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Rising from the ashes

Mitchell Baker, who describes herself as the "Chief Lizard Wrangler" and chairperson of the Mozilla project, says that "when Mozilla was founded its original charter was to replace Netscape Communicator, the combined browser, email and news reader, and applications launcher" with the entirely rewritten Mozilla suite which was eventually released in June 2002. "It was a successful FLOSS project and good technology but clearly wasn't the product that users wanted at the time."

Zoom Mitchell Baker, chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation.
The original Mozilla suite, which later found a home as SeaMonkey and is now developed as a community project with Mozilla providing hosting and legal support, was "so closely tied to Netscape and then AOL, that we had unending knock down fights over the UI of the product... In that setting the fight was to produce what individual users wanted rather than satisfying the business model of Netscape or AOL."

The developers wanted a fast and easy browser, and for that reason they were allowed to develop the code that eventually became Firefox as an experimental fork from the main branch of the Mozilla project, under the auspices of Mozilla, and using the Mozilla source tree.

The original developers were Blake Ross, who was 17 at the time, Dave Hyatt, who now works on the Safari browser for Apple, and Joe Hewitt, who wrote Firebug and later worked on the iPhone Facebook application before abandoning the project because he was "philosophically opposed" to Apple's App Store approval process.

After the Mozilla project was floated off in 2003, helped by initial funding in the shape of donations from Mitch Kapor and a $10 million donation from AOL, the Mozilla team were able to make their own decisions about the future.

Baker says "We had been around for five years, but had never been a legal entity. We were fifteen months away from a product, but we knew that Firefox was the future, that the stand-alone elegant browser was what we really needed, and its been effective, so that's great."

"We didn't know how we were going to be funded. But we employed about 10 people, and made a bet... There was one person working on the Firefox application and two working on the back end. We had to decide whether the one person working on Firefox would work on the Mozilla suite or Firefox, and we went with Firefox."

Lizard wrangling

Mitchell Baker joined Netscape in 1996 as a lawyer. She was responsible for the drafting of the Mozilla Public Licence under which the majority of Mozilla approved code is released, and has been near the helm ever since, but as she is keen to emphasise "The mission of Mozilla - the creation of an internet that is open, that people can participate in and hack in in the positive sense of the word - is bigger than any one person. It takes thousands of us to be successful."

"As an organisation grows and you get more people you get to the point where no one of us has everything in our head and each of us is relying on others more and more for whole areas of what's happening. At that point the lack of structure that I'm comfortable with isn't ideal for an organisation of this size, so we're compensating and finding and empowering people who have a slightly different balance and help us to be successful, build the structure that we need... but not too much."

Mozilla now has about 250 employees distributed worldwide. "If we have a clump of people in one place we set up another office," so there is an office in New Zealand, run by Robert O'Callaghan, who is known as Roc among the Mozilla developer community, and in Paris.

"But there are many people around the world who are one off, and something like a thousand people have code in Mozilla, in the code that we ship, but if you include localisation and the 7,000 or so add-ons, there are considerably more contributors than that."

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