by Jamie Zawinski
mozilla.org is a strange thing. Mozilla is an open source project that
sprung fully formed from the belly of the beast. Today, we're hearing the
grunting and shuffling of the mating dance, as that lumbering beast joins
with another. And many people are worried whether our little lizard is
going to get trampled underneath.
The thing to keep in mind here is that mozilla.org is not Netscape, and
never has been. This is something that many people don't understand, or
don't believe, but as we described in our original mission statement, the
Mozilla Organization has a different agenda from Netscape. We were
chartered to guide the open development of the Mozilla browser, and that
is what we have done.
But we have realized that there is something about the nature of
mozilla.org that many people miss: mozilla.org is actually a very small
number of people. We are three full time staff, and a handful of
volunteers. And we mostly do not code. There are hundreds of people doing
coding work on Mozilla: but those people do not work for mozilla.org.
Most of those people work for Netscape, though a growing number of them
work for other companies, or contribute on their own time (for example,
the Autoconf and GTK-FE projects were almost entirely done by non-Netscape
employees, and the XPFE effort has a huge amount of outside involvement,
to name just a few.)
We few at mozilla.org are guides; you hackers are many, and your decisions
are what really count. We at mozilla.org try to provide guidance,
mediation, and infrastructure, but the fact is that the real direction of
the Mozilla project is dictated by the people who are actually coding it.
That's all that matters: when the rubber hits the road, what does the
program do? It does what the hackers working on it have made it do.
Some people have the impression that the Mozilla agenda is set by
Netscape, and to some extent that is true: because Netscape is paying more
than a hundred people full-time salaries to work on the Mozilla code base
-- and to give their code away.
In addition, Netscape is funding mozilla.org, those of us providing
management and infrastructure and tools to this large, distributed
So, with Netscape being acquired, what does that mean to mozilla.org?
Hopefully, it will mean nothing: hopefully, AOL didn't buy Netscape with
the intention of turning Netscape into something that it is not; it's hard
to imagine that they would spend $4 billion dollars on Netscape just to
throw away the client.
So, assuming that they still want to have a Netscape Navigator, it is not
unreasonable to assume that they will adopt the same attitude that
Netscape has: that open source works, and that the best way to have a
top-of-the-line web browser is to keep it open.
But let's think about some worst-case scenarios. Let's think about the
nightmares. What if AOL hates ``open source''? What if they want to undo
everything we've done, and make Mozilla be evil and proprietary again?
What if they just think that browsers are a waste of time, and that they
should just use MSIE forevermore?
Well, they simply cannot undo what has been done. The Mozilla code is out
there, and it cannot be recalled. It has been distributed under an open
source license, and nobody can ever take that away from you. Ever.
If AOL hated open source, or didn't want to build their own browser, what
they could do is fail to contribute to Mozilla in the future. They could
stop paying those hundred-plus full-time salaries, and they could stop
funding those of us who are mozilla.org's full-time employees.
But be clear on this: the agenda of Mozilla is set by those who contribute
to it. If you believe that mozilla.org is just a smokescreen, that the
organization exists only to swindle you out of your hard work for the
benefit of some shambling inhuman beast of a corporation, then don't
contribute to it. Take the source code, and build your own browser based
on it. Fork the tree. Do what's right.
That has always been your prerogative, since the day the source was
And it hasn't happened yet -- because mozilla.org has played straight with
you. We have done what we said we were doing, and we have managed this
project as a real cooperative effort, like other successful open source
Netscape realized that this is how it had to work. That is why Netscape
gave us the permission to charter mozilla.org the way we did, and why
Netscape has continued to give mozilla.org an unprecedented level of
Hopefully those who hold the purse strings in the future will take an
equally enlightened view. It is in their best interest to do so, and we
must hope that they realize that.
There are some vocal contingents on the net who hold a lot of animosity
toward AOL for one reason or another. There are other contingents who hold
similar animosity toward Netscape; perhaps for similar reasons, perhaps
for different. But in the end, what does it matter? Either you get a good
open source web browser out of the deal, or you don't. Why should it
matter who does the work? The work should speak for itself, and be judged
on its own merits. Anyone who is willing to contribute to the Mozilla
project should be welcomed with open arms.
mozilla.org is not Netscape. And it is not now, nor will it ever be, AOL.