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Is Mozilla Falling Apart?

Major Morphing in Mozilla Project Organization and Objectives Proposed

Part 1: Mozilla Management Reorganization and Splitting the Browser-Suite into Stand-Alone Products

Mike Angelo -- 12 April 2003 (c)

Part 1 Article Index

Mozilla 1.0 Coverage

The Mozilla Organization has made public plans for a major overhaul to its goals, objectives, and management structure. The plans are laid out in the 2 April 2003 Mozilla Roadmap proposal. In part, this is a long needed overhaul and reality-check for the Mozilla Organization.

For the most part, there is nothing all that new in this Roadmap adjustment. The 2 April 2003 Mozilla Roadmap is more a reflection of the direction in which the Mozilla Project already has moved in respect to the products it is developing and the priorities assigned to Mozilla products. Once again, the Mozilla Roadmap and development plan is following what the Mozilla developers already are doing rather than leading Mozilla development.

There is a suggestion that such reverse leadership might change -- with a much-needed proposed shift from the existing weak-management model to a strong-management model:

The faux-egalitarian model of CVS access and pan-tree hacking that evolved from the earliest days of Mozilla is coming to an end . . . there is no substitute for leadership by an "application czar". (Mozilla Development Roadmap, Brendan Eich and David Hyatt, 2 April 2003. Link in Resources section on page 3.)

Proposed Objectives and Changes

Some underlying objectives of the 2 April 2003 Roadmap proposal are to clean up code-architecture, simplify the code-base, get rid of bugs, and improve overall quality. Under the new Roadmap proposal these objectives would take precedence over adding new features. The . . . new roadmap . . . comes down to preferring quality over quantity. We must do less, but better . . . (Mozilla Development Roadmap, Brendan Eich and David Hyatt, 2 April 2003) Sounds good!

If the proposed Mozilla Roadmap changes are put into effect, it appears that the focus of Mozilla development will shift from the current Mozilla browser-suite development to a collection of independent Internet-related applications; (1) Phoenix, a stand-alone Web browser, (2) Minotaur/Thunder-bird, a stand alone e-mail and news client, and (3) Gecko, the layout engine that underlies the Mozilla Web-browser suite, Phoenix, and Minotaur -- plus XUL and the Mozilla Applications Programming Framework (APF).

This roadmap is a proposal. We are pointing in a direction toward which we think the Mozilla project should move. (Ibid.)

We're only pointing the way here. The detailed plan of attack should be developed in the newsgroups and via Bugzilla. (Ibid.)

Some of the proposed changes could make the resulting Mozilla Project products more competitive with KDE's Konqueror browser/file-manager and the KMail e-mail client for the GNU/Linux operating systems and with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser and Outlook e-mail client for the Windows operating systems -- also Safari, a KHTML-based Web browser for the Mac.

Mozilla v Internet Explorer, Konqueror, and Safari

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) kicked the Netscape/Mozilla browsers off the MS Windows desktop a long time ago -- in computer time. It will be interesting to see if the proposed Mozilla Project changes increase Mozilla Project browsers usage on the MS Windows desktop.

Meanwhile, now that the KDE Konqueror Web-browser has tabbed-browsing, Konqueror easily could replace the Mozilla browser on the Linux desktop. Up to the incorporation of tabbed-browsing in the Mozilla browser, the choice between Konqueror and Mozilla was pretty much of a toss-up and the major Linux distributions included both browsers. Although, Mozilla's tabbed-browsing perhaps did give the Mozilla browser a slight edge over the Konqueror browser. Now that Konqueror has tabbed-browsing too, Mozilla has lost that edge.

Konqueror appears to be a cleaner, more solid, more stable, and better-developed product than does the Mozilla browser. Additionally, Konqueror is well integrated into the K Desktop Environment (KDE). The same Konqueror user interface, layout engine, and underlying architecture provide well-integrated Web browsing, file management, and FTP services. Additionally the Konqueror browser/file-manager's Universal Viewer easily can display not only HTML and XML files, it also can display text (.txt), RTF (.rtf), and other such text-based documents plus a nice assortment of graphic file formats.

It's not just the Konqueror user interface (UI) that is better than the Mozilla browser. The KDE/Konqueror layout engine, KHTML, seems to be better than the Mozilla Gecko layout engine. KHTML is simple, clean, efficient, and stable. One cannot honestly make such a statement for Mozilla's Gecko engine. However, if the Mozilla community accepts the 2 April 2003 Roadmap proposal, and carries through on the plan, then Gecko might become simple, clean, efficient, and stable too.

In the end, khtml's code is a lot simpler. Perhaps more importantly, the code looks a lot more like a description of the way the layout process works. After hearing a short explanation of what's what, I can understand some of khtml's code almost as well as the equivalent code in Mozilla.

How can Mozilla get from here to there? We need to concentrate on architectural cleanup rather than adding new features. (David Baron's weblog, 23 January 2003. Link in the Resources section at the end of this article. David Baron is a Mozilla Project manager (driver), is a Mozilla hacker, and was a student at Harvard University until February 2003.)

Reduction in Developer and Infrastructure Resources

AOl's Mozilla Note:

Some of the Mozilla fans insist that Mozilla is not AOL-Netscape's Mozilla. We do not buy into that malarkey. To see why we do not buy that Mozilla-fanatic malarkey, please check our article Is Mozilla Actually AOL-Netscape's Mozilla?

That article, of course, is just a little over a year old now. Since that article was published, there has been some attempt by the Mozilla people to make it appear that Mozilla is not AOL-Netscape's Mozilla. Moreover there has been some scuttlebutt that AOL has pulled some of it developers off the Mozilla Project.

Nevertheless, we still believe that for all intents and purposes, Mozilla is AOL-Netscape's Mozilla. The lion's share of Mozilla code and Mozilla bugs were provided by paid AOL-Netscape employees, plus some paid employees of other companies involved with the Mozilla Project in a very minor way. Certainly, lots of independant/volunteer people contributed code to Mozilla too. Nevertheless, Mozilla still is primarily an AOL-Netscape operation. That now could be changing.

Interestingly, although AOL-Netscape has invested well-over $100-million in its Mozilla Project, the only part of the Mozilla browser-suite that AOL has used for its AOL and CompuServe client software is the Gecko layout engine. Moreover, some time ago AOL officials announced AOL's intention to use the Gecko engine in its client software but to get out of the Web browser business. That of course leads to a suspicion that in part the proposed Roadmap changes are a reflection of AOL's unwillingness to invest more of its money on continued Mozilla Web-browser-suite development.

There have been indications for some time now that AOL has pulled people and resources off the Mozilla Project. Clues to that also appear in the proposed Mozilla Roadmap changes document:

Along the way, of course, Mozilla has received very generous support from Netscape, mainly in the form of paid contributors and infrastructure. (Mozilla Development Roadmap, Brendan Eich and David Hyatt, 2 April 2003)

However, it's not clear that we will have all the tinderbox and other resources needed to keep two different toolkit-based browser applications well-tested. (Ibid, Emphasis added.)

What's good for the browser (Phoenix) is good for the mail application (Minotaur, leading to Thunderbird), too. Mozilla's integrated mail has many fine features, but it suffers from too many integration points with the other apps, and it remains a complicated front end maintained by too few people, most of whom have different day jobs now. (Ibid, Emphasis added.)

  • See Responding to Realities -- It's Time for Leaner, Meaner, and Cleaner Mozilla Products and Code-Bases on Page 2 ----->

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