Seattle Post-Intelligencer interview with Blake Ross

On June 30th, Todd Bishop of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer interviewed Mozilla Firefox Co-Founder Blake Ross over lunch at Gnomedex. This is very good interview and covers a lot ground. There are a few questions/answers that I want to expound upon.

Q: The community is at work on Firefox 2.0. Given the success of the first Firefox, is there pressure to make big advances with the second one?

Ross: Some of the feedback we have gotten about the 2.0 release (test version) has been, what’s new here? It looks like the 1.0 release because most of the work that has been going on has been to make it more stable, how do we fix the memory problems that people are complaining about, how do we make everyday tasks easier – like spell-checking, for example, in Web forms. Little things that you’re not going to notice when you first fire up Firefox 2.0, but you’re going to use it for two weeks and say, yeah, this is definitely an overall better experience.

On May 15th in my entry: A New Milestone for FF 2.0, I discussed some of the new features with FF 2.0 after having an opportunity to try out the latest test version. Yes, to the casual user it is going to look very similar to the 1.0.* versions. However, it is more the simple changes such as the new add-ons interface (combines themes & extensions managers into one easy to use interface) that make the difference. By far the best change with FF 2.0 is having the close button on each tab without an extension. Unfortunately, I have not used FF 2.0 that much yet to see if there has been improvements with the memory problems. There is the possibility of a Beta release coming out some time this week and I’ll investigate this more then.

Q: I know you’re asked frequently about Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft’s next browser. How much have you used the test version, and what do you think of it?

Ross: I’ve used it a little bit. The truth is that it actually looks pretty good. People don’t expect me to say that, they expect me to say that it’s terrible. They did exactly what we were expecting them to do, which was take a bunch of time and get IE7 up to feature parity with Firefox.

I have not yet had an opportunity to take a look at IE7 and not really sure if I am going to at this point. I don’t like the install process telling me to back-up my files, close all programs and then to DISABLE my anti-virus and anti-spyware protection. Makes me a bit leery of this here product.

Q: Microsoft essentially allowed Internet Explorer to go dormant for several years, until Firefox started coming along and chipping away at its market share. What do you think about that, and what does that say about the state of competition?

Ross: That makes me furious, to be completely honest with you. That, more than anything is why we really had to start Firefox in the first place. People think that we started Firefox just to take down Microsoft, just to win some kind of competition. Why would we want to win? There’s no money involved for us, there’s no IPO for this company, it’s a non-profit. Why would we want to do this unless there’s a real need?

The truth is I think Microsoft is very directly responsible for spyware and adware and the pop-up ads in general that proliferated across the Web after they abandoned their product. I mean, this is the world’s most-used software application ever … and I just think it’s irresponsible for a company to abandon it simply because they can’t find a financial incentive to continue development on it.

This is by far the best part of the interview, Ross’s answers are right on target. Did some research in Wikipedia about Internet Explorer’s Release History:

  • IE 1.0, August 1995, shipped with Plus! for Windows 95
  • IE 1.5, January 1996
  • IE 2.0, November 1995
  • IE 3.0, August 1996
  • IE 4.0, September 1997
  • IE 5.0, March 1999, shipped with Windows 98 SE
  • IE 5.5, July 2000, shipped with Windows ME
  • IE 6.0, August 2001, shipped with Windows XP
  • IE 6.0 SP1, September 2002, shipped with Windows XP SP1
  • IE 6.0 SP2, August 2004, shipped with Windows XP SP2
  • IE 7.0 Beta 1, July 2005
  • IE 7.0 Beta 2, January 2006 (Preview)/April 2006 (final)
  • IE 7.0 Beta 3, June 2006
  • IE 7.0, 1st half 2007, shipping with Windows Vista

Looking at this history it easy to understand what Ross meant by “abandoning their product”. When (and if) IE 7.0 comes out in 2007 is going to be the first time in nearly 5 1/2 years since there has been a major (not counting the bug/vulnerability fixes) new release of IE. In the mean time AOL/Time Warner’s Netscape continued release newer and improved version of Netscape 7.0:

  • Netscape 7.0 – August 29, 2002 (based on Mozilla 1.0.1)
  • Netscape 7.01 – December 10, 2002 (based on Mozilla 1.0.2)
  • Netscape 7.02 – February 18, 2003 (based on Mozilla 1.0.2)
  • Netscape 7.1 – June 30, 2003 (based on Mozilla 1.4)
  • Netscape 7.2 – August 17, 2004 (based on Mozilla 1.7)

In May 2005, Netscape released version 8.0 based on Mozilla Firefox and has since released version 8.1 in January 2006. While IE still continues to be the dominate browser worldwide it has been losing ground and remained dormant. From, the most popular browsers in the USA are:

  1. Microsoft IE ~ 79.78%
  2. Mozilla Firefox ~ 15.82%
  3. Apple Safari ~ 3.28%
  4. Opera ~ 0.81%
  5. Netscape ~ 0.20%

Overall, Mozilla Firefox’s global usage share has reached 12.93 percent! Not bad for a browser which has only been fully on the market since November 2004! Noticed from the IE time line above, how work on IE 7 starts around the time Firefox is released? Could have been Microsoft realized they were in trouble, users were discovering and liking Firefox. No longer we consumers going to put up with crappy software, especially when obtaining another browser is so much simpler now. Which leads me to the final question I wanted to expound upon:

Q: Is the ultimate potential reach of Firefox limited by Microsoft’s distribution of Internet Explorer as an integrated component of Windows?Ross: Obviously it is to some degree, I can’t claim that it’s not. But I think that’s much less of a problem in 2006 than it was in 1998 when Netscape was fighting this battle. Because there’s a pretty huge difference between something shipping in the operating system vs. having to go to Best Buy and buy it, and the world we live in today, where broadband is obviously a pretty key component of a lot of people’s Internet experience. It’s much easier and it’s much more natural today to download and install software. Firefox is what, 6 megabytes on Windows, that’s a 1-minute download on broadband. I think that the barrier to entry for us to get people to download Firefox is much lower than it used to be.

People realize now they have a choice in their Internet experience and are no longer just limited to what comes on their computers. Mozilla makes it very simple to get Firefox, no registration, no OS validation, no jumping through half a dozen links, etc.!

There are several more questions in the interview. The complete interview, Q&A with Firefox’s Blake Ross: Extended version can be found on Todd Bishop’s Microsoft’s Blog on The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.