The Truth about Mozilla

The Google Browser

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on February 25, 2008

[Editor’s note: This post isn’t in the same style you’ve grown accustomed to from the Lizard. Given the topic at hand, the Lizard believes it is important that this post detail past events as well as the reasoning behind them. This is the post you can tell your grandkids about.]

A long-time Mozilla contributor emailed the Lizard back in November and posed:

If you really want to dig up some dirt, find out what happened between Google and Mozilla. Inquiring minds want to know.

The world has long assumed that the Google team working on Firefox simply moved off to another project. That assumption is true. The real question is: What project are they working on?

From the title of this post, you now know.

It was September 2006 when Mozilla Corporation CTO Brendan Eich removed Ben Matthew Goodger as owner of the Firefox project and placed Mike Connor at the helm. Goodger was first demoted to “peer” status, and from there he officially removed himself from all leadership positions throughout the Mozilla project. (Those outside of Mozilla should know that the project has a hierarchy for managing and running various parts, or modules, of its codebase. “Module owners” have final say over what features and bug fixes go into their module and provide leadership in determining the future of the code. “Peers” are secondary to owners but know the module well enough to make decisions about what code should be accepted.)

Goodger wasn’t the only one to leave, however. Long-time Mozilla contributors Brian Ryner and Darin Fisher, as well as Pam Greene, Brett Wilson, Peter Kasting, Tony Chang, Annie Sullivan, and others also removed themselves almost completely from the Mozilla project, though some would continue to participate through the launch of Firefox 2.

Months prior, Goodger, one of the original Firefox creators (alongside Dave Hyatt, Blake Ross, Joe Hewitt, and Asa Dotzler) and its long-time lead, had left the Mozilla Foundation to work for Google, charged with building a team that would contribute strongly to Firefox. As transitions in the Mozilla world go, it was a fairly clean and prosperous one for both parties involved. In one fell swoop, the Firefox project gained several new, competent developers (Google developers are some of the best in the world and were even more so in 2006) who proved critical to the success of Firefox 2. Meanwhile, Google worked the profitable end of the transition, furthering its message of openness and “no evil” while making mountains of cash off its position as the default option in the Firefox search bar and as the only option on the start page. The almost immediate success of Firefox 2 helped the Mozilla Corporation solidify a 2-year multi-million dollar deal (in total, over $60 million a year) with Google which would help it continue operations through, at the least, November 2008.

Why then, all things being beneficial to both parties, would Google pull its team off of Firefox?

Consider this: Since its inception, Firefox has pushed billions of search queries to Google, from which billions of dollars have been made. Not millions, billions.

As companies go, Google’s not a particularly evil one. Supporting open source in so many aspects of its business is a wonderful, non-evil thing. However, continuing to support Firefox fully would mean further reliance on Mozilla’s not screwing up a good thing. That is, Google needs Mozilla to keep making the right decisions as the browser maker grows its business. On the other hand, this same growth gives Mozilla a reason to start requesting a larger piece of the pie – and with reason.

As Firefox continues to grow – its market share is around 20% worldwide – Google keeps getting a better deal. For merely a few million a month, Google’s market share in the search and advertising industries has the ability to grow leaps and bounds and generate a five- to ten-fold return on investment. A win for Firefox is a win for Google … until Mozilla gets greedy.

Betting any large percentage of your business on one single entity is never a good idea. Once that entity desires more money and threatens to go elsewhere, your business starts hurting substantially. Even more importantly, once another browser, which you control even less, appears and begins to threaten Firefox growth, it’s time to start thinking about why your business isn’t fully under your control in the first place.

And so, in mid-2006, after several months of semi-serious internal discussion, the skunkworks project known simply as GBrowser was officially but quietly launched inside Google. It wasn’t until after that September divorce that the pace really sped up, however.

But what, really, is GBrowser? Simple Firefox customisations? No, friends, it’s much more than that.

The much-rumoured Google Browser is a complete browser built on top of WebKit. More than that, it will offer integration with many Google services, such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Blogger, and likely Google Talk.

The GBrowser team was smart in staying clear of the aging and fragile Mozilla technology. They looked for a streamlined rendering engine that would be easy to work with. It wasn’t hard to find Apple nearby, working on WebKit. In fact, Goodger was still in close contact with Dave Hyatt, who is one of WebKit’s initial developers and an Apple employee.

Rumblings of a Google browser have been carpeting the web for years, but it wasn’t until 2006 that an entire team was actually committed to working on what will become GBrowser.

Google, always known for iterating slowly on most of its projects, has taken its time on GBrowser for a very good reason: it only has one chance to get it right. Failing to succeed in its browser move means rocky negotiations with a core partner, Mozilla, and could negatively impact its financials in a significant manner. A move into the browser market requires perfection, and GBrowser has undergone at least one substantial rewrite and many major user-interface iterations.

The GBrowser team and Google leadership have also done well at keeping this project quiet internally. If screenshots or mockups leak from this project, it could threaten the relationship Google has built with several partners as well as lower the company’s credibility with its own employees as a supporter of open source software. No, this project must be developed “right” so that others can truly grasp the need for an all-new browser.

When will GBrowser launch? No one knows for certain, including the team itself. The internal target is an initial alpha/beta quality release this summer or fall.

The one point that hasn’t been mentioned yet is, quite possibly, the most important. Mozilla knows GBrowser is coming and discusses it at length internally. Mozilla employees, reasonably, believe that Google’s proven inability to create solid, popular desktop software will hinder the search giant and its play in the browser market. But most of these obstacles can be overcome with a leader who knows full well what he’s doing, having done the same thing with Firefox; Google’s hiring of Goodger in 2006 now seems like a prescient move.

While the importance and potential success of GBrowser are continually downplayed internally at Mozilla, the Lizard believes our new overlord, John Lilly, does not underestimate what Google can do.

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Exclusive: MailCo Gets Name, Board of Directors

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on February 18, 2008

The David Ascher-led “MailCo” will, this week, announce its name, initial employees, and board of directors on its new website.

Mozilla Messaging Incorporated is a California corporation led by the Canadian CEO, David Ascher. Its initial goal is to release Thunderbird 3 this year (without the application’s lead developers).

Directors include:

  • David Ascher
  • Chris Beard, VP of Mozilla Labs at Mozilla Corporation
  • Mårten Mickos, CEO, MySQL

But don’t think my secrets are so special. Mozilla Messaging Incorporated (henceforth to be known as MoMess) has published the beginnings of its website in SVN, which is publicly viewable by anyone in the world. (If you’d like to know the initial employee list, the Lizard recommends heading over to either of those links.)

The $3 million question the Lizard must ask centers around the initial board of directors. If MoMess is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, and if this new organization is really supported by that organization, why are there no representatives from the Foundation on the board of directors?

I’ll tell you why. No one truly gives a fuck what happens here. MoMess will fail. It’s bound to be a complete failure. The Lizard does wish the best to Mr Ascher; Thunderbird in a solid, stable home would be wonderful. However, unless Scott MacGregor, David Bienvenu, Sherman Dickman, and Seth Spitzer want to wrest their darling product back from the ’mess and bring it to the bosom of their new mail company, no amount of money or manpower will truly help.

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An analysis of the Baker-Lilly CEO switch

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on February 18, 2008

And so, the great Mitchell Baker fell.

Before we delve deep into the hidden meaning in the announcement of Ms Baker’s fall, the Lizard would like to note that at Mozilla’s weekly meeting on the day of the announcement, both the old, tired CEO and the new, asinine CEO apologized profusely to Corporation employees for informing them of this news on such a short schedule (for most, quite literally four hours prior to the late afternoon announcement). Mere hours earlier, a meeting had taken place with John Markoff of the NYTimes to prepare the press for this announcement. The biggest reason for the shorter-than-usual announcement period as well as the preemptive spin strike? This blog.

Ms Baker as well as Mr Lilly were concerned that the Lizard would discover this news and report it before they had applied appropriate spin to it. They are 100% right. Had the Lizard not been drinking Mai Tais with a beach full of gorgeous girls and studly men, this blog would’ve been the first to report. However, Ms Baker, Mr Lilly: rest assured, not a soul on this earth believed the CEO was doing anything; everyone expected a change.

Let’s analyze Ms Baker’s post together to get a better grasp of this “change.”

2007 has been another year of extremely high growth for Mozilla and thus for the Mozilla Corporation. The number of Firefox users has grown to approximately 125 million. Mozilla’s mindshare in the industry continues to grow. We’ve launched both a number of significant new initiatives: a mobile effort, an innovation focus in Mozilla Labs, an integrated, ambitious support effort ( and a range of new outreach and evangelism programs. We’ve launched a serious effort in China and are vigorously supporting the new mail related Mozilla organization. We continue to build and ship great software, as the recent Firefox 3 betas demonstrate. Our contributors are increasing around the globe. Employees are increasing around the globe. We’re doing this in a Mozilla way, with a tiny number of employees for the work, distributed authority and tens of thousands of people contributing to create a more open and participatory Internet.

Translation: I’m an idiot. 2007 was fucking amazing because of the work I did. See all these great things I did as CEO? I deserve a break. But even as fucking amazing as I am, I’m completely unable pay attention to what has happened at my company.

The mobile effort we launched? Totally fucked up. (Editor’s note: with apologies to Doug Turner and Minimo contributors; the post on this is still forthcoming.)

Our “innovation focus in Mozilla Labs?” Stealing employees and killing a company is not how you innovate. (By the way, TechCrunch, Andrew Wilson is the one who will not be joining Mozilla. And no, it wasn’t his choice.)

The Tenser-led “” Whoops. Did I say .org? I meant .com. Mozilla Corp doesn’t fucking care about anything remotely related to “.org.” Why should they? I certainly don’t; only gets me down.

And the rest of that bullshit is just that, bullshit. Now, where was I?

Our accomplishments are remarkable; the opportunity in front of us is enormous. To meet this opportunity we need to execute really, really well. And we need to make the best use of our resources, most notably people.

Translation: I don’t really do shit. My best use of time has always been sitting in meetings scratching my ass, mumbling to myself, and rocking back and forth while others do the real work.

Today both John Lilly and I are spending a lot of time in classic “CEO” activities– organizational structure, employee well-being, budget and resource allocation, representing Mozilla products (especially Firefox) in discussions with other industry executives and the press, monitoring the progress of our product efforts, and overall execution of MoCo (our shorhand for the Mozilla Corporation). In addition to this work, I spend another chunk of time on overall organizational issues, in particular the relationship of the Mozilla Corporation to other Mozilla entities– The Mozilla Foundation, Mozilla Europe, “MailCo”, and the Mozilla community. I’m starting to spend time thinking about Firefox as a springboard in the Internet industry for bringing participation to areas not directly touched through using a browser– for data, for understanding what’s actually happening with the Internet. I spend time on Mozilla Foundation activities and project wide policies, including recruiting an Executive Director and filling in somewhat until we find someone. Each of these areas needs more time than it gets, and each will need even more time in the future.

Translation: A) I’m completely unable to write grammatically correct sentences or spell simple words. If Firefox had a spell-checker, this wouldn’t be a problem. Someone please help me upgrade from Firefox 1.0.8? How do I use this computer?

B) That list of CEO activities? I haven’t done a single one of them for two years. When my ass was getting sore from doing nothing, I gave myself a raise and padded my seat with $100 bills.

C) All those easy-earned $100 bills that I wipe my ass with are really for “Mozilla Foundation activities and project wide policies.” You’ve seen the great work I’ve done, haven’t you? Declaring the entire year a party for Mozilla was the first step in my new role. This very important measure will… Party! Party, party!

Um, where was I? Oh, yes.

So I’ve asked myself repeatedly: what is the best use of my talents? Not the use that is known, or that fits a standard model or is most glamourous. Those are all fine criteria, but not for Mozilla and not for me. More recently I started framing the question a little more precisely, asking myself: what am I doing that someone else could do as least as well? Are there unmet aspects of the opportunity in front of us that I could do a particularly good job of moving forward if I focused more on them?

Translation: After reading insight from the Lizard, I realized getting called out publicly sucks more than Paris Hilton on a first date. The real question I had was “How the fuck can I offload more work to someone else?” Guess what? I found the answer! But first, let me bore you…

I have some unique attributes within the Mozilla world. I’ve had a leadership role since the early days and along with Brendan Eich I’ve been involved in– and often instrumental in– almost every major strategic and organizational decision following the launch of Mozilla. My focus ranges across the Mozilla world, and no one title captures the scope of what I think about and where I try to lead. I have a vision of the Internet and online life and a positive user experience– and of Mozilla’s role in creating these– that is far broader than browsers, email clients and even technology in general. Mozilla has shaped me during this first decade of my involvement; constantly astounding me with the ingenuity, commitment and excellence of our contributors. And I’ve undoubtedly had a hand in shaping Mozilla.

Translation: Blah, blah, blah. I’m awesome. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m amazing. Etc., etc., etc. Everything I do is fucking incredible.

Framed like this, a couple of things jumped out at me. One, I want Mozilla’s influence on the industry to go beyond the bits we ship as software. More particularly, I want to use the impact Firefox gives us in the market to get openness, collaboration and user control embedded in other products, services and aspects of online life. I’ve listed a few examples of what I mean below. You’ll see they are not yet precise and detailed. That’s why I want to dive into them– I can sense the enormity of the opportunity and a general sense of how to approach it, but I don’t have detailed project plans, and I’m not aware of anyone else who does. Some examples are:

Translation: Even though the company which I ran for years is completely incapable of focusing its efforts on two products at once (Editor’s note: another Thunderbird post forthcoming), I‘m going to branch out and find new things to distract our focus and become more failed efforts blotting Mozilla’s history. By providing you with the following five utterly general and unspecific ideas that no one could possibly accomplish due to the lack of focus and thought… Look over there! Quick, look! You’re going to miss it! Huge elephant! lolz.

  • Making the standards process more effective.
  • Encouraging more hybrid organizations like the Mozilla Corporation– organizations which serve the public benefit but support themselves through revenue rather than fund-raising.
  • Making “security” understandable enough that people can help protect themselves.
  • Providing individuals with the means to control their data and the content they create.
  • Making the public benefit, distributed and collaborative nature of Mozilla and Firefox more generally understood.

Translation: The elephant is back! Keep looking the wrong way while I wipe my ass with these $100 bills.

The second thing that jumped out at me is that John Lilly is the right person to guide the product and organizational maturity of MoCo. John has been doing more and more of this since he took on the COO role in August of 2006. John understands Mozilla, is astonishingly good at operations and has an innate facility for our products and technologies and the directions in which they should develop. John has been instrumental in developing an organizational structure for MoCo that is both embedded in Mozilla and open-source DNA and which can function at the extremely high degree of effectiveness that our setting requires.

Translation: I’m lazy. John’s lazy too. Appearances would have you believe otherwise, but don’t be fooled. We would never, ever fill my oh-so-special CEO position with someone competent and capable. We would, however, fill it with another minority like John. That just looks damn good.

Once I allowed myself to think about this I realized that John will be a better CEO for the MoCo going forward than I would be. I’m sure that I was the right person for this role during the first years of MoCo; I’m equally sure that John is the best person for this role in the future.

Translation: I’m done pretending publicly. It’s John’s turn to deal with the shit that is the Mozilla community.

As a result I’ve asked John to take on the role of CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, and John has agreed. In reality John and I have been unconsciously moving towards this change for some time, as John has been providing more and more organizational leadership. It is very Mozilla-like to acknowledge the scope of someone’s role after he or she has been doing it for a while, and this is a good part of what is happening here. I expect this transition to continue to be very smooth.

Translation: John’s the Chief now. He’s earned it. Just as Mozilla always promotes openness and transparency, I’ve been very careful to give community members and employees the chance to weigh in on this change and give their opinion on if this is the right decision. Oh wait, did I just write more bullshit in the translation? How the fuck did that happen?

I will remain an active and integral part of MoCo. I’ve been involved in shipping Mozilla products since the dawn of time, and have no intention of distancing myself from our products or MoCo. I’ll remain both as the Chairman of the Board and as an employee. My focus will shift towards the kinds of activities described above, but I’ll remain deeply engaged in MoCo activities. I don’t currently plan to create a new title. I have plenty of Mozilla titles already: Chairman of the Mozilla Foundation, Chairman of the Mozilla Corporation, Chief Lizard Wrangler of the project. More importantly, I hope to provide leadership in new initiatives because they are worthwhile, separate from any particular title. We will probably create an Office of the Chairman with a small set of people to work on these initiatives. I intend to remain deeply involved with MoCo precisely because I remain focused on our products and what we can accomplish within the industry.

Translation: I will continue to do what I’ve been doing: Nothing.

There will be some differences with this change of roles. Most notably:

  • John’s role in products and organization will become more visible to the world as he becomes more of a public voice for MoCo activities.
  • Today– in theory at least– John provides advice to me for a range of decisions for which I am responsible. In the future I’ll provide input to John and he’ll be responsible for making MoCo an effective organization. I expect to provide advice on a subset of topics and thus reduce the duplication of work. On the other hand, I also expect to be quite vocal on the topics I care about most. John and I agree on most things these days, but that doesn’t stop me from being vocal 🙂

Translation: Neither of us know how to listen to others. Don’t fucking expect improvements.

I’m thrilled with this development, both with John’s new role and with mine. If you’ve got thoughts on the kinds of projects I want to set in motion, I’m eager to hear them. And don’t be surprised if you see the Mozilla Corporation doing more faster– that’s a part of the goal. We’re all committed to doing things in a Mozilla style and you should expect to see that continue to shine through all that we do, whether it’s shipping product or developing a new initiative.

Translation: My door’s always open because I’m never doing anything else.

It’s important to reiterate how fast this announcement hit the bulk of Mozilla. Both the community and the employees at the Corporation (with some exceptions) experienced a quicker-than-normal announcement cycle. Corporation employees are traditionally given days to ask questions and generate feedback about upcoming public announcements.

Our new overlord will tell you this news had to be held back from the majority of Mozilla because the story needed his and Baker’s spin. He won’t even deny it. When a company now needs to put proper spin on a news story, there’s a serious problem. When it’s clear your public statements need to be controlled perfectly, supported by an army of employees, your company condition moves from “serious” to “critical.” It’s in this light that Mozilla must be viewed going forward.

Mozilla in 2008: Executive Committee

Posted in Mozilla by The Lizard on February 15, 2008

Many outside the walls of the Mozilla Corporation lack an understanding of how the company is structured and run. Without going into too much detail requiring organization charts, the Corporation has a “steering committee” which helps to lead and guide it. You might be thinking to yourselves, “isn’t that what a board of directors is for?” Yes. Yes, it is. But you first should remember that Mozilla is corrupt at the top. As a result, there is a desire to do as much as possible internally to hide the fucked-upness of the organization. Quite obviously, the members of the steering committee know how to run Mozilla better than any external person anyway. Why shouldn’t they take full control of the fuck-up that is the Mozilla Corporation?

(Credit where credit is due: the Lizard fully appreciates the resignation of Chris Blizzard from the board of directors after joining the Mozilla Corporation. Mr Blizzard, you did the right thing.)

The Steering Committee of the Mozilla Corporation is made up of now-CEO, John Lilly, Chief Lizard Wrangler Mitchell Baker (who, astute readers will note, has not yet wrangled this lizard), CTO Brendan Eich, VP of Mozilla Labs Chris Beard, VP of Marketing Paul Kim, and the new-this-week General Counsel, Harvey Anderson. Kim was a recent addition to this committee (August of 2007) after he received his promotion to VP and Anderson just joined this week. Earlier in the life of the organization, Chris Hofmann sat on the committee. After disagreeing with Lilly too often, Hofmann was forced out.

All of the above simply provides background on who created the Steering Committee’s 2008 goals.

This year, the Steering Committee intends to “[grow] up a lot as a management team for Mozilla.” As I’m sure any casual reader of this blog is aware, this management team fucking sucks. Really fucking sucks. Growing up is definitely something they need to do.

In particular, we’re notable with employees and in the larger tech community as the best example of a company who competes, but with a mission, of a company who’s open and collaborative with users and volunteers, but not hobbled by needing consensus to make decisions.

One of the hallmarks of the Mozilla community is sane group decision-making. This used to happen through forums such as, where consensus was reached on an issue and decisions were made by a group of well-respected individuals. Should it move higher, made an ultimate decision. In 2008, however, Mozilla will be known for making decisions for the community without consensus from them. Think of it this way: Hate that new marketing campaign? Too fucking bad. Mozilla’s going to run with it anyway.

We’ve become a lot less self-conscious about asserting paths to success for the company, and have been able to pilot our negotiations with Google and others so that we’re comfortable with our sustainability for the next several years. On the practical side, we’ve added 2 or 3 people to this team to bring a broader base of skills to bear (like a general counsel!).

Guess what? Mozilla’s hiring. A General Counsel even! They sure moved fast with that! Harvey Anderson started just this week. He’s now one of the most important employees at Mozilla and is needed for piloting those negotiations with Google, that’s for fucking sure. If any of those negotiations go sour, well, they’re fucking screwed. You see, fucking up with Google doesn’t just mean lost revenue; it also means the loss of Google-provided lunches, snack & drinks, transportation on the infamous Google shuttles, and even the use of the Google gym. All of these things are amenities Mozilla employees get for free from Google right now.

The rest of this 2008 team plan is complete disgusting drivel that the Lizard won’t put anyone through. What’s important to note is that Mozilla’s going to be entering a time when they need as many amenities as possible to keep employees around. Losing Google is losing everything, and they can’t have that. Any sort of effort at furthering this committee’s goals – especially those surrounding renewing the Google contract – must be led by someone strong, rather than the quiet and weak Mitchell Baker.

Now we move on to the latest news about that transition…