Mozilla "Evangelist "Christopher Blizzard sees Firefox as the driving force in the browser market - An interview about upcoming improvements for Firefox 4 and the competition from Apple
The official job description lists Christopher Blizzard as an "Evangelist" for the Mozilla Foundation. Besides that he has recently also been deeply involved with Mozillas drive in the mobile market. At the recent GNOME Users and Developers Conference (GUADEC) in Istanbul Andreas Proschofsky had the chance to do an interview with him about current developments in regards to Firefox, the push for a mobile release and why he thinks that market share isn't really that important.
This interview is also available in a german translation.
derStandard.at: Firefox 3 has been released recently, what are the next steps?
derStandard.at: Is this sill scheduled for end of the year?
Blizzard: I'm not too sure about the exact date, as we are doing feature based releases and not time based releases, so we're never a hundred percent certain about that, but the cycle will be a lot shorter than the last one, more like six to twelve months.
derStandard.at: And the next big step after that will be Firefox 4?
Blizzard: Yeah, we are doing a huge amount of platform work in between Firefox 3 and Firefox 4, things like garbage collection, video support, a lot of developer related features. We're also going to do a mobile release too over the next year or so, hopefully with some vendors starting to ship it.
derStandard.at: Is this the same direction Webkit / Safari is going with Squirrelfish?
Blizzard: No, Webkit has just been switching to a bytecode interpreter, which is what we have been doing forever, but with some improvements, so it's all a bit faster than what we have at the moment. But we are going down the path of having a full Just-in-Time-compiler, like you get with Java. Initial tests are very, very promising, it's very fast, so I guess people will be impressed by that. It opens up more avenues for people to write more and more complicated applications, it's dragging the web forward.
derStandard.at: To what extent is the Internet Explorer 6 holding back the web?
Blizzard: There is still quite a large percentage of people using IE 6 and that is certainly holding back the web. But you are starting to see web developers getting more and more frustrated with IE6, and there already have been some major movements in this regard, like with Apple: Mobile.me does not support Internet Explorer 6 anymore, the guys form 37signals, who do web based applications, just said they are not going to support IE6 anymore, so that stuff is already happening.
derStandard.at: So you would say, web developers should just drop support for IE6?
Blizzard: Well, we are not telling anybody to do anything, but the web is moving on.
derStandard.at: But if people are still not going to upgrade?
Blizzard: I have a good product to choose [laughs]. But seriously, they are going to find it harder and harder to use the web, so I think over time this will hopefully push them to move forward. And that's good for the web, that's good for everybody over the long term.
So by pushing other people to make releases we can go on our mission to make sure the web stays healthy.
derStandard.at: Firefox is still growing strongly, do you see some sort of natural ceiling it might reach?
Blizzard: That might sound strange, but we are not that concerned about market share. I would rather have enough market share to drag the market where it needs to go. Market share is just an effect for us. We continue to grow but I'd like to make sure more fundamentally that the web is healthy. Multiple competitors who are building great products that people care about is a sign of health.
derStandard.at: Recent market share numbers also see a significant growth for Safari...
Blizzard: Still, though I don't have exact numbers, but a large percentage of people on OS X use Firefox 3 as well. We have malware protection, we do badware protection, we are obviously protecting our users in ways Apple is not. Also Safari is sort of a boring application, Firefox has something like 5.000 extensions at the moment, while Safari has none. So Firefox isn't just a web browser anymore, it's become an ecosystem
derStandard.at: Still they have made quite some inroads, especially from a performance view.
Blizzard: Well, they have a decent engine, they're certainly not the choice of web developers, web developers still mostly do their work on Firefox and then port it over to other browsers, mostly because of Tools like Firebug, which are just fantastic. Also we have basically closed that performance gap, Firefox 3 is faster than Safari 3.1.
derStandard.at: Being at a GNOME conference, it looks like Webkit is making quite some inroads here, why do you think that shift happens?
Blizzard: Well, it's good for some of the use cases they want it for. For widgets and that stuff, it's decent. I mean we are doing some work in that direction, but we are not going to be there for a while.
derStandard.at: Even though this is not finally decided yet: It's not just about widgets, also the GNOME-Browser Epiphany and other parts of the desktop are considering moving away from Mozilla and to Webkit.
Blizzard: I've had conversations with a lot of people who think this is probably not a good idea. I mean GNOME also has to worry which organization they are working with. Because the GNOME folks don't hold a majority stake in the development of Webkit and Apple doesn't mind and doesn't help either. This in contrast to Mozilla who has been putting support in GNOME, in GTK+ for the last decade. So I think it would be pretty foolish to go with Webkit.
derStandard.at: Most of the criticism against Mozilla in this regard seems to be focused on not being able to align release schedules and about constantly changing APIs which make the embedding in other applications much more difficult.
Blizzard: Well that's why we invested in the embedded APIs, so we have done some improvements in this area recently. About aligning release schedules, that wouldn't be feasible. Frankly with a six months release cycle [as GNOME does it, apo] you are not able to do development and release something that is important to as many people as it now is. GNOME is used by probably a few million people on the world, we are now used something like 180 million people now.
But I also want to point out, that Webkit doesn't do releases, there are Safari-based release, but they have never done an independent release.
derStandard.at: How important are tests for webstandards like ACID3?
Blizzard: The ACID-tests are nice because they tend to drive the developers to implement new features. The last ACID-test was a little strange though, because the experience of users using the web today will not be affected by a browser passing ACID3 or not. I think the original ACID-test was much better about that and I think Ian Hickson, who does all the ACID-tests, did learn quite a bit from that. He did things like trying to make sure that all browser vendors are failing equally, which seemed a bit bizarre. Also for Webkit especially - they hardcoded specific things to pass the test, so driving browser vendors to write for the test instead of writing for the web is probably not where you want to be. But Ian has learned from that and ACID4 is going to be a lot better as a result.
Having said that, post Firefox 3 we have been passing more and more of ACID3 and we actually have patches for most of it but once again: We'd rather pass in a real sort of sense instead of just coding for the test.
derStandard.at: Adobe is pushing hard for Flash and Air, Microsoft for Silverlight, which are all not open technologies, do you think the Web is going to be more "closed" in the future than it historically was?
Blizzard: Well, they use a couple of gaps we are closing now. Flash didn't really, really take off until video came along, so we are adding video-support for our next release. It probably won't be universal for the time being, but Apple included video in Safari 3.1 too, so we are starting to see this getting picked up. There are also different gaps, a lot of animation stuff that we still don't do, but which we are adding to our platform.
The web today is something that I would call the "worlds largest open source project", so if you see someone doing something neat on the web then you can figure out how it works and implement it on your own. This is how the web has developed over time - people learn tricks from each other, that transparency, that openness does not exist with flash.
The barrier for the entry to the web has always been just a text editor, everybody can learn HTML. The view-source-key is fundamental to the web and that doesn't exist with closed solutions.
derStandard.at: Firefox is "the" big success story for the whole open source world, especially in respect to the consumer space. What makes Mozilla so much more successful than other projects?
Blizzard: We found a model for sustainability, which I think is very important. We have enough revenue to support our actions. Also we've become very product oriented, our first and foremost concern is, what the user experience is. The technology is important as well, but we are absolutely user focused now. I'd say we've also done a good job in building a huge worldwide community based around the products and based around the project as a whole. So when Firefox 3 was released there were a lot of parties held over the world, we have hundreds of people who provide patches and do localization for Firefox. That community helped us grow, that community helped us succeed.
derStandard.at: Still financially you are quite tied to Google, they are providing most of your income, isn't it a bit dangerous for a non-profit organization to be that dependent on one single company?
Blizzard: Yes and no. We'd love to not have a single customer problem, sure, but at the same time it's in Googles interest to make sure that there is competition in that space.
derStandard.at: With Mozilla Mobile you are now making a big push into another market, why now?
Blizzard: Well, I think the market is finally open for a web browser that is really good [laughs], I think that's what it comes down to.
derStandard.at: But Opera has been in this market for quite some time.
Blizzard: Yeah but the phones haven't been particular wonderful. And I hate to mention that: But it is a nice side-effect of Apple doing the iPhone - people now have an expectation that the web browser is really good.
For a very long time mobile phone vendors were trying to create an alternate web with all those random technologies, so basically you would have had a web for the desktop and a web for mobile. And even if that hasn't gone away completely, it has started to change and we're filling that gap.
Webkit is nice but it is under Apples control, they are not a neutral party and also it's not compatible with a large percentage of the web as well, a lot of websites don't show up correctly.
So a lot of people were coming to us and saying "We'd like to do a mobile browser", so we are helping to fulfill that need.
derStandard.at: So that's something which is driven by customer demand?
Blizzard: Well, we can thank Nokia for that, we've been shipping on their Internet Tablets N800 and N810 for a long time now in the form of MicroB. They came to us and we've actually - on and off- been working with them for several years now, trying to do a mobile browser.
But the way it works now is more like: We make it clear that we are doing a mobile browser and people come to us and we show them that we are able to do things that other people can't do. And you might be able to ship something called Firefox in a phone. We know that most customers when they go in a store and make a decision which phone to buy they do it based on the applications and Firefox is a very strong brand. So the ability for vendors to say "I've got Firefox on the phone" is huge.
derStandard.at: And it's going to be called Firefox?
Blizzard: Yes we are going to have a Firefox Mobile Browser.
derStandard.at: Any time schedule for a first release?
Blizzard: We want to have something that works by the end of the year, though I don't know how long it will take to get something actually in the market and in people's hands as the vendors have different schedules. But we'll make regular milestone release until then and try to build a community around it.
derStandard.at: What are the specific challenges when writing for the mobile space?
Blizzard: Size constraints are still the biggest differences. I think also the difference in experience. You don't have a huge amount of free space on your screen, so need to make up for this with panning and zooming.
derStandard.at: How many addons are you using?
Blizzard: I use just three: Firebug, Weave and TwitterFox.
derStandard.at: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
(Andreas Proschofsky, derStandard.at, 20.07.2008)