Followers Or Leaders?

This is a sort of guest post, since it’s the English translation of an article originally published in Italian by Giacomo Magnini (prometeo), a long time contributor to the Italian Mozilla community. Even if I don’t agree with him on some points, I share the overall feeling that comes from his considerations and I thought it could be worth sharing this article with other Mozillians.

I would like to share some not really positive gut feelings about the Mozilla project as a whole. I’m very puzzled about two ongoing trends within the project that frankly I don’t like at all:

  1. Cloning Chrome
  2. Focus on marketing

For the first point, I’d say it started with separate processes for plugins (and the ultimate goal is separating each window or tab of Firefox in its own process, just like Chrome) and is proceeding in a similar manner with graphical appearance. And this happens while many people are complaining about the removal of support for Mac OS X 10.4, the incentive to use Jetpack (once finalized, because for now it is on the high seas) over real extensions and the implementation of not very useful features (and I would say even questionable) like Personas.

It really seems that we are rapidly losing sight of the technological superiority to chase ghosts and competitors, instead of presenting new features. And when you also have to recover architectural holes that you’ve been putting off for years (separate processes, limitations in Gecko, browser’s startup time, old fashioned JavaScript interpreter, etc.), this situation becomes much more difficult.

On one hand it is true that Firefox has achieved very good market share, albeit somewhat uneven overall, but on the other hand the arrival of new very aggressive competitors has found MoCo/Mofo rather unprepared (to say the least). And the heat of competition is pushing the project to throw everything possible in the field: all the available technology, even if not ready, as well as technologies possibly taken/cloned from others, complete rewrites of large parts of the software to eliminate structural weaknesses, etc.

In addition to this, and passing onto the second point, there is this new push in the marketing field, hoping to reach new promised lands where the verb has not yet arrived (without even glancing at the pastures of enterprise installations, as usual), where new recruits should increase market share or at least compensate for the more “geek” ones who have already left or are moving to other shores. So we get the hive of activity of social marketing, viral marketing, guerrilla marketing and so many “cool” or “modern” terms. The problem is that Mozilla launches itself into such operation against three competitors who can rely on unlimited resources and who’ve been in that field for decades: Google, Apple and Microsoft (not to be underestimated, never). And the other problem is that without a better and different (from the others) product, marketing is what it is, i.e. very little.

Mozilla as a platform/embedding software has died, rightly ousted by WebKit: after losing Gnome, few products are still standing, perhaps not for long. The promise of stable long-term releases supported for years has been made to disappear. Instead of having to manage twenty different development branches, and their own releases, Mozilla has introduced a ploy to bring out new and invasive features as a “minor update”, reducing support for older versions to only 6 months. We’ll see if even this commitment holds since there’s a run-up to Chrome in action.

Mobile Firefox has some space only through MeeGo, though it is already light years better than the situation until the last week with only Maemo… The market share of WinMobile is disappearing like snow in Rome: the version 7 will have to sweat a lot and be damn good. Android, iPhone, RIM and webOS are closed. The version for Symbian exists only in its epitaph.

I deliberately did not comment on Thunderbird: let’s say I gave it the benefit of the doubt, given the huge technological gap that it had to fill in a short time. I’ll just note that Postbox has some very positive press and it seems to be moving beyond TB abilities. And do not tell me that email clients have had their day: there is no gmail-like thing, not even in picture, which holds its own compared to a well done specific client.

I hear the frame creaking, and I do not like it.