Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Friday 10 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.


Stephen Donner
roc: does this mean I don't have to feel so bad about bugging you on Mozilla anymore? ;-)
Just kidding; best wishes on the new position!