Trouble At The Mozilla Foundation

There's trouble brewing at the Mozilla Foundation, the makers of everyone's favorite web browser: Firefox. I can't say what's going on (that is, I'm totally speculating here), but lately there have been a number of clues that something is just not right in zilla-land.

It's been over a year since Firefox 2.0 came out, and since then, the only updates have been for a few security issues. Firefox 3.0 is not scheduled until at least early next year, and today there is some news that it will be shipping with a lot of known bugs. This is not a typical release cycle for a very popular open source project, especially one with a large foundation flush with cash behind it. One expects releases to happen often and bring incremental new improvements. Something just doesn't feel right.

But that's only one item in a chain of recent events that seem to indicate bigger problems. Other things that have happened recently include:

I have some personal experience with that last one, as I have written an extension myself, and the process of getting it into the addons system was very frustrating. The main issue here is that Mozilla added a "sandbox" where all new extensions go. The intent is to keep new and untested extensions out of the hands of users until someone more experienced reviews and comments on them. To get "promoted" to the main site, you need to have some reviews of your extension, then you can nominate it and plea with the powers that be to let you in. You can't nominate unless you have at least 1 review.

The problem is that the sandbox is almost completely hidden from most people (not to mention the other usability problems on the site). I didn't even know it existed until I tried to submit something. Most "advanced" users don't seem to know about it either. Once entering the sandbox area, you'll find a whole bunch of extensions that seemingly have been abandoned after the developer couldn't get any reviews. The only way I was able to get some was to track down other developers in the same situation and offer them a review in exchange for one back.

The idea of the sandbox sounds good on paper, but in practice it doesn't work well. It's another hurdle that someone has to overcome, and it has a chilling effect on the community. Once the developers start to get fed-up, they slowly leave and even great software can wither. Any modern "Web 2.0" system would allow new extensions right on to the main site, then rely on the community to vet and comment or vote on if it's good or not. This is especially what you'd expect from the very project that is making Web 2.0 possible.

Extension issues aside, it seems that lately Mozilla has been acting like a big company complacent and flush with cash, and not a nimble and cool open source project -- the very thing that makes it so attractive to many people.

Most of us want companies who are good citizens to succeed, and Mozilla is one of them, but lately it seems, there is trouble afoot.

i do hope that if mozilla is in trouble, they can work it out. I'm a big fan of mozilla but i also hope they can fix some of the glitches.