Ask The Expert: Mozilla 1.0

Chris Blizzard
Systems Engineer/Stunt Double

Almost three years ago, we had the opportunity to fly with Chris Blizzard to the left coast of the United States. As we sat eating mixed nuts, drooling, completely entranced by the in-flight entertainment, Chris was busy punishing his laptop with an early version of Mozilla code. And this wasn't even his job for Red Hat. He was doing it [gasp] for fun!

Both Under the Brim and Chris have come a long way since then. Now he is a Systems Engineer/Stunt Double in the Operating System Desktop Group, working on Mozilla features and actually getting paid for it. We caught up with him recently to catch up on old times and learn more about the new 1.0 version of Mozilla that, in his own endearing brand of marketing-speak, "does in fact suck less."

Q:  Hello Mr. Blizzard... if that's your REAL name.
A:  It's the name my mother gave me. Although in actuality, it's "Blizzard as in Snowstorm" so that it doesn't get written down as "Bleezzerd", "Lizard", "Wizard" or even more infamous names.
Q:  Tell me, does this sound familiar? We quoth: "Sometimes I think that my life is not much more than a steady stream of patches, email, copies of The Economist and The Nation." Did you write that? And if so, how can you get through both The Economist AND The Nation?
A:  I wrote it. How do I read both of them? Two words: sleep deprivation. They are both so packed full of content, it's unbelievable. In my opinion, they are a couple of the only peridocals worth buying these days.
Q:  Enough small talk. A month ago, version 1.0 of Mozilla came out. This is a big deal. Tell us why.
A:  It's a big deal, yeah. Simply because it's the first release that we really think is ready for general consumption. Or, if you want to put it another way, it's the first release I would let my mom use. The 1.0 release will also be maintained. You will continue to see maintainance releases that include good bug fixes for another year or so. In the past, Mozilla has never had a release that was maintained. We would shove one out the door and move immediately on to the next release. For the 1.0 code, we're going to give it constant TLC, and you should see releases based on it for a good time into the future.
Q:  What are some of the most interesting features that you were able to sneak into this release?
A:  I hate to burst your bubble, but if you saw 0.9.9 or any of the other releases, you saw what will be in 1.0. There are some small features here and there, but the 1.0 release is really about stability than anything else.

There are one or two things that people have wanted for a really long time that have snuck into the 1.0 branch after 1.0 was released, like not loading images off the network in mail, and the ability to open a new tab remotely. The vast majority of things going into the 1.0 branch are bug fixes, though.

Q:  What didn't make it in this release that you'd hoped would?
A:  I would have liked to have seen PGP support for mail in Mozilla and support for a spellchecker, but they didn't happen in time.
Q:  Tell us a bit about the Mozilla project. How'd you get involved? Who's working on it now? Other than you, we mean.
A:  I have to admit that I didn't fall into the Mozilla project from space. It was a very deliberate act. For a long time Netscape was the only option for a web browser for Unix and it was only available in a binary format. If we wanted to have a decent desktop for Linux, which is very important to me personally, a web browser is possibly the most important component of it. When Netscape said that they were going to release the source for Netscape 4 I realized that it needed to succeed if Linux on the desktop was every going to be a reality.

So, I went out and paid for my copy of Motif for Linux and as soon as the source code was available, I was all over it like a bad habit. I really wanted to port it over to Gtk, since that was a free toolkit and if Motif was required to build it, it would reduce the number of people who would be willing to work on it. But first I had to teach myself X, Gtk, Motif and C++ since I didn't know anything about any of them. So I did. And then I started hacking.

Q:  What's been the hardest thing about working on this project?
A:  Imagine a four million line code base that is based on C++, uses threads, a hundred shared libraries, and is over a gigabyte in size when built and then point a debugger at it that was designed to debug GNU sed.
Q:  What do you think distinguishes Mozilla most from other web browsers out there?
A:  The fact that using Mozilla means you can still have a great web browser and not be tied to any one operating system. Windows doesn't float your boat? You can still browse the web and use another operating system. The same goes for Linux as well. We offer choice, plain and simple.
Q:  What do other browsers do better than Mozilla?
A:  IE is still a shade faster than we are and it's a good bit smaller, too. People like to make fun of IE, but it's actually a really good browser. The problem is that it is only available on Windows. Konquerer integrates better with the operating system that we do and is a better UI experience in that regard. But from what I've seen and heard it's no where near us in terms of standards support. Opera is out there too and it's fast and small, but it doesn't have the standards support that we do and it costs money.
Q:  Your last name is Blizzard, and, if we remember correctly, you are from upstate New York, and have also lived in Canada and Boston. Coincidence?
A:  Depends on who you ask. I really like the Northeast. We actually have seasons you can distinguish from each other. Plus, we have the population density to support communities where you can live without a car.
Q:  Tell us the story of how you started working for Red Hat. Leave out the boring parts.
A:  [ Turn the way back machine to 1999 ]

[blizzard] ok, my plane gets in at 6
[blizzard] how do I get from the airport to the red hat office?
[szechuan] I'll meet you at the plane
[blizzard] ok, how do I recognize you?
[szechuan] look for the tall guy with the blue hair
Q:  What are the next big challenges for the Mozilla project?
A:  Frankly, to get people to use it. We're hoping that a Netscape release based on it and having AOL backing the release will get it into more people's hands. Once it starts showing up in the logs of important web sites, people will start thinking of it when designing their web pages.
Q:  Now that you get paid to work on Mozilla, what do you do for fun?
A:  This is what I do for fun.
Q:  Thanks for your time. Congratulations on 1.0!
A:  You are quite welcome. Keep the bug reports coming!