Today Mozilla hosted a blogger luncheon where we did our best to make what we're doing at Mozilla these days a bit more understandable. It was also a great opportunity to get direct feedback from some excellent writers and interesting personalities on everything from Firefox UI issues to Mozilla policies and processes.
On hand from Mozilla were John Lilly, Mike Schroepfer, me, Alex Faaborg, Vladimir Vukiecevic, Stuart Parmenter, Chris Beard, Jonas Sicking, Jay Sullivan, Brendan Eich, Damon Sicore, and Melissa Shapiro.
John Lilly opened with a mention of the 10 year anniversary and a short description of some of the big inflection points for the project, the organization, and the products we ship.
He answered some questions about Mozilla's revenue sources and then went on to describe the incredible growth Mozilla's experienced over the last few years, in terms of employees, community, geography, and users.
Specifically John noted that:
Mozilla has grown from 15 or so employees when he joined a couple years ago, to about 150 employees today;
Mozilla has gone from one organization, the Mozilla Foundation to 6 in just a few years: Mozilla Foundation, Mozilla Corporation, Mozilla Messaging, Mozilla Europe, Mozilla Japan, and Mozilla Online (China);
The contributions of Mozilla's open source community have scaled right along with that employee growth -- about 40% of the code that makes up Firefox 3 came from people not employed by Mozilla which matches right up with previous Firefox releases.
And that Firefox has gone from a couple tens of millions of users to more than 160 million users today.
In response to a question, John tried to explain how we're a different sort of organization, not really like Google or Facebook, and not really like the Red Cross, the UN, or traditional NGOs. He used the term "hybrid organization" and mentioned a few organizations that he sees as somewhat closer to our model: Wikipedia, Kiva.org, and Participatory Culture Foundation -- mission driven organizations competing in a commercial marketplace.
Next, someone asked about our efforts beyond desktop Firefox and Lilly talked for a few minutes about Mozilla's Mobile efforts (working with handset manufacturers, iPhone's legal prohibition against Firefox and other applications, performance and footprint improvements, and how Mozilla is trying to bring choice to a traditionally closed space,) the cloud computing program called Weave, Mozilla Messaging, other Mozilla hosted projects like Camino and Bugzilla, as well as places where Mozilla is contributing to non-Mozilla projects like Cairo, jemalloc, and SQLite.
There wasn't a lot of structure to the luncheon, but after folks had asked their more "organizational" and historical questions, Mike Schroepfer took a few minutes to talk specifically about Firefox 3 and how it builds on Mozilla's goals of making Firefox "better, faster, safer".
First Mike talked about the platform integration work that makes Firefox feel like a first class application on the three major platforms. Dave Winer chimed in to note that he didn't like the new back button and offered some software development advice that seemed to me could be summed up as "never change anything" though I'm sure I missed some more subtle wisdom in his commentary.
Schrep went on to highlight the Awesomebar which seemed to be a winner with most people at the table who had tried it, though Winer objected to it, (I think because he could envision a scenario where there might some day be some revenue opportunity associated with it. What that would be, I really couldn't say and I think others at Mozilla were equally stumped. Perhaps he was confused about the feature and didn't understand that it was searching users' local data and not some third party commercial service. I'm not sure. Maybe he'll shed some more light on his concerns.)
After the brief discussion on the merits of revenue diversification, (at which point Lilly noted that the Awesomebar might actually turn out to be revenue negative, if it makes finding recently visited pages easy enough that people require less remote searching,) and the value of users' "personal space" in the browser, Schrep went on to talk about some of the new security and user safety enhancements including Malware protection and friendlier website identification information. In response to another question, he also described the new password manager which only offers to save your password after you've successfully logged in rather than tossing up a modal dialog before you're even sure if the login is correct.
After a few more questions and answers, Mike circled back around to talk about how Firefox 3's major improvements should alleviate some of the most often heard complaints and painpoints from previous releases: Places, for example, based on sqlite, should go a long way to addressing the most commonly reported problem in our user support forums, bookmarks dataloss. The memory and performance work addresses peoples' concerns about Firefox using up all their RAM or not rendering web applications as fast as the other browsers. The new themes should help answer the complaints about Firefox being a poor OS citizen.
From there, people asked some questions about Microsoft and it's commitment to Web standards -- responses were optimistic but skeptical, and the competitive landscape on the desktop and mobile devices. Then we broke for lunch and reassembled in much smaller groups of people, a lot of individual Q&A and trying to connect up with various domain experts at Mozilla followed.
Charles Cooper of c|newt News.Com has already posted With Firefox 3, Microsoft has reason to worry.
Michael Calore, from Wired Digital, has posted Mozilla: Final Version of Firefox 3 Will Ship in June and Mozilla Execs on Firefox 3, iPhone and Ten Years of Growth
Mark Hendrikson, of TechCrunch, got his up pretty early: Mozilla Discusses Firefox 3 and Microsoft’s Public Embrace of Open Standards
Rafe Needleman, from Webware posted Live from Mozilla: Firefox for iPhone? No.
Stowe Boyd Twittered a lot of the luncheon.
Rafe Needleman at Builder AU: Firefox 3's better performance and memory improvements
(more as I find them.)
I met some people I'd only known from blogs and it was really nice to be able to finally connect a real person with a URL. All in all, I think it was a great afternoon with a lot of great questions and feedback and I think we should definitely do more of these in the future.