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OSCON Report: Why Mozilla Matters

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The morning’s executive briefing sessions are underway here at OSCON. Tim O’Reilly just led a discussion on stage about Firefox add-ons — what they’ve achieved, how the open source model has shaped their development and what they contribute to the web.

Sitting on the panel were Mozilla‘s Mike Shaver, who oversees the Firefox extension developer community, as well as two of the ecosystem’s most successful developers in terms of sheer user numbers: AllPeers CTO Matthew Gertner and StumbleUpon‘s Garrett Camp.

One of Tim’s first questions was a biggie: Why does Firefox’s
performance suffer when I install extensions? Shaver handled that one,
explaining that the browser’s architecture lets developers interact
with any of the services within Firefox. Ultimately, it’s a trade off.
Developers get the infinite access which allows them to shape the user
experience of the browser, but that sometimes results in a performance
hit.

O’Reilly also asked what happened to Netscape creator Mark Andreesen’s original vision of the browser as a platform. Is that where we’ve arrived? The panelists agreed, saying that Firefox extensions are building upon that vision. Shaver gave his view of the browser’s position as a way to access "the best software platform we’ve ever developed as an industry — the web."

Another interesting note came from Camp. Illustrating to the passion of free software users, he said that when StumbleUpon changes features in its Internet Explorer toolbar, he hears near silence. When a change happens on the Firefox side, the company gets flooded with e-mail about every little detail.

The final question drew some laughs: Are we moving into a world where Windows, Mac OS X and Linux are just device drivers for Firefox? An interesting topic, but the clock had run out and none of the panelists really had time to answer that in full. I guess the question will remain rhetorical.

Photo: James Duncan Davidson via Flickr.