20 Years with Mozilla

Today marks 20 years I’ve been working full-time for Mozilla.

As the Mozilla organization evolved, I moved with it. I started with staff@mozilla.org at Netscape 20 years ago, moved to the Mozilla Foundation ~17 years ago, and the Mozilla Corporation ~15 years ago.

Thank you to Mitchell Baker for taking a chance on me. I’m eternally grateful for that opportunity.

My New Role at Mozilla

Several months ago I took on a new role at Mozilla, product manager for Firefox browser accessibility. I couldn’t be more excited about this. It’s an area I’ve been interested in for nearly my entire career at Mozilla.

It was way back in 2000, after talking with Aaron Leventhal at a Netscape/Mozilla developer event, that I first started thinking about accessibility in Mozilla products and how well the idea of inclusivity fit with some my personal reasons for working on the Mozilla project. If I remember correctly, Aaron was working on a braille reader or similar assistive technologies and he was concerned that the new Mozilla browser, which used a custom UI framework, wasn’t accessible to that assistive technology. Aaron persisted and Mozilla browser technologies became some of the most accessible available.

Thanks in big part to Aaron’s advocacy, hacking, and other efforts over many years, accessibility became “table stakes” for Mozilla applications. The browsers we shipped over the years were always designed for everyone and “accessible to all” came to the Mozilla Mission.

Our mission is to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all. An Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent.

I’m excited to be working on something so directly tied to Mozilla’s core values. I’m also super-excited to be working with so many great Firefox teams, and in particular the Firefox Accessibility Engineering team, who have been doing amazing work on Firefox’s accessibility features for many years.

I’m still just getting my feet wet, and I’ve got a lot more to learn. Stay tuned to this space for the occasional post around my new role with a focus on our efforts to ensure that Firefox is the best experience possible for people with disabilities. I expect to write at least monthly updates as we prioritize, fix, test and ship improvements to our core accessibility features like keyboard navigation, screen reader support, high contrast mode, narration, and the accessibility inspector and auditors, etc.

mozilla.org is 20 years old

[This is a copy of http://www.mozilla.org/mission.html from launch day]

our mission

Netscape Communications made two important announcements on January 23rd, 1998:

  • First, that the Netscape Communicator product would be available free of charge;
  • Second, that the source code for Communicator would also be free.

On March 31st, the first developer release of the source code to Communicator was made available.

But what now? For the product to grow and mature and continue to be useful and innovative, the various changes made by disparate developers across the web must be collated, organized, and brought together as a cohesive whole.


A group exists within Netscape that is chartered to act as a clearing-house for the newly-available Netscape source. That group is mozilla.org. We will provide a central point of contact and community for those interested in using or improving the source code:

  • We will collect changes, help authors synchronize their work, and periodically make new source releases which incorporate the best work of the net as a whole.
  • We will operate discussion forums (mailing lists, newsgroups, or whatever seems most appropriate.)
  • We will coordinate bug lists, keep track of and publicize works in progress, and generally attempt to provide “roadmaps” to the code, and to projects based on the code.
  • And we will, above all, be flexible and responsive. We realize that if we are not perceived as providing a useful service, we will become irrelevant, and someone else will take our place.
  • We are not the primary coders. Most of the code that goes into the distribution will be written elsewhere, both within the Netscape Client Engineering group, and, increasingly, out there on the net, at other companies and other development organizations.
  • We are code integrators. And, through our forums, we will try to help people reach consensus, and thereby provide direction and coordination for future improvements.

It can be observed that all successful open-source software projects follow this model of distributed development and centralized integration. One of the fears that open-source software software neophytes often express is that open availability of the source will lead to balkanization, that there will eventually be thousands of different descendants of the original software, and confusion and chaos will result. But, in reality that doesn’t happen; organizations like mozilla.org tend to appear. Eric Raymond tries to explain why in his excellent paper, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. We hope to operate in the “Bazaar” style, and be to the public Netscape source code as Linus Torvalds is to Linux.


“Mozilla” was the original code name for the product that came to be known as Netscape Navigator, and later, Netscape Communicator.

Later, it came to be the name of Netscape Communications Corporation’s dinosaur-like mascot.

Now, we intend to use the name Mozilla as the generic term referring to web browsers derived from the source code of Netscape Navigator.

Netscape Communications Corporation holds trademarks on the names Netscape, Navigator, and Communicator; it has not yet been decided what, if any, restrictions Netscape will place on the use of those names. However, a generic term for browsers is still needed, and “Mozilla” is as good a name as any.

So, Mozilla is a family of web browsers, but not a specific web browser (in biologic terms, Mozilla is a genus; Netscape Communicator is a species.) And mozilla.org (pronounced “Mozilla Dot Org” or “The Mozilla Organization”) is this group of people, the coordinators of the project.

Some of the Press Coverage of Firefox 57 Beta (Quantum)

Firefox takes a Quantum leap forward with new developer edition  by Peter Bright at Ars Technica

Firefox 57 beta arrives with major visual overhaul and next-generation browser engine by Emil Protalinski at VentureBeat

Mozilla release Firefox 57 beta (Quantum): It’s 2x faster than Firefox 52 by Brad Linder at Liliputing

Mozilla’s Firefox Quantum browser is ridiculously fast by Matthew Hughes at TNW

Mozilla announces Firefox Quantum, the next major update with new UI and huge performance improvements by Pradeep at MSPoweruser

Mozilla Gives Firefox a ‘Quantum’ Speed Boost by Angela Moscaritolo at PCMag

Firefox Quantum challenges Chrome in browser speed by Stephen Shankland at CNET

New Firefox Beta Released With New User Interface, New Core Engine by Catalin Cimpanu at BleepingComputer

Firefox Announces New ‘Quantum’ Browser With 2X Faster Speeds, Coming November 14 by Mitchel Broussard at MacRumors

Firefox Quantum Next Generation Web Browser Launches November 14, Beta Out Now by Marius Nestor at Softpedia News

Mozilla Firefox 57 rebranded as Firefox Quantum by Paul Hill at Neowin.net

Download the super-speedy Firefox Quantum beta today by Cat Ellis at TechRadar

Firefox 57 Hits Beta, is Renamed to Firefox Quantum by Paul Thurrott at Thurrott.com

Mozilla’s Firefox Quantum next-generation browser is ready for you to try out by Mark Hachman at PCWorld

‘Project Quantum’ Doubles Firefox’s Performance In Latest Beta by Lucian Armasu at Tom’s Hardware

Mozilla is Making a New Firefox That’s Twice as Fast by Lee Mathews at Forbes

Mozilla whips out Rusty new Firefox Quantum (and that’s a good thing) by Shaun Nichols at The Register

Firefox Quantum is the latest browser to challenge Google Chrome  by Jacob Siegal at BGR

Firefox Quantum beta promises to double your browser speeds by Rachel England at Engadget

Mozilla: Firefox 57 is so fast we’re calling it Firefox Quantum by Liam Tung at ZDNet

Mozilla Accelerates Firefox 57 with Quantum Speed Boost by Sean Michael Kerner at eWeek

Mozilla previews its faster ‘Firefox Quantum’ browser by Gregg Keizer at Computerworld

Loyal to Google Chrome? Firefox Quantum might change that. by Monica Chin at Mashable

You Can Now Try the New Firefox Quantum Beta by Dave Parrack at MakeUseOf

Faster and even more minimalist, Firefox Quantum makes Chrome look old by Jayce Wagner at Digital Trends

It’s time to give Firefox another chance by Frederic Lardinois at TechCrunch

Some Nice Things People Said About Firefox 57 Beta (Quantum)

“Super impressed by @firefox quantum. I’ve been using it for a few days now and I’m switching permanently. Noticeably faster than Chrome.” Erik Reppel

“Firefox Quantum is blazing fast! Good job, Mozilla!” Oleksandr Shpak

“Using the new Firefox beta. it is much faster then the old one. It is as fast as Chrome. maybe faster. #fb” alex

“Firefox Quantum… really is an amazing overhaul of Firefox. It is hella fast.” rrees

“Trying out Firefox 57 beta – Quantum, And its been great so far. Far better than Chrome in speed, and hardly any bugs. Thanks @mozilla” Abhishek

“Wow, very impressed by @firefox ‘s beta version speed increase. I literally just ditched Chrome just now.” Florian Monfort

“I’m not sure what @mozilla did, but Firefox Quantum is fantastic. Easily made me switch back to Firefox :-o” Chris King

“The new Firefox Quantum (57 beta) is really nice, good job @mozilla. I think I might like it better than Chrome first time in a decade.” Axel Gneiting

“@mozilla i am using the latest firefox developer version quantum and has to say its just awesome very smooth in performance. HATS OFF TO U” Manhar sodhi

“I mostly moved from Firefox to Chrome about a year ago, but I’ve desperately waiting for FF Quantum to get back in… And it’s awesome!” Davide Borsatto

“Delightful experience with FF Nightly 57. Quantum + photon is love. Welcome back Firefox, you’ve been gone for too long.” Ahmad Albakri Zabri

“Anyone here using firefox quantum? It’s like a breath of fresh air, and so quick. It completely blows chrome out of the water on speed.” Jayesh M

“Been using @firefox beta on my laptop for days now! It’s one of the best browser experience ever!” Zan Cerne

“Holy shit, Firefox 57 is so much faster. Can’t wait for it to come out of beta.” Will Johansson

“After trying @firefox beta, I don’t want to go back to stable.” Saša Stamenkovic

“Just downloaded the Firefox Quantum Beta and it’s faaast. Beating the pants off Chrome right now” Tony Haile

“I know I’ve spent only one day with it so far, but the Firefox beta is quick and easy on the eyes. Might switch back to Firefox full-time” Daniel D. Beck

“So the #Firefox #quantum beta is absolutely phenomenal. I’m super excited for the full release so I can finally switch back from chrome.” David Burns

“holy shit, @firefox beta is killing me, it’s so much smoother than Chrome at almost everything” ghastly geist

“Been using the new @Firefox Quantum all day at work. Got home and tried to use Chrome, wayyyy too slow. Time to download Quantum!” Rich Burton

“Pleased with the speed and customization options in @firefox 57 beta. Got everything I want to see on screen in the tab bar and address bar.” Derrick Rossignol

“Been testing @Firefox Quantum these past few days. Cannot believe how damn fast it load web pages. Very exciting! Hopefully Chrome follows!” Jeremy Krantz


SiteSonar: Measuring the Impact of Ads

A while ago I wrote about about web performance and ad blockers. In that blog post I explained that I block ads because I can’t take the performance hit, that running an ad blocker or using Firefox’s tracking protection makes the web responsive again and a real pleasure to use. That blog post lead to discussions with a few people, including Mozilla intern Francesco Polizzi. Francesco and I discussed a study Tracking Protection in Firefox for Privacy and Performance (pdf) and how we could build on that. That study measured a 44% increase in page load performance and a 39% reduction in bandwidth usage across the Alexa top 200 news sites when tracking protection was enabled

So, ad networks, on average, are dramatically burdening page load times and drastically increasing data usage. This makes people sad and makes the Web less competitive with mobile. But publishers depend on ad networks for their livelihoods and surely some ad networks are better than others, right? Francesco and I wanted to quantify this and because Francesco is awesome, he created a browser extension for Firefox and Chrome, called SiteSonar, that identifies and benchmarks performance information about ad-related assets on the web as you browse.

(The extension uses Disconnect‘s list of ad domains to identify ad-related assets and then uses the WebRequest API to determine network response time for individual ad assets. That benchmark, along with information received like file size, status codes, and a timestamp are recorded locally. Finally, every few minutes the anonymous benchmarking stats are sent to a server where they’re parsed and logged into a database. The data powers a dashboard that displays aggregated information about ad network performance that the extension collected. To learn more, check it out on github.)

The early results from project SiteSonar are available at this dashboard. These are preliminary results from just a couple of us running the extension. We’d like to improve the results by broadening the base of people using this extension and submitting data. If you browse without an ad-blocker and would like to share some of your browsing history with us to improve the results of this experiment, you can find and install the Firefox extension at addons.mozilla.org and the Chrome extension at the Chrome web store.

Context Graph

In the lead-up to the London all hands we had a Town Hall where Mark Mayo and Nick Nguyen previewed the three year strategy for Firefox.  That talk mostly covered an emerging area of focus and investment we’re calling the Context Graph.

This last week, Nick posted a vision for the Context Graph over at Medium. If you haven’t, I encourage you to go read it at medium.com/@osunick

So what is the Context Graph. The context graph is an understanding of how pages on the web are connected to each other and to a user’s current context. With Context Graph, we’re going to build a recommendation engine for the Web and features that help people discover relevant content outside of the popular search and social silos.

What does that look like in practice? Well, if you’re learning about how to do something new, like bike repair, our recommender features should help you learn bike repair based on others who have already taken the same journey on the Web. If you’re on YouTube watching a music video, Firefox should help you find the top lyrics or commentary sites that embed or link to that YouTube video. Or, if you’re walking into a WalMart, our mobile apps should automatically show you WalMart’s website or perhaps a WalMart deals and coupons site.

Building a recommendation engine for thew Web is a large project that will take time and effort but we believe the payoff for users and the health of the Open Web is going to be well worth it.

To dig deeper, I highly recommend Nick’s post at medium.com/@osunick and check out the wiki page at wiki.mozilla.org/Context_Graph.

Firefox 48 Beta, Release, and E10S

Tomorrow In the next few days, Firefox 48 Beta becomes available. If all goes well in our beta testing, we’re about 6 weeks away from shipping the first phase of E10S to Firefox release users with the launch of Firefox 48 on August 2nd.

E10S is short for “Electrolysis”. Similar to how chemists can use the technique called electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, we’re using project Electrolysis to split Firefox into a UI process and a content process. Splitting UI from content means that when a web page is devouring your computer’s processor,  your tabs and buttons and menus won’t lock up too.

E10S has been enabled for some portion of our Beta audience since December of 2015 and we’ve had it enabled for half of our Beta population for the last 6 weeks. The team has been comparing the half with E10S to the half without for things like stability, responsiveness, memory usage, and more. And so far, so good. We’ve met all of our release criteria and assuming nothing shows up in Beta 48, we should be good to go.

(When we hit release in about six weeks, not all of our Firefox 48 users will get E10S. The teams have been working really hard but we’ve still got some compatibility and other work to do to make E10S ready for everyone. The groups that will have to wait a bit for E10S account for about half of our release users and include Windows XP users, users with screen readers, RTL users, and the largest group, extension users.)

This is a huge change for Firefox, the largest we’ve ever shipped. But don’t worry. The Electrolysis team at Mozilla has a release roll-out plan that ensures we’re going slowly, measuring as we go and that we can throttle up as well as down depending on what we see.

Here’s what that looks like. When we launch Firefox 48, approximately 1% of eligible Firefox users will get updated to E10S immediately. The 1% of release users should get us up to a population similar to what we have in Beta so we’ll be able compare the two. About ten days after launch, we’ll get another round of feedback and analysis related to the release users with and without E10S. Assuming all is well, we’ll turn the knobs so that the rest of the eligible Firefox users get updated to E10S over the following weeks. If we run into issues, we can slow the roll-out, pause it, or even disable E10S for those who got it. We have all the knobs.

As noted earlier, this is just the first phase. Next up we’ll be working to get E10S to the cohorts not eligible in Firefox 48. We want 100% of our release users to benefit from this massive improvement. After that, we’ll be working on support for multiple content processes. With that foundation in place, the next projects are sandboxing for security, and isolating extensions into their own processes.

It’s an exciting time at Mozilla. E10S is the largest change we’ve ever made to Firefox and we hope you’ll help us get through this with as few surprises as possible. To help out, get on Beta and let us know what you find.

update: There is some confusion about what’s new here. I think I can clear that up. E10S has been in beta for some time. That’s not new. It was there for half of our beta users for the entire previous 6-weeks cycle. What’s new here is that we’ve just recently met all of our release criteria and we think we can take the feature from beta to release in the next 6 weeks. Now we’re down to one final cycle — assuming we don’t encounter any surprises. That’s where you all come in. Please help us test this upcoming Firefox 48 beta well so we have confidence when we get to the end of the beta cycle that E10S works well for everyone that gets it. Thanks.

thoughts on web performance and ad blockers

I often use an ad blocker with my web browser. I do this not because I hate seeing ads. I block ads because I can’t take the performance hit.

Running an ad blocker, or using Firefox’s tracking protection, makes the web responsive again and a pleasure to use. Sites load fast, navigation is smooth, everything is just better in terms of performance when the ads and their scripts are removed from the web.

I don’t like the idea, though, that I’m depriving lots of great independent sites (some of them run by friends) of their ad revenue. Unfortunately, Ads have grown worse and worse over the last decade. They are now just too much load, physically and cognitively and the current state is unsustainable. Users are going to move to ad blockers if web sites and the big ad networks don’t clean up their act.

Sure, everyone moving to ad blockers would make the web feel speedy again, but it would probably mean we all lose a lot of great ad-supported content on the Web and that’s not a great outcome. One of the wonderful things about the web is the long-tail of independent content it makes available to the world — mostly supported by ads.

I think we can find a middle ground that sees ad-tech pull back to something that still generates reasonable returns but doesn’t destroy the experience of the web. I think we can reverse the flow of people off of the web into content silos and apps. But I don’t see that happening without some browser intervention. (Remember when browsers, Firefox leading the pack, decided pop-ups were a step too far? That’s the kind of intervention I’m thinking of.)

I’ve been thinking about what that could look like and how it could be deployed so it’s a win for publishers and users and so that the small and independent publishers especially don’t get crushed in the escalating battle between users and advertising networks.

Web publishers and readers both want sites to be blazing fast and easy to use. The two are very well aligned here. There’s less alignment around tracking and attention grabbing, but there’s agreement from both publishers and readers, I’m sure, that slow sites suck for everyone

So, with this alignment on a key part of the larger advertising mess, let’s build a feedback loop that makes the web fast again. Browsers can analyze page load speed and perhaps bandwidth usage, figure out what part of that comes from the ads, and when it crosses a certain threshold warn the user with a dialog something like “Ads appear to be slowing this site. Would you like to block ads for a week?”

If deployed at enough scale, sites would quickly see a drop-off in ad revenue if their ads started slowing the site down too much. But unlike current ad-blockers, sites would have the opportunity and the incentive to fix the problem and get the users back after a short period of time.

This also makes the ad networks clearly responsible for the pain they’re bringing and gets publishers and readers both on the same side of the debate. It should, in theory, push ad networks to lean down and *still* provide good returns and that’s the kind of competition we need to foster.

What do you all think? Could something like this work to make the web fast again? (Thanks to Ben Ford for some wording help.)