Mozilla Problems, A Lot of Heat, Little Light

Blogs are flying, the mailing lists are smoking and people are beginning to wonder if Mozilla, and its cousin Firefox have jumped the shark. Among the charges leveled are that nobody cares about Seamonkey (the Mozilla suite), that a community of developers has failed to coalesce around Firefox, that its too hard to get code committed to the project because of a lack of reviewers and general inadequacy of the tools being used for the job.

Among the proposed changes are spinning off Firefox as a separate project (presumably Thunderbird too), making Firefox the primary project and spinning off Seamonkey, hiring more developers and changing development tools. I’m sure I’ve missed some of the problems and proposed solutions, I am after all, a non-developer outsider looking in at the project. Diagnosis and prescription for the technical problems are beyond my ability and not my purpose in writing.

While I am not a developer I am a manger and what I see going on is typical of organizations experiencing rapid growth and raging success. The difference in this case is that all of the arguments are taking place in public because Mozilla/Firefox is an open source project. So what’s my message? Calm down, this stuff happens all the time and people figure out how to make these things work. And, if Open Source Management Theory (OSMT) is correct (to the extent there is one), these problems will be resolved more quickly and efficiently than in a corporate setting.

OSMT says that when there is a fundamental disagreement over the direction or focus of a project, it forks, and that’s good. Why good? Because people get to have their cake and eat it too. Seamonkey and Firefox can come out of this stronger than they went in. More people will be drawn to the two projects than to the single project and user choice will be preserved. If one project dies because users or developers do not support it, then natural selection has worked again. But the open process in which it occurred is better than having great products killed in a back room or a committee meeting.

If the OSMT works (and I think it does), don’t panic, let it work. Stay passionate about the projects you love but don’t deny others the right to be passionate about something else. Divide and multiply.