"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
31 July 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY. 





Before the Body's Cold


There comes a time when the only merciful thing to do is pull the plug. When the old-timer has been bloated and incontinent for as long as anybody can remember, it can only be considered an act of kindness to turn off the machines and let a dear friend finally breathe its last. So long, Mozilla, old chum sorry it had to come to this.

Mozilla is dead, or it might as well be. No matter how many people are exhausting themselves by pounding on the corpse's chest, the best thing the population of the Net can do both for the good of the Mozilla Project and for themselves is strip what they can from the body, say a fond farewell and get on with their lives.

Things weren't supposed to end this way. When Netscape played their Hail Mary and released the Navigator source code to the public, it heralded a new beginning for the Web. An open source browser was going to in order of difficulty save the world, resurrect the dead and beat back the Microsoft juggernaut. Alas, the great, green hope instead ran headlong into nearly every obstacle a software project can face, often more than once, usually as a direct result of its own pig-headed stubbornness. Re-writes, feature bloat and a profound and unsettling misunderstanding of what the consumer market wants have all hobbled Mozilla, almost from the beginning.


Even the Project's most ardent supporters have to admit the possibility that their bouncing baby browser now more resembles a massive, festering cyst. Trapped in the womb for well over two years, the Mozilla Project has made a lot of noise, churned out a lot of code and has gone almost exactly nowhere. Late, fat and ugly, Mozilla is hopelessly moribund, deeply mired in its own filth, with no end in sight. A quick and painless euthanasia is the best option for all concerned.

As usual, the blame can be placed on the lack of responsible adult supervision. Told to create a utopia, the Mozilla Project's programmers have done almost exactly the opposite, letting their far-thinking vision overwhelm such tedious, day-to-day tasks as actually getting a usable one-point-oh product out the door. Oblivious to the fact that their market share was disappearing faster than donuts in the break room, the Mozilla Project programmers repeatedly abandoned real-world progress and accomplishments for and this is the technical term cool shit. With the sort of over-enthusiastic zeal that used to get missionaries attached to roasting spits, the Project couldn't satisfy itself with merely building a fast, efficient, standards-compliant browser. Instead, it set off on a quest to re-engineer the way Internet applications are built, to construct not just a program, but a "platform," a be-all, end-all, goes-ping monster. The Mozilla Project abandoned the idea of creating something as dull as a browser in favor of building a meta-application, an everything-to-everybody miracle.


Beware of geeks bearing gift economies. Cool, high-tech and nearly pointless features have beset Mozilla like metastasizing tumors. XUL, the Extensible User-Interface Language, gives any moderately competent programmer the ability to completely redesign the program's GUI. Why? Who cares? The mere fact that it sounds sort of neat justifies its existence, and gives it priority over shipping something usable to the ninety percent of the population that has no use for the feature. Does the world need another HTML editor? Chat and instant messaging? Oh, sure. Another news reader? Another mail client? Of course. Vector graphics? MathML? ColorSync? LDAP? Embedding? A cross-platform component manager? A cross-platform widget set? An XML parser? XSL transformations? Yes, yes, yes; more, more, more. Each and every one of these features has found its way into the mainstream of Mozilla development, without rhyme or reason, without a clearly defined market or an interest expressed by anybody without a computer science degree.

At the very least, the Mozilla Project has given the world a pretty good picture of what caffeine poisoning looks like. Only people who never sleep could possibly justify adding any of these toys to a mass-market consumer product before it ships its first version. Coding is fun and all, but come on. There's nothing magical in open source projects that prevent them from becoming feature-bloated boondogles - in fact, absent normal market pressures, it's more likely. It's time, Mozilla: Ship or get off the pot.

The tragedy is that it's all been done before, too those who don't remember history are doomed to re-implement it. The Mozilla Project is reproducing, almost one-for-one, all the strategic mistakes Netscape made three or four years ago when Navigator exploded from a simple, boring, functional browser into a platform of its own. The plan was to take over the world then, too, making whichever desktop environment the user chose to run irrelevant in the face of the feature-bloated "Netscape OS." And, boy, remember how well that worked out.


And so: End it. Pull the plug. It's time to abandon Mozilla, to let it go in peace. The parts that work nearly everybody agrees that the Gecko layout engine is wonderful; the project management tools are nice should be harvested for use by the living, and the rest tied up in a biohazard bag and burned. It's a little sad, yes, but it's also the only reasonable option left.

The rotting smell has gotten too strong to ignore.

courtesy of Greg Knauss
pictures Terry Colon

Greg Knauss