilla?

Mike Angelo -- 11 January 2002 (c)

Article Index

The Netscape-Mozilla Nexus

Netscape is Mozilla

The Netscape-Mozilla Urban Legend

AOL-Netscape Dominates Mozilla

Bugzilla End Run

AOL-Netscape Does Most of the Mozilla Work

Bean Counting

AOL-Netscape Dominates Mozilla Organization Staff



Just what is the relationship between Netscape (NSCP) and Mozilla? Is Mozilla truly independent of AOL and its Netscape division? Or, do AOL and its Netscape division run Mozilla?

Some of the controversy surrounding the Mozilla Organization, the Mozilla Project, and the Mozilla software centers on the relationship between Mozilla and Netscape. Just what that relationship is depends on to whom you speak about it and upon what you see as happening in practice rather than in theory.

Some of you are raising eyebrows at the suggestion that Mozilla is an AOL operation and product. The Mozilla Organization, the Mozilla Project, and the Mozilla browser-suite are supposed to be independent of Netscape and AOL -- yah right.

One easily can argue either side of the coin on this one. The facts of course are the facts. The devil is in how one applies the facts to the question of the relationship between Mozilla and Netscape. There is little doubt that there is a relationship between Netscape and Mozilla. However, in the end what you conclude is the nature of that relationship depends more on how you decide to analyze the available facts rather than on the facts themselves.

The Netscape-Mozilla Nexus

Netscape is Mozilla

The Netscape 6 browser suite is built on top of the cross-platform (XP), open source, Mozilla browser-suite. In effect Netscape 6 is a closed source, proprietary, customized Mozilla browser suite.

Simply put, AOL's Netscape division grabs the Mozilla source code, adds its own and third party products such as Net2Phone and AIM, and then puts its own Netscape branding on the added-too and customized Mozilla-base. AOL's Netscape division also adds its portal and bookmark items to the Mozilla-base while customizing the underlying Mozilla browser suite. Stir all that together and voila, that's the Netscape 6.x browser suite.

The nexus between Mozilla and Netscape is very close -- so close that usually after the milestone upon which a Netscape edition will be based is released, the Netscape developers take control of the Mozilla milestone branch. In the case of Netscape 6.2, that was Mozilla Milestone 0.9.4. The Netscape developers fix bugs during the period of time from when they take the Mozilla branch until they release a Netscape edition. The bug-fix patches made on the branch by the Netscape people also are checked in to the Mozilla development trunk.

Letting the Netscape people take over a branch makes lots of sense development-wise -- and there is nothing wrong with that. It is mentioned here only to indicate the tightness of the relationship between the Mozilla Organization and AOL's Netscape division.

There is a very strong nexus between Mozilla and Netscape. However, the Mozilla and Netscape people claim they are not the same and that Mozilla is not Netscape. While the legal paperwork might be rigged to make it look that way in theory, in practice it appears that AOL-Netscape people pretty much run the Mozilla Organization and the Mozilla Project. Moreover most, but far from all, of the Mozilla browser-suite development work has been in the hands of AOL-Netscape people.

The Netscape-Mozilla Urban Legend

The Mozilla-Netscape relationship urban legend goes something like this. The Mozilla Organization is responsible for and is in charge of the Mozilla application framework, Mozilla Web-browser suite development and distribution, Bugzilla, and other software development that taken together comprise the Mozilla Project -- or perhaps more appropriately a collection of Mozilla projects. AOL's Netscape division is responsible for and in charge of Netscape Communicator development and distribution.

Theoretically according to the Mozilla-Netscape relationship urban legend, Mozilla and the Mozilla Organization are independent of AOL-Netscape. Simply put, Mozilla the program is not Netscape the browser suite. Nor is Mozilla the organization, Netscape the company! Mozilla, the organization itself is an independent entity and has its own, but small core staff.

AOL-Netscape Dominates Mozilla

In addition to that core Mozilla staff there are many other people involved with the Mozilla Project. Most of the people working on the Mozilla project are independent (mostly volunteer) developers or paid employees of companies such as AOL-Netscape, IBM, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems who are assigned to work on the Mozilla Project.

The largest block of people involved in the Mozilla project is from AOL-Netscape. So even though the Mozilla Organization and project technically are independent of AOL-Netscape, as a practical matter AOL-Netscape has lots of influence on the Mozilla project -- if for no other reason, at least simply because so many developers working on the Mozilla Project are Netscape people. Also, AOL-Netscape does provide some, if not most, funding for the Mozilla Organization staff and infrastructure.

Bugzilla Takes an End Run Around Netscape Stonewalling

The AOL-Netscape division spokespeople are very secretive about how many Netscape employees work on the Mozilla project and how much support AOL-Netscape provides for the Mozilla project infrastructure. However, thanks to Bugzilla, we were able to do an end-run around the stonewalling from the Netscape spokespeople. Bugzilla provides a handy listing of many people working on Mozilla stuff.

On 7 January 2002, Bugzilla, the Mozilla project's bug tracking database, showed nearly 20,600 (20,576) new, assigned, and reopened bugs. These all are active, open bugs. Therefore there is a natural presumption that the people listed as owners or assignees of these bugs currently are involved in the Mozilla projects -- and that their e-mail addresses listed with those bugs are current e-mail addresses. If not, then the Mozilla people are not doing a very good job of keeping Bugzilla up-to-date.

AOL-Netscape Does Most of the Mozilla Work

Please note that bug component owners and bug assignees are not an exhaustive listing of all the people that work on or contribute to Mozilla projects. Also, bug component owners are not necessarily module owners and vice versa.

A component owner is the person best suited to receive incoming bug reports for a particular component; not necessarily the person best suited to make decisions about the direction of the module and the review of its code.

A "module owner" is someone to whom staff delegates leadership of the module's development. (Mozilla Modules and Module Ownership), Mozilla Organization, October 11, 2001. Link on Page 2 )

An Owner is responsible for fielding bug reports, enhancement requests, patch submissions, and so on. The owner should facilitate good development, as defined by the developer community. Many of the owners below happen to work for Netscape, but that's not a prerequisite. (module owners, Mozilla Organization, December 14, 2001. Link on Page 2)

More than three-fourths (16,312) of the bugs are assigned to or owned by people with e-mail addresses. Another 1664 of these bugs are assigned to or owned by people with e-mail addresses. Many people with e-mail addresses are current or former Netscape employees. That certainly indicates a very heavy involvement of Netscape people in the Mozilla projects.

Our Bugzilla check turned up 522 unique e-mail addresses listed as owners or assignees for the nearly 20,600 new, assigned, and reopened bugs. Generally bug owners and assignees are people who are involved with code development and/or project management. Moreover, generally the more bugs for which a person is responsible, the more that person is involved with the project (or in the alternative that person is doing a lousy job of fixing bugs or assigning bugs to bug fixers).

Some 229 people with e-mail addresses are listed as owners/assignees of that nearly 20,600 new, assigned, and reopened bugs. Another 16 people have e-mail addresses. That leaves 277 people that do not have or e-mail addresses listed as owners/assignees of that nearly 20,600 new, assigned, and reopened bugs. Please see Table 1, below.

The Bugzilla owner and assignee e-mail address counting showed more non-Netscape/Mozilla unique e-mail addresses (277) than Netscape (229) or Mozilla Organization (16) unique e-mail addresses. However, the non-Netscape/Mozilla people account for an average of only 9 bugs per person. On the other hand, Netscape people average about 71 bugs per person and Mozilla Organization people average about 103 bugs per person.

Most likely the average bugs-per-person measure reflects that generally the Netscape people and Mozilla people are working full-time on Mozilla projects. And most likely many, if not most, of the non-Netscape/Mozilla people are working much less than full-time on Mozilla projects.

At least seven, if not more, of the sixteen people are now, or were formerly, Netscape employees. The conclusion here is that some 235 people involved in the Mozilla projects are full-time, paid AOL-Netscape employees. Absent publication by AOL-Netscape of the actual number of AOL-Netscape people that work on the Mozilla projects we will consider that number to be about 235 AOL-Netscape people working full time on Mozilla stuff.

Table 1

Bean Counting

Note: AOL and Netscape spokespeople have failed and/or refused to answer our questions about the AOL-Netscape labor and infrastructure involvement of AOL-Netscape in the Mozilla Project. They also were afforded the opportunity to refute our estimate of more than 200 AOL-Netscape people being involved with Mozilla and our estimate of at least a $100-million AOL-Netscape investment in Mozilla -- they failed to respond to that opportunity
Here is an interesting thought for you bean counters. The Mozilla Project has been around for about four years now. If the 235 AOL-Netscape employees working on Mozilla stuff has been at that same level on the average over the four years, then they have put 940 person-years into the Mozilla effort -- and still no Mozilla 1.0.

At $100,000 per person-year (including benefits and overhead), that is $94,000,000 ($94-million) AOL-Netscape invested in Mozilla -- and still no Mozilla 1.0. No wonder the Netscape spokespeople do not want to tell how many AOL-Netscape people are working on Mozilla stuff.

The $100,000 per year is a guess. However, there are many programmers in the California area that make that sort of money. It sure would be interesting if AOL-Netscape would provide the actual figures. Even at only $50,000 per person-year, that Mozilla investment is $47-million -- and still no Mozilla 1.0.

That's just the AOL-Netscape effort investment in Mozilla. There is additional effort investment from other companies such as IBM, Red Hat, Sun, and so forth that pay people to work on Mozilla stuff too. Their effort investment is not included in the above discussion.

Incidentally, the Bugzilla-checking found 28 unique e-mail addresses with a total of 293 bugs -- about 10.5 bugs per unique e-mail address. There were four unique e-mail addresses with a total of 57 bugs -- about 14 bugs per unique e-mail address.

Copyright 2000-2002 -- MozillaQuest -- Brodheadsville, Pa..USA -- All Rights Reserved

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