This shortish post would attempt to share some of the musings and things I experienced during the Mozilla India meetup.
Confession time first:- I have been a long-time user of Mozilla. I have been one of the fortunate or unfortunate ones to have been at the time where Netscape was the only competitor to IE. This I guess was around 1994-’95 and Internet was just starting in India. The only benefit (at least the way I remember) it gave a bit more clue if I was able to go to some site or not. Didn’t have any clues about how browsers work (nothing about handshaking,get,fetch requests and whatever else that happens behind the scenes) and still don’t (there is lot more going behind the scenes but that’s another story altogether).
Hint:RFC‘s can give load of goodies if you want to know about them. If you want to know of the latest developments then track the various drafts at W3C.IIRC Netscape did have the dragon (either as at its Mascot or an easter egg or something) for a long time before the ‘Fox’ became the mascot for Mozilla.The only excuse I can give here is bad memory, sorry :).
Either way, I’m not a web-developer but just another user who uses the browser to use and consume the web (similar to millions of other individuals). I do however have a stake in making sure that people know of alternatives rather than just using any one browser and thus driving both innovation and competition in web (making my experience richer), My hopes for the meet-up before going there were Mozilla would be talking about their upcoming license changes (the MPL 2.0), any new initiatives of Mozilla regarding privacy (apart from SOPA,PIPA,ACTA) to number of things they could do or have done to improve awareness both about open web and privacy initiatives (which EFF has also been urging them about). I also wanted to know about some of the stuff they have supposedly been working upon for some number of years and wanted to know the status of those projects but was also cautious as were meeting some of these people for the first time.I was also interested how they were approaching with Debian to the resolution of the ‘iceweasel’ ‘Mozilla Firefox‘ trademark thing.
Anyways, as it was a Sunday some of the people turned up late (the main guys were on time) and we started around 10:30 onwards. First there was a general introduction session where some of the Mozilla College
Reps introduced themselves and shared some of the past work they have done. You can see a photo collection (not tagged yet) at Abhishek’s site who was a student rep till sometime ago.
From Mozilla Gen Kenai and Rakeh Arky had come. During the course of introductions,even I was called and I reiterated some of the same things I believed and continue to believe. For instance,Mozilla should be more in forefront of rather than the lagging they have been doing in some of the things which includes privacy,educating people about digital rights and the related infrastructure.One of the things which I had done sometime back is ask and install in quite a few cyber-cafes (where lot of people go) and did do some sort of sample poll between youngsters of 18-25 and see how much web awareness they had and how much they knew the behind the scenes things were happening. I think I did report about how saddened I was when seeing how much of the features are just not used but that was not the theme of the day so did not share it there.Again with all the regulations in place especially in cyber-cafes it has become next to impossible to remain incognito but that I guess is another story altogether.
.After introductions I suggested Rakesh Arky (who is currently working as a Mozilla Community Manager) to take over as a moderator as there had to be somebody to steer the ship (the seminar or workshop)for the day. Arky first introduced the whole shebang that Mozilla does, He shared about Fennec as well as about Drumbeat as well as some of the other not-well known projects. Apart from the Mozilla Projects page which does all the listing of all the projects, there is another one which he showed that day and I can’t remember the URL.
Arky then asked people for the problems they are and were facing and there was a discussion about how to file bugs (although he didn’t show people how to file a bug in Bugzilla 😦 or discuss if there were tools that could make do checking that all the info. is filled in.) I wanted to get a bit deeper into it as I have seen Bugzilla and feel it leaves much to be desired. While things have changed for a better in the recent versions of bugzilla for a newbie who has no clue of things of the common terms such as checkboxes,radio boxes and things it is still quite challenging. Even for people who know some of the terms, at times a particular crash or crawl could leave you flummoxed. I do wish he had gone there but then they had their own agenda at the time.It would have been interesting if they had spent sometime both on the front-end and the back-end (as to which bugs have high priority or what is a good or a bad bug in Mozilla hackers eyes).
Anyways the train was chugging along and one of the issues that has been plaguing Mozilla is that India is a huge diverse country where we have officially 25 odd languages and unofficially running into few hundreds (not to mention the various dialects and sub-dialects resulting in this sweet-sour mess we lovingly call India). The problem for them is how to know when somebody is coming from a specific region in India in order to give him both a localized experience with the site as well as a localized browser. I thought this had been long taken care of due to geoip and other such databases but apparently it’s not still accurate for them.One of the other ways would be to have one of their boxes at each of the four-five gateways which India has but then that might be an expensive solution for them. And before somebody says something, yes I know there are proxy servers and VPN’s and all sorts of things which can mangle/obfuscate an IP Address so you don’t know if you are getting the right one.
Anyways, one of the more interesting queries I asked was why wasn’t the data that Mozilla was collecting on people’s behaviors being made publicly available. For people who don’t know Mozilla has a project called Test Pilot where Mozilla tries to measure user’s usage and responses to the various changes made to the UI in each release and tries to figure out an optimum way for user to have the Mozilla experience. Now as data is not there its hard to know if they have been successful or not or how or what they are using for measuring.Now the answer given by Arky was interesting as he said that the data could be misinterpreted.
Hmm…. this I know to be true. For e.g. if you look at a book called Freakonomics . Freakonomics is a term coined by either Steven Levitt or co-author Stephen J.Dubner.While the term is fancy what they did was use public data and arrive at certain conclusions.Before I go further into it, what they did was, what is increasingly becoming known as Business Intelligence. You have pools of data and you try to find patterns and understand what those patterns mean and how can they help you achieve whatever questions you have.It makes for some interesting read but they had to back-track on quite a few things later on but that’s another story altogether. I do think Mozilla would have been more stronger on issues like these but I guess competing in the market-place has its own price.
One of the interesting things (from Mozilla’s POV) is the mobile initiative Fennec.There were some interesting back and forth on that and one of somewhat off-hand disclosure or remark which I found interesting is from Gen. Kenai that Fennec is good when you have a smartphone around 1 Ghz. or something similar. They are trying to fit it in the lower-end models but that has issues.There was also questions asking if there were possibility of porting Fennec to Symbian where again Gen Kenai chose to hedge his bets saying something on the lines that Nokia has been making all sorts of noises and they are not sure where Nokia is taking Symbian (or not) which is true if you have been following them.While I haven’t played with Fennec but from what Gen Kenai has said it seems it has used lot of the same fatness that Mozilla Firefox has. I do remember reading somewhere there is a lot of legacy code which is not being used as well as lot which could be re-factored which could make it more easier,leaner,faster and more security aware. How they are doing on that front only somebody qualified to make that statement can say. I for one cannot.
One of the other interesting things Arky or Gen Kenai mentioned in passing was the whole Boot2Gecko OS. The idea is of a new smartphone Operating System and the roadmap suggests we should see an early snapshot of it on streets by mid-year to end of the year at the latest.I wish they had been more forthcoming on it but guess it is into heavy development at this time and maybe they have to think of things like application store and what would be allowed or not when it is out in the open.In some sense lot of things are at flux it seems.
One of the more interesting takes was of Harshad Gune (an OSI board member) who shared that if Mozilla wants to have something more consistent it would be better to have something similar to the Wikipedia hack-a-thon they were having upstairs and of course he understands that lot of logistics had to come right for such an event to happen. It would be nice if there are groups of people with Gecko skills.
What I could so however they need to work with the Mozillazine people a lot. I find most of the stuff Mozilla is working on through the forums and the other things there.For some reasons Mozilla seems to be somewhat detached with the way Mozillazine is doing things. It would be nicer if they were able to each other out. Mozillazine needs an image make-over but that (again) I guess is a topic for another day.
Anyways at some point in time, we had lunch (was nice) and then back to the room. Mozilla distributed some schwag (I don’t have any to show as they didn’t have anything of my size 😦 ). One of the points which I would have wished Arky to elaborate more was the whole Rapid Release thing (its effects on add-ons) as well as browsers for big commercial users. A lot of which has been talked about and speculated on the Net but it would have been nicer to hear from them.
I have volunteered to try to set up a wiki page (after talking to people in the community) where people could know about add-on developers from different pockets of India. I do know of a few developers but that is more like an accident than a choice. If Mozilla is able to have something like that, it will make the community somewhat more pervasive and evolving. Gen Kenai did showcase browserid (identity management) but have linked it more with the Students Reps and REMO initiative.
Anyways, we branched out around 15:00 hrs. I ended up wishing that either I hadn’t come or wished they would have been more forthcoming. I ended up a bit sad because I didn’t learn anything new to what I already knew apart from the fact that Mozilla is serious about India and they are looking for people to help both with localization and number of technical areas they have issues with.They are also a not-for-profit so they have to walk the fine line between being commercially viable and still doing what they want to.
Here’s wishing to they are competitive.Till l8er.
All photos courtesy Abhishek.