Although Mozilla feels almost like a household name at this point, it is a relatively small organization – tiny, actually – compared to the companies that ship similar types of software . We must, however, have the impact of a much larger entity in order to ensure that the internet stays an open platform accessible to all.
Producing consumer software which influences the browser and smartphone OS markets in specific ways is how we make that impact. Shipping that software requires teams of people to design, build and test it, and all the countless other aspects of the release process. We can hire some of these people, but remember: we’re relatively tiny. We cannot compete with multi-billion-dollar mega-companies while operating in traditional ways. Mozilla has to be far more than the sum of its paid-employee parts in order to accomplish audaciously ambitious things.
Open source code and open communication allow participation and contribution from people that are not employees. And this is where opportunities lie for both Mozilla and universities.
For universities, undergraduates can earn credit, get real world experience, and ship software to hundreds of millions of people. Graduate researchers can break ground in areas where their findings can be applied to real world problems, and where they can see the impact of their work in the hands of people around the world. And students of any kind can participate before, during and after any involvement that is formally part of their school program.
For Mozilla, we receive contributions that help move our products and projects forward, often in areas that aren’t getting enough attention only because we don’t have the resources to do so. We get an influx of new ideas and new directions. We gain awesome contributors and can educate tomorrow’s technology workers about our mission.
I’ve been working with a few different programs recently to increase student involvement in the Firefox OS:
- Portland State University: The PSU CS Capstone program, run by Prof. Warren Harrison, has teams of students tackling projects for open source groups. The teams are responsible for all parts of the software life-cycle during the project. In the spring of 2013, a group of five students implemented an example messaging app using Persona and Firebase, documenting the challenges of Web platform development and the Firefox OS development/debugging workflow. This year’s group will implement a feature inside Firefox OS itself.
- Facebook Open Academy: This is a program coordinated by Stanford and Facebook, that puts teams from multiple universities together to build something proposed by an existing open source project. The Firefox OS team includes students from Carnegie-Mellon, Purdue, Harvard, Columbia in the US, and Tampere UT in Finland. They’re adding a new feature to Firefox OS which allows you to share apps directly between devices using NFC and Bluetooth. With 14 members across five universities, this team is collaborating via Github, Google Groups, IRC and weekly meetings for both the front-end and back-end parts, providing experience with remote working, group coordination and cross-team collaboration.
- University of Michigan: Prof. Z. Morley Mao’s mobile research group has started looking at device and network performance in Firefox OS. They’ve got a stack of phones and SIM cards, and we’re working with them to find ways to improve battery life and network efficiency on our devices. They’ve started a collection of focus areas and related research on the Mozilla wiki.
If you’re at an academic institution and would like to learn more about how to get your department or your students involved, or if you’re a Mozillian who wants to coordinate a project with your alma mater, email me!
1. Mozilla has ~1000 employees. According to Wikipedia, Google has ~50,000 employees, Apple ~80,000 and Microsoft ~100,000.
UPDATE: Scroll down for update on May 26, 2013.
Since beginning work on the Firefox OS project, the number one question I’m asked is “Does it run on my phone?”. Sadly, the answer for almost everyone is “no”. The question itself is interesting though, and shows how people – even geeky technical people – don’t have a good understanding of how mobile devices work, nor the whole business and technical ecosystem that brings these things into the hands of consumers (hm, maybe that’ll be my next blog post). Porting an operating system to a device is tricky work in the best of circumstances and when done without the direct assistance of the various business entities involved in the stack for any single device (OEM, chipset manufacturer, original OS vendor), involves a lot of, well, fiddling around. The kind of fiddling around that voids warranties and turns $600 hardware into a paperweight. The success and hackability of Android simplified things a lot, creating a relatively large community of people doing OS-to-device porting, and enabling a lot of what allowed Firefox OS to bootstrap so quickly. However, it’s still not easy.
I was curious about who is playing around with Firefox OS in the dark corners of the Mos Eisley of the device-porting porting world,the XDA-Developers forums. Below, I’ve listed a number of threads involving efforts to port Firefox OS to various devices. Some have builds, some are aborted attempts, but the totality shows the level of interest in putting a truly open Web operating system on low-powered commodity mobile hardware that is very exciting.
Oh, and if you’re interested in porting Firefox OS to your device, the basic instructions to get started are on the MDN B2G Porting Guide. If you scan any of the threads below or have ever tried doing this kind of work before, you already know: Thar be dragons. You could lose your device and your sanity, and will very likely void the warranty. Consider yourself warned.
- Samsung Epic 4G Touch, Samsung d710 (and some code on Github)
- HTC Wildfire S
- HTC Sensation – Some talk of debugging the porting process, and links to other ports such as Razr, Ascend g300.
- Samsung Galaxy Gio
- HTC Jewel (EVO + LTE)
- Samsung Galaxy Nexus
- LG Optimus 2X
- Samsung Nexus S & Nexus S 4G – thread 1, thread 2
- HTC Dream/G1 (old skool!)
- Samsung Galaxy S III
There are also some efforts at porting to other types of devices, such as Oleg Romashin’s experiments with Firefox on Raspberry Pi, MDN instructions for building for Pandaboard, and a bug for some core changes to Firefox OS to ease porting to basic Linux systems like Beagleboard and Chromebox.
UPDATE May 26, 2013
New devices since this was originally posted, and some fantastic updates:
- Raspberry Pi! Philipp Wagner, a student from Germany, updated Oleg Romashkin’s porting work, and wrote the Raspberry Pi for Firefox OS guide, where you can download builds and read instructions for building it yourself. I installed his build and was up and running on my Raspberry Pi in minutes. Check out his blog post, and buy him something from his Amazon wishlist :)
- As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Geeksphone has two devices available with Firefox OS pre-installed now available for purchase. The devices keep selling out FAST, so keep a watch on their Twitter account. Also, according to their forums they’re going to make nightly updates available over-the-air soon, so you can stay on the latest versions of Firefox OS.
- At this year’s Mobile World Congress, Sony released ROMs for the Experia E.
- The XDA-Developers blog reported on a Firefox OS port for the HTC HD2.
- Also on the XDA-Developers blog was a port for the HTC Explorer (aka Pico).
- You can find build instructions for running Firefox OS on Pandaboard up on the Mozilla Developer Network.
A couple of other notes:
- XDA-Developers now has a Firefox OS forum, where there are lots of threads on the porting process, individual devices, and app development.
- All XDA-Developers blog posts tagged Firefox OS.
We quietly shipped Firefox 11 with a bunch of performance fixes that both reduce the amount of memory that Firefox uses, and improve the responsiveness of it’s user interface.
These types of changes are not easy to talk about. Often they’re very technical, and meaningless to anyone but the developers involved, which is probably why we usually don’t enumerate them in the the release notes or other public announcements. “Firefox is 74% faster when you open menu X, and twice as fast in some garbage collection scenarios!” Yeah, not an eye-popping headline. We could do a lot better in communicating these improvements in broadly meaningful ways though – nice graphs or some competitive site like arewefastyet would help a lot. But until then, here’s a short summary of the improvements in Firefox 11. And if you know of other performance fixes that don’t fall into the categories below, please add them in the comments!
Memory Use (aka “memshrink”)
The Memshrink project has been going for quite a while now, led by Nicholas Nethercote. He blogs weekly updates on the project’s activity. According to Bugzilla, there were 29 memshrink bugs marked fixed during the Firefox 11 development cycle – four of which were P1, or very high priority. Some of the fixes were related to tools and detection methods, but many are actual reductions in memory use. The changes that made it into Firefox 11 include fixes for detected leaks, removing of zombie compartments, lazy-loading data, reducing the size of some caches, reducing memory used while scrolling, and many more.
UI Responsiveness (aka “snappy”)
The Snappy project started last December, and is run by Taras Glek. Its aim is to improve the responsiveness of the Firefox UI. Taras has been posting weekly updates on Snappy activity on his blog. Bugzilla shows 15 snappy bugs marked fixed during the Firefox 11 development cycle. The project had just started, but there are still some significant wins in this release! Firefox 11 includes reductions in queries in the bookmarks system, reduced preference lookups, faster data collection for session restore, and various improvements in the DOM code.
While it’s not related to performance, I do want to call attention to something that many people don’t seem to know: In Firefox 10 (yes, the previous release) we stopped marking most add-ons incompatible when you upgrade. That means that a LOT more of your add-ons will continue to work when you upgrade Firefox from here on out. The only add-ons that still require compatibility bumps are those that have binary components, since they need to be recompiled against the current version.
My team is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Ok, maybe not *that* mysterious, but we’re definitely involved in a variety of projects. Here’s a roll-up of a week in browser-land.
- Tim landed a patch that adds reporting of leaked windows and documents to our unit test runs. Dao’s work has shown that these often reflect leaks in the platform not just the test, so it’s very valuable to know about them. The next step is to track the leak numbers between runs and report regressions by making the tree color change somehow. Tim also blogged about this.
- Neil has a patch up for adding telemetry that measures how long it takes to open a browser window.
- Mano continued his work on the Safari migrator, which includes various cross-migrator improvements. This work is part of a broader rewrite of the migrators to use Places async APIs, for improved responsiveness.
- Marco landed a major rewrite of Livemarks, converting them to load content on-demand and asynchronously, reducing synchronous IO on the main thread.
- Paolo continued his work on rewriting favicon API consumers to use the new asynchronous API.
- Drew has completed the conversion of the content preferences service to use async mozStorage statements, and is in the process of updating the various JS and C++ consumers to use the new API.
- I talked a bit with Mark Cote about Peptest, a new framework for testing browser responsiveness. Peptest is currently available on the tryserver, but results are highly variable, so there’s more work to do before it can be turned on for all check-ins. Once Peptest is ready to use, we’ll evangelize the crap out of it.
- I continued working on breaking apart the session restore service into more manageable pieces (XPath generator, tab state, form data).
- I put up a WIP patch for reading the session file asynchronously during startup.
- I started working on measuring how much time is taken up by creating about:blank browsers when restoring sessions on demand.
New Tab Page
- Tim worked on Stephen Horlander’s redesign of the new-tab page, and also fixed some bugs.
New Download Manager
- Paolo consolidated existing patches into a single one for final pass and check-in. Marco has been reviewing.
- Paolo and Marco are getting together in Novara on Saturday to sprint on fixing theme bugs and other cleanup required for landing.
Add-on SDK Integration
- Met with Irakli to create plan for landing the core SDK modules in Firefox so that the whole SDK would no longer need to be bundled with every add-on.
- Created a feature page for tracking the project.
- I talked with Brian Warner about syncing Git repos with HG repos.
Web Apps Integration
- I updated the feature page with latest from UX, Apps and PM.
- Felipe Gomes is driving the Firefox side of the integration work, with Tim helping out on UI. They’re working together with Fabrice, Myk, Dan and Tim A.
- David has the window.crypto.getRandomValues patch up for final review and superreview.
- David put up an initial patch for the navigator.id API for Web content.
- David gets to play with NSS+DOM+XPCOM to get DOMCrypt’s internal API working. Lucky guy.
- David is working with Shane Caraveo to get the new Share add-on reviewed and landed.
- Tim and Marco kicked off sponsorship process for Italy’s jsDay conference. They’ll be putting up a booth there, along with Paolo Amadini, representing Mozilla. Thanks to Stormy and Shez for the support from Developer Engagement.
Of course, we all worked on various other things as well, from code review to bug triage to random maintenance fixes. Activity logs and whatnot are listed below.
- David Dahl: Bugzilla activity log, status updates, blog, Twitter
- Drew Willcoxon: Bugzilla activity log, status updates
- Felipe Gomes: Bugzilla activity log, status updates, blog, Twitter
- Asaf Romano: Bugzilla activity log
- Marco Bonardo: Bugzilla activity log, status updates, blog, Twitter
- Neil Deakin: Bugzilla activity log, status updates, blog
- Paolo Amadini: Bugzilla activity log
- Tim Taubert: Bugzilla activity log, status updates, blog, Twitter
- Dietrich Ayala: Bugzilla activity log, status updates, blog, Twitter
We’re at the end of our Performance work-week here in Brussels, and gearing up for a two-day orgy of European open-source culture at FOSDEM. I’ve successfully acquired a cold (and hopefully not worse) due to the temperature being consistently below freezing.
However, the people here in Brussels have made up for their weather shortcomings by welcoming us wherever we go. Between the hackerspaces and co-working spaces, and the restaurants that happily take large groups with little or no notice, I’m very impressed!
The hackerspace in Brussels is located in Schaerbeek, a neighborhood to the north of the city center. The space used to be a vehicle repair garage for the city, but was given up for use by the geeks. They’ve installed serious hardware, and have fully-equipped the place with everything needed for survival. Thanks to Rafael and Patrick, for answering all our questions and helping us make mate and to find food nearby. Lunch on the second day was described by Patrick as a “little French place”, but turned out to be a hall of worship dedicated to Tintin!
Faubourg St Antoine is filled with Tintin toys, art and knick-knacks, including some alternate interpretations and even a clarification for something I’d always wondered about. Sadly, they’ve been issued a legal notice from the current copyright (or EU equivalent) holders requiring them to remove all the Tintin materials from public display :(
Once the temperatures dropped far below freezing, we relocated to BetaGroup Coworking Brussels in Etterbeek, to the southeast of the center. Ramon Suarez, the manager of the space was very accommodating, taking us on short notice. The wi-fi was blazing fast, the coffee was hot, and the ping-pong was a welcome break from heads-down hackery. The space itself was fantastic, with a great combination of quiet co-working areas, public spaces and private meeting offices. With tons of natural light, steel bridges and a meeting space on what looked like a submarine conning tower, it was truly impressive.
We had a wonderful lunch at a very tidy restaurant nearby.
Overall, it’s been a fun and productive week, if a bit chilly. Like, really chilly. Ridiculously so. Why do people even inhabit places that get this cold? Honestly, wtf.
The Performance team and some of the Firefox team are spending the week in Brussels, laying waste to some of the performance issues in the browser.
I’ll be uploading pics to flickr with the tag ‘perfworkweek2012′.
I am needy:
- I want to remember URLs. Bookmarking is too manual and akin to throwing URLs in the sarlacc pit. The user-interface pieces around bookmarking have not changed in a decade. No, the awesomebar is not a good tool for this. I don’t even come close to being able to recall what I want the awesomebar to recall. I need to be ambiently prompted in a way that is visual and has context.
- I need to be able to focus on a given task, project or idea. A single sea of tabs doesn’t help at all. I want blinders. I want an environment. Task immersion.
- I need to be able to categorize URLs into groups, such that the whole group is easily accessible. Trees and menus can go to hell, along with the RSI, eye-strain and visual boredom they provide.
- I need to be able to switch contexts quickly and easily. Eg: From bug triage to perf to dashboards to music, etc.
- I don’t want to leave the browser. Windows are super heavyweight feeling and come along with all kinds of operating system baggage: visual, interaction, performance, etc.
I realized recently that a pattern had emerged in my browser usage that meets a bunch of these needs:
- I set up Firefox to restore my session every time it starts. This way my groups persist, and all the URLs in each group are loaded with their cookies and other session data ready to go when I need them.
- I have “Don’t load tabs until selected” checked, so that Firefox does all this with as little memory as possible – the web pages in all the tabs in all the groups aren’t loaded until I actually use them.
- I restart the browser a couple of times per day to keep memory use slim, which in turn keeps the browser responsive. Restarting is super fast and responsive because I have “Don’t load tabs until selected” (see previous point).
This is the happiest I’ve been with any browser in years. However, there are still a bunch of pain points. I want SO much more.
- I want to tag URLs without bookmarking them. The bookmark concept just gets in the way. It’s an unnecessary unit of psychological weight. It’s a vestigial metaphor of days gone by.
- I want to open a tab group by typing the name of the group in the URL bar.
- I want to add URLs to multiple groups easily, similar to tagging. I’d like to do it via the keyboard.
- I want to send the current tab to a different group (or groups) using only the keyboard.
- I want app tabs that are specific to a given group, and some that are global.
- I want to switch quickly from an app tab back to the last non-app tab I was at. Or be able to peek quickly at an app tab without losing my context in the current set of tabs.
- I want to switch quickly back to the last tab I was at. (Eg: When I open a new tab, and get sent to the end of the current set of tabs). OR be able to have new tabs open immediately to the right of the current tab, with linked parentage.
- I’m tired of sites being browsers inside a browser. And I don’t want “site-specific” browsers – I want a “me-specific” browser, for local or dynamic content.
- Firefox creates the <tab> elements for hidden tabs when restoring the session. It would re/start even faster and use even less memory if the XUL elements for hidden tabs were not created until the group itself was opened.
- As I work, memory use increases and responsiveness decreases, since I keep visiting more and more tabs. If I haven’t visited a tab in a while, Firefox should unload it. If I haven’t visited a group in a while, Firefox should completely unload the whole group, session content *and* XUL elements.
- A downside of the “Don’t load tabs until selected” option is that tab content is not ready and waiting when you select the tab. The web content has to load and the session data for the tab must be restored. Firefox should pre-load tabs that are adjacent to the active tab. This feature, combined with the dormant-izing of tabs described above would result in a decent balance of instant-gratification availability and responsiveness and resource frugality.
One idea I had was a merging of tagging and groups: The groups in Panorama would be comprised of the set of tags that exist. This would result in nice integration bits like search-by-tag in the awesomebar being equivalent to search-in-group. It also might mean that we’ll need to make Panorama “bigger” – maybe allow it to be zoomed, or make it an infinite canvas.
An idea for navigating dynamic content is to merge feeds and groups. Imagine you have a BBC group, which has the BBC feed as it’s source. The set of “tabs” in that group are the items in the feed. If you open the group, all the URLs in the feed are loaded into tabs (but not *really* loaded if you restore-on-demand).
Anyways, it’s interesting to think about how to prototype some of these ideas in an add-on or a collection of them. I’m sure some of the items above already exist as add-ons.
I realize that I’m not a “typical user”. However, after almost 6 years of browser-making, I’m pretty damn sure that there is no such person. I do not believe that the one-size-fits-all browser is the future. When adding a feature or fixing a bug, we shouldn’t have to choose between grandma and the geeks. In order to stay relevant in a highly-personalized future, we should strive to ensure that Firefox is pliable enough that we who make it are not restricted by it, and more importantly we must ensure that add-on developers are free to mash-up and remix and experiment the f*ck out of it.