Friday, 31 December 2004

Fog of War

I like to believe I have a good grasp of the way the folks in Redmond think, but sometimes I'm completely mystified. Take, for example, this quote by Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer:

"You go through and talk to all these people and ask them what they want out of a browser and there are a lot of conflicting requests around: 'Hey, give me tabs right now' versus 'I want stability, I want a platform that won't break, I want to make sure I have extensability, I want to make sure have manageability,' " he said.

I very much doubt that providing tabs in the UI would impact extensibility, manageability, or stability. (Could it be that the Browser Helper Object API or some other IE extension API simply can't deal with multiple documents in tabs in a window? Yet it's my understanding that IE extensions work in IE shells like Avant that provide tabs.) It wouldn't even impact what I see as Microsoft's hidden agenda, stagnating Web technology to drive developers to Avalon. Yet tabs are clearly a simple feature that's pulling users away from IE, so why won't Microsoft provide them? I wish I knew.

Saturday, 11 December 2004

Why Mozilla

Not only am I changing countries, I'm changing jobs. There are no industrial computer science research labs in New Zealand, so sticking with research would have meant doing research remotely, and I don't think that's a good idea. Research depends on face to face contact with visitors, attending talks, visiting universities and labs and giving talks, and going to conferences, and that's all very hard to do remotely. Furthermore, with Mozilla I've observed that if you're off-site but 90% of the people are on-site, life is not good, because a lot happens on-site leaving you out of the loop, no matter how hard everyone tries to do the right thing. If you're off-site and 90% of the other people are too, then life is much better. So, much as I enjoy research, I was never keen to do research remotely in New Zealand. Additionally, to be frank, poor time management and ability to focus are ongoing weaknesses for me, and I've found them to be much better when I'm working on Mozilla. I think it's because I'm more passionate about the project, there's a strong online community with incessant demands, and there's instant positive feedback every time you take a step.

Having hacked on Mozilla for years, I'm comfortable with working on it remotely, and since the demise of Netscape it's been a very distributed project. Furthermore I think it's very important work, more important than anything I've done yet. It's clear that Microsoft wants to supplant the Web with their Avalon framework; it's clear to me that this would be a bad thing. (I will talk more about why some other time.) That's why Microsoft is stagnating the Web by refusing to improve Internet Explorer --- but this strategy also carries some risk and gives competitors an opening. In effect Microsoft is betting that they can do nothing in the browser space for five years (2001-2006) without losing their grip on the Web. Perhaps they'll turn out to be right, but for now they need all the competition we can muster. In fact we can all see that Firefox is already having an impact, and we still have a few years to push it. I want to do all the pushing I can.

IBM cares about Mozilla, but there wasn't a good fit within IBM for the core graphics and layout work that I'm especially suited to and that I want to work on. So we're parting amicably, and I'm taking a generous offer from Novell's Ximian division to work on that infrastructure and other Mozilla work of interest to Novell.

I will miss research --- the blue sky thinking, the worldwide network of incredibly smart friends, the blizzard of ideas, the cut and thrust of academic talks and conferences. Carnegie Mellon and IBM Research are unique and wonderful environments that have been very kind to me and that I have always delighted in. I've always recommended them to prospective students and researchers and I will continue to do so. I simply believe that for the forseeable future, it is more important for me to be in New Zealand working on Mozilla.

Thursday, 9 December 2004

Why New Zealand

So why are we moving back to New Zealand? Primarily we want to be close to our extended family. Our parents love time with their grandchildren, our children love their grandparents, we appreciate the childcare, and the benefit increases with every additional child we have. Something similar applies with aunts and uncles. It's a big win all around.

Another reason specific to us is that Janet and I are New Zealand citizens. In New Zealand we'll enjoy the rights and responsibilities that brings --- voting, jury service, and so on. Also, New Zealand subsidised my education and I feel a responsibility to repay somehow; I don't like it when people take advantage growing up, and then leave at the first opportunity to cash in elsewhere; I don't want to be one of them.

But more than that, New Zealand is objectively a wonderful place to live. When I meet Americans recently returned from a visit, more than half the time they ask me "How could you leave?!" or something to that effect. I started to wonder what the answer is. Of course it's famous for its natural beauty. But I like so many other things about it, especially Auckland:

  • Auckland's climate is mild year-round, so you can always go outside and do things.
  • There are very many fabulous beaches and parks within easy reach where you can go and do things.
  • Auckland is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city, which means the food is excellent. Lots of Chinese food and culture to enjoy.
  • It's safe. I really enjoy New York but I always check CNN before I go down to the city to make sure no-one blew it up.
  • New Zealand is consistently ranked one of the two or three least corrupt countries in the world.
  • The government appears more democratic and competent than in most other countries --- regardless of which party is in power. This may be a function of size.
  • Therefore, I believe in NZ's long-term prospects more than I do for most places.
  • Christians get more contempt and less lip service. I like that.
  • Lifestyles are generally more laid-back.
  • People have a realistic view of their country --- often veering into unwarranted pessimism, which isn't good, but I prefer it to arrogance.
  • The metric system. Seriously.
  • The best of British and US television.
  • You can wear shorts all year round without feeling silly.

It's not all rosy. Sometime I'll write about what I don't like. And I'll have to reassess everything once we're actually back seeing it all first-hand --- I think I've forgotten both good and bad. But I don't think the balance will tip the other way.

alt="Boats at anchor in the Bay of Islands" src="" width="800" height="600" />

The Bay of Islands, 3 hours north of Auckland

Sunday, 5 December 2004

Well, I'm Almost Back

This is it. After more than ten years living in the USA, and three and a half years working at IBM Research, I'm heading home to a new job in New Zealand!

There's so much to say that I don't know where to start. I love my job and we deeply enjoy our lives here in New York. But over time the desire to be with our extended family, and to be in New Zealand, has kept on growing. My desire to commit full time to Mozilla has grown. So we looked for opportunities, and God has opened doors, and now is the right time to walk through one.

I've started this blog for several reasons, but the main reasons are to keep in touch with my friends around the world, to communicate with the Mozilla community about my work, and to record the experiences of a high-tech expat moving back to New Zealand --- partly in the hope that others will follow.

Our actual move happens in early January. We'll be very busy until then, but I plan to write more about my background and why we're moving.