Originally Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2000 Author: Justin Maurer
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Ailing Lizard?

Linux, Apache, and FreeBSD are often cited as examples of successful examples of free software projects. Mozilla is not, but I think its reputation as a failure is undeserved. With today's departure of Mozilla's "International Incident" (yes, that is his official title), Mike Shaver, from AOL, we may soon be hearing once again that Mozilla is doomed....

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Linux, Apache, and FreeBSD are often cited as examples of successful examples of free software projects. Mozilla is not, but I think its reputation as a failure is undeserved. With today's departure of Mozilla's "International Incident" (yes, that is his official title), Mike Shaver, from AOL, we may soon be hearing once again that Mozilla is doomed.

Mike had been working with the Mozilla group as part of his work in the JavaScript group until around March of 1999, when he became a full-time member of the Mozilla team. At that point, a small but growing number of people in the free software community were starting to question Mozilla's "success", perhaps prematurely. While the press was just starting to catch on to this, Mike says that they still were touting the open standards (not to mention open source) philosophy of the project, with a few exceptions.

In May of that year, one of the most critical pieces about Mozilla to date was released. Larry Augustin's seditious "Mozilla: Fatal Blow to Open Source" article was published in the second issue of Linux Magazine, which received much circulation, due to promotional copies handed out during the Linux Expo in Raleigh, NC, as well as various Linux Users' Groups around the nation. Larry's piece accused Mozilla of being stagnant, having project management issues, and finally, doomed to failure. Throughout the article, he constantly reminded his audience of Jamie Zawinski's infamous resignation letter, and used the excuse that Mozilla hadn't succeeded in order to call it a failure.

However, the Mozilla team kept hacking, despite influential news organizations growing more critical. One of the most frequently touted criticisms was that Mozilla failed as an open source project because it failed to attract developers who worked outside of Netscape to the project. Yet the team hacked on, with only one major interruption visible to the outside world. The Mozilla team had decided to abandon work using the old HTML rendering engine, and move to the next generation version, code-named Raptor.

Since then, Mozilla has mostly been silent. Despite continued bad press, they have gained more developers, and Mozilla is progressing faster than ever. Nightly builds and M-releases have been getting better and better by the day, and the once incoherent mass of code is forming a usable body of code. Recently, many people are saying they think it is good enough to replace their current desktop browser. So what's the problem?

Maybe there is none. Mozilla is just late, and the product of bad press and bad fortune. Within the next few months, Netscape will fork the code to produce a branded version of the browser, possibly followed by many other companies hoping to do the same. Mozilla will continue to progress at an amazing rate, perhaps becoming more highly regarded after an official release. And what will happen to our friend Mike Shaver? With any luck, he will enjoy the same prosperity Mozilla does in the present and will in the future.

Justin Maurer is a long-time Linux hacker, currently employed by Helix Code, Inc. He formerly wrote for Slashdot, and still tries to maintain a few Debian packages in his spare time.





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