Chris Beard was "point" on this interview, but got help writing his answers to your questions from other Mozilla and Firefox people. (Since this was sort of a "companion" interview to one we did just before it with MSIE dude Dean Hachamovitch, you might want to look at the two Q&A posts side by side and compare the way they answered.)
by Anonymous Coward
How was the cake from MS?
Chris: It was a nice surprise actually, and we think it's great that Microsoft is taking an interest in browser development again. Of course there wasn't nearly enough of it to go around since there are thousands of people worldwide working together to make Firefox possible, but those of us at the Mountain View office made sure to enjoy it for everybody :) .
2) FireFox 2 Rendering Speed Compared to IE7
Dear Chris Beard, I have used Firefox since before 1.0, and one thing that Internet Explorer has always beaten FF on is rendering speed. With the release of IE7, Microsoft has made IE at least feel faster than before, and it certainly has adopted many features that made FF such a stand-out, security not withstanding. I would like to know if Mozilla has made it a priority in the past to give FF a rendering speed competitive with or faster than IE, and if we will see FF becoming competitive with or faster than IE in rendering web pages in future releases? Thanks.
Chris: Performance continues to be a high priority for us, and we test every nightly build to make sure that we're getting faster, not slower than our previous releases. We're really happy with Firefox 2, it's a very solid release with three or four times the amount of fixes and work as went into 1.5. We're hearing a lot of positive feedback about the performance of Firefox 2 as compared to Internet Explorer 7, especially on interactive web sites (even Robert Scoble recently blogged that "Firefox 2 was a LOT faster on AJAX". Zimbra, who makes a really rich web-based productivity suite also recently posted that by their internal tests, "Firefox was more than twice as fast as IE 7 and four times faster than IE 6".
But we're still looking to do better, and the next version of Gecko (the platform which is used for rendering web pages) has several improvements to our graphics infrastructure and layout engine which should continue to speed up our page rendering time. Brendan Eich recently blogged about Mozilla 2, which will contain even more improvements for performance. So yes, it's definitely something we have as a continual priority.
What do you feel are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Opera?
What do you feel are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of Safari?
What do you feel are the greatest strengths of IE7? (I won't ask about weaknesses...)
Chris: First of all, I just want to say that we're totally thrilled to see a revitalized ecosystem around the Web experience. That was our primary goal from the inception of Mozilla (to promote choice and innovation on the Web) and I think it's clear that users now have more choice and the Web is a much more innovative place.
Specifically and personally, I think that Opera is a great tool for fans of those really big swiss-army knives. It's an everything-in-one approach, much like the original Mozilla Suite and Seamonkey, and that totally works for some people. However, the experience can be quite overwhelming for the average Web user.
For Safari, I think they've got some excellent system integration. It's really nice that they can leverage Keychain and Address Book like they do, and of course, it's a Cocoa based application which gives it a bit of UI integration that we don't yet have. I'm a little disappointed that they're so focused on making the entire experience Apple-centric, though, and would love to see more ability for users to customize their experience and the applications they can integrate with Safari.
IE7 has taken a lot of steps forward from IE6 and it's nice to see them following along with the features introduced by Opera, Safari and Firefox -- and that have made Firefox so popular; that's a huge vindication for us, and we're flattered to be imitated. They've shipped some improvements to the standard Windows printing platform which I'm a little jealous of, but hopefully those will be part of Vista so that all Windows applications can take advantage of them, too.
What does the long-term future have in store for Firefox? Is the web browser going to become more feature rich, or is the Mozilla team going to aim at keeping Firefox very minimalist and optimized? If the former, what features do you think will help advance the user experience of the web? If the latter, how will you differentiate Firefox from its competitors and maintain the brand in absence of flashy new features?
Chris: The Firefox Charter states that our goal is to provide the most useful browser to the largest possible market while maintaining a simple interface that focuses on helping users accomplish their online tasks. That means adding the features which we think are useful for accomplishing tasks, but making sure that they're not thrust into users' faces unless they want them. We think people are doing more interactive things online these days, and are visiting more places than the average web user visited 4 or 5 years ago, so we're looking at features that help people navigate their "local web" and are also looking at providing tools for helping them act on the information they find there. If we design them right, they'll "just work" like users expect, much like we feel the Search Suggestion and Spell Checking features of Firefox 2 "just work".
5) Tackling The DOM
With the most recent releases of FF 2.0 and IE7 almost simultaneously, from a person who does QA for a web deliverable software company, trying to debug and locate the source of inconsistencies in the way that FF 2.0 and IE7 handles DOM - what steps is the Mozilla foundation taking to help blaze the trail for some kind of standardization in DOM? I realize that IE has its own version of DOM, but is there hope that 1) Mozilla will better respond to erratic DOM programming from those that develop for IE or that 2) Mozilla will somehow influence the Microsoft camp to come over to standards?
Chris: Compatibility with IE is something we look very seriously at (in all areas, not just the DOM API) and in the obvious cases where there's no specification (de facto or "standard") that dictates what the right thing is -- we do our best to match IE's behavior. But we also realize that trying to be bug-for-bug compatible with IE is a dead end. So, we work with the W3C and groups like the WHATWG to find the common ground and a resolution that benefits everyone. We also actively promote and encourage developing to open standards, but Microsoft's decisions in this area are obviously out of our direct control.
6) Firefox Features
Firefox was created partly as an alternative to the bloated Mozilla suite. Now as Firefox matures, it too is gaining features. While all of them are fairly useful, some, such as spell check, web feed previews, and session restoration, might be better implemented as extensions. Firefox is still a fairly lightweight browser, and I appreciate Firefox 2.0's improved response speed, but I still worry that Firefox is becoming the kind of software that I hate.
How committed is the team to keeping Firefox's core as small as possible, and what, if any, features might be turned into extensions in the future?
6A) Re:Firefox Features
As an add on to that question, since you can distribute extensions with the installer, why not just make these "official" extensions rather than building them into the app? Then people could easily switch them off or substitute third party ones (think tab management).
You've created a great extension management system, yet aren't using it yourselves.
Chris: A lot of the answer for question 4 here applies as well. Our community is surprisingly conservative, and we ask ourselves a lot of tough questions about whether or not a feature is really needed and used by a majority of users before we add it into Firefox. Spellchecking is a perfect example. As more and more users move to Web-based e-mail and other types of online content creation, a feature like inline spellchecking just makes sense. For those who don't need it, it's mostly out of the way and costs them nothing in terms of usability. But when you do need it, it's there, and it helps.
We're also encouraging more and more feature development as extensions, and promoting that work through programs like Mozilla Labs, as a way of allowing us to test things out before accepting them into the main product itself.
I don't know if there's a need for "official" extensions, but we are planning on making it easier to understand which extensions have been extensively tested by the Mozilla community for performance and compatibility issues, as part of an upcoming upgrade to the Firefox add-ons site.
7) Add In Validation
Does FF worry that an unscrupulous add-on developer could produce what could be a click-fraud capable bot net hidden in an add-on that could be promoted and distributed by FF team? What steps are taken to prevent it given the add-ons are not signed or hosted by FF?
Chris: We've got a committed team of contributors who keep a close eye on recommended extensions distributed by Mozilla. And we continue to build out the community and tools available at addons.mozilla.org to keep up with the increasing activity and demand for Firefox add-ons. We're also working on a major revision to this site that we'll be launching soon.
8) Old Bugs
Has the Mozilla team considered adopting timeframes to the resolution of bugs, no matter what the severity? I've seen bugs on Bugzilla that, while minor, have been open since before the browser was named Firefox, some without any comment besides the initial confirmation they exist. Why do issues stay unaddressed after multiple major releases?
Chris: We're always evaluating and prioritizing the most important bugs. Thousands of bugs are of next to no consequence for most users and those will be prioritized below the bugs that affect large numbers of users. Putting some timeframe on bugs would encourage bug fixing around age rather than severity or visibility and that prioritization doesn't best serve the needs of our users.
Of course, we do understand that there are some issues which, while they're not a high priority for most Firefox users, might be very important to one or a small group of users and that's why we leave these Bugzilla reports open and we encourage interested people to become a part of the Mozilla project by contributing fixes for even the lower priority issues.
9) Firefox and Macs
When will Firefox get some much needed love on Mac OS X? The toolbars look hideous, the form widgets don't look aqua like, and there is no integration into OS X services (like the dictionary). Plus there is always a need for speed improvements.
Chris: It turns out that it's hard to find developers with rich experience in application development on Mac, but we'd be happy if any passionate open-source Slashdot Mac users want to help out! We're constantly improving our platform support and Gecko 1.9 will have support for Cocoa which will improve our form widget rendering as well as the ability to integrate with OSX services.
10) Future of Thunderbird
Thunderbird, as a companion to Firefox, seems to be getting the "also-ran" treatment. Releases tend to trail Firefox releases by weeks or months, and there seems to be very little promotion or marketing.
Do you expect the influx of Eudora developers to change this? Are there any plans for more coordination between Firefox and Thunderbird in terms of scheduling, marketing and promotion?
Chris: Thunderbird has achieved a solid position in the email client market, with several million active users worldwide. As you note, we're focused as an organization on Firefox but we're also starting to look and think about what modern communications should look like online. Especially as we see more and more people making the Web their primary communications medium. Thunderbird has a loyal following and has made inroads into the enterprise, so any future planning around Thunderbird will take those factors into account.
Thanks to everyone for all the great questions and remember that the conversation doesn't have to end here. As an open source project you can reach us through the newsgroups and other forums, or join us in our global effort to make the Web better for everyone.