24 August 2004

Firefox(pka Firebird, Phoenix)'s pre-public release turbulences

Firefox (earlier know as Firebird and before that as Phoenix !!) , the standalone browser form Mozilla, has had some hickups before recent public releases. Firefox's(Firebird at that time), new release 0.8 was planned to be released around 2nd week of Dec2003. However, users didnot get any news about the intended date of release even with the setting in of 2004. It was only on 08Feb2004 that 0.8 was released, with the new name "Firefox". The users expecting the release in Dec2003 were surprised to know that for more than a month the Firefox/bird team was busy finding a new name for Firebird so that there would be no copyright violations.

Come 0.9 release point, there was a huge controversy about moving to a new default theme from the earlier default by Arvid Axelsson. As you can see the discussion went on to be 36 pages long resulting in a pretty bad atmostphere at that time.
And the latest thing I hear is that Firefox will not have "View Source", "Work Offline", and the neat "Style sheet switcher". The first two features are available in every browser I have used. Any person moving to Firefox would not cite using Firefox as a good experience if they happen to see that some basic features do not exist in it. "Work Offline" is THE feature dialup users rely on to read pages they visited when they were connected to the net. I think the Firefox team should know that everyone doesnot subscribe to a high speed ADSL/cable connection. If that was not enough, the eye-catching feature that Firefox has(had), "Style Sheet Switcher", is gone. The style switching capability is usually provided on blog-sites by the authors so as to allow the user to choose the style they like. The 0.10PR (preview release before 1.0) will not have it (most probably neither 1.0).

The excuse given for removing features is "its a buggy feature". I know Firefox is still pre 1.0, and hence is expected to have buggy features. But that doesnot warrant removal of nice features. Firefox volunteers have been trying to convince other users to change over to Firefox from other browsers. And recently, thanks to security advisories for other browsers, there has been a huge conversion of users to Firefox. Advocating the Firefox's user friendly features and advertising it as a secure browser, and then removing some so called "buggy" features might have a negative effect to its userbase.

It would be much better if bug removal is better managed. Why should there be need to "remove" a feature? If it wasn't a good one, it should have not been there in the first place. And if it is useful enough so that it should be there, the bugs should be dealt with. Removal of a feature just before a public release will probably be detrimental to Firefox's image. Maybe a change in roadmap would be a better choice than taking away features from the users. Or the style sheet switcher could also go the same way as "Remove Offline" which will be available in the nightly builds till it is back again.


R.J. Keller said...

The thing that bothers me is that Ben is on vacation. These decisions were made without module owner approval. According to the mozilla.org roadmap, the module owner is the UI czar who makes the decision on what UI to keep and cut. Without ben making these decisions, who is? blaker? asa?

KDS said...

Yes, it is really disturbing. Brendan's blog post did actually clear out the situation a little bit. Brendan said that the decision was taken in the meeting when both he and Ben were absent and also without their consent. But anybody from outside Mozilla.org would always think that all decisions are taken by the "team". Whether everyone is present or not, the decisions by the team are considered to be made by the team. Thus Brendan or for that matter Ben can't simply say that they had nothing to do with it.

PS: Another nice blog article about this whole fiasco.