Mozilla Project vs Mozilla Corporation

We went through a lengthy thread on hardware-decoding and H.264 on dev-platform today. It was heated but mostly civil. We are all pretty passionate about open standards, so an intense debate was to be expected. One issue I keep running into whenever I take some idea to a public forum like dev-platform is my standing with the Mozilla Project and the Mozilla Corporation. I am the Director of Research for the Mozilla Corporation. I can speak with some authority about research stuff. I am also a contributor to the Mozilla Project. I own a couple modules, and I am a peer to another few. When I posted to dev-platform today about codecs, I was wearing my Mozilla Project contributor hat. Me being a director at the Mozilla Corporation buys me exactly zero standing and authority with the Mozilla Project. The Mozilla Project has a governance structure. Peers and module owners make decisions. Since we are talking about codecs here, and I am neither a peer nor a module owner, I have as much authority as any random contributor on whether we take the course I plotted in my email or not. I am absolutely convinced I am right, but I still don’t get to make the call. The decision is with the module owners. So next time you read something I write, keep in mind: I am allowed to have a lot of opinions, but I have actually very little authority over the Mozilla Project. The authority rests with a large experienced group of module owners, not any one individual, even less so someone hired for a job (like a director). Instead, module ownership is based on merit and contribution to the project. And that’s why Mozilla rocks.

2 thoughts on “Mozilla Project vs Mozilla Corporation

  1. It’s a nice enough abstract model, but I was neither a module owner nor a peer for anything but JS for a long time, and as VP Engineering I had a lot of influence if I chose to use it. (I had influence from long-time involvement in the project, too, but my amount of influence went up dramatically when I took over as VPE. Damon is similarly a “non-entity” from the Mozilla governance perspective I believe, but he is tremendously — and tremendously positively! — influential. Beltzner is another such example.)

    I think that’s fine, really. Mozilla shouldn’t apologize for hiring people to use their judgment and then having those people use their judgment. It should ideally be able to draw a line from that judgment back to the manifesto or whatever, and look back afterwards to evaluate how effective things were in moving the underlying mission forward.

    However, if there’s an open, critical discussion to be had based on Mozilla governance principles, then everyone who is influencing the outcome should be representing themselves in the discussion and not trying to move the process through closed, high-pressure discussions. (I don’t know if those discussions happened around this issue, but they certainly happened around “module owner” issues when I was there, and given the political temperature of video stuff I can certainly imagine there being lots of influential people advocating very strongly without appearing in the thread.)

    On the H.264 thing itself I don’t know what I think. Mozilla has been a stronger supporter of WebM than Google, and it’s not a fight Mozilla can win on its own in the timescale people are willing to operate in. It may not end up being a big deal (except for people on Windows XP or Linux?), but something about “to interoperate with Firefox, you need to fund the MPEG-LA” still unsettles me. Or it may end up being a big deal by letting B2G shift the mobile landscape to a Firefox-esque degree, and be a worthwhile sacrifice that nobody regrets in a couple of years. I’d be happier with it if there was some credible HEVC competitor emerging in the open, but I haven’t seen VP8 become the “platform for codec innovation” that Google wanted, and winning this round so convincingly isn’t likely to make HEVC’s developers wary of patent encumbrance.

    If it was easy, everyone would do it. :-)

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