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'Firefox Will Be Free Forever'
[Interview] OhmyNews citizen reporter Xu Zhiqiang interviews Firefox creator Blake Ross
Xu Zhiqiang (xuzhiqiang)     Print Article 
Published 2005-08-07 16:53 (KST)   
Xu Zhiqiang: What are your feelings about the success of Firefox?

Blake Ross
Blake Ross: People like Firefox because it just works. We designed Firefox to be invisible; we want you using the web, not the software. We've spent years refining it and streamlining it down to the pixel so that it works intuitively right out of the box.

We have a formidable competitor in Microsoft, but the emergence of the network has changed the rules. If you create a great product, it will spread through word-of-mouth and people will use it. If people aren't talking about your product, your product isn't worth talking about.

Firefox is more secure and faster than Microsoft's Internet Explorer now. But many people think it is because Firefox isn't the target for hackers and hasn't been under heavy fire by them. What do you think of this saying?

It seems ingrained in human nature that we want the successful to fail, but I've never talked to anyone who can support this argument with fact. It's irresponsible to suggest that if Firefox and Internet Explorer each served half of the market, they would suffer the same number of security flaws.

What about the fact that Internet Explorer is tightly integrated with the operating system that houses your data? What about the fact that Internet Explorer was rushed together during the browser wars--when security was an afterthought--while Firefox was built with security in mind.

Even though Firefox has been downloaded nearly 40 million times, and even though all of its code has been publicly available from the outset, security firms have found far fewer problems with Firefox than with Internet Explorer.

In any case, I think the more important concern is security response--the question of how much time elapses once vulnerability becomes public. After all, it doesn't matter if an application has 500 security flaws if the vendor patches all of them before a hacker can exploit them in the wild. And here, again, the statistics consistently show that security bugs in Firefox are patched much more quickly than they are in Internet Explorer.

Being an open source product, will the Firefox be free forever? How do you and Mozilla Foundation get revenue from Firefox and other free products?

Firefox will be free forever. The Mozilla Foundation is a non-profit organization, so its revenue goes toward improving its products. It makes money through the generous donations of satisfied users as well as more traditional corporate deals. Officials from the Foundation can comment further; I am not an employee.

IE7.0 will come to market and also Longhorn. Do you think Microsoft and other software giants are threats to open source products?

We created Firefox because we enjoy creating software that improves people's lives. That's what motivated us at forty thousand downloads, and that's what continues to motivate us at forty million. There will always be fierce competition in the software industry, but neither we nor our users can go wrong with this aspiration in mind.

You wrote in your Blog that "On the Stanford campus, every midnight of Dead Week, students at over 60 dorms across campus open their windows wide and bellow the loudest, most animalistic shriek they can muster. "Are you often on pressure when you operate Firefox at the same time to look after your curriculum? Have you ever bellowed like that?

I'm under a constant and unwavering pressure that consumes me, but it's self-imposed. I set impossibly high goals for myself because it feels incredible to reach them. And sure, I take a second to scream here or there--but then it's back to the goal at hand.

Can you show us the way you grew up? How did you acquire the extraordinary code talents?

The only way to learn how to code is to code. You can't learn it in school, and you can't learn it curled up in bed with a book. You have to be right in front of the computer, facing off with it, trying to figure out how it works and ultimately trying to outsmart it.

I think I must have spent about 85% of my childhood in my room, on the computer, just writing code until I couldn't see straight. But it's not the act of coding itself that drives me, much as I enjoy the challenge. It's the act of inventing. I love that I can make something out of nothing. I like creating things that inspire people. Right now, that's software. But in a few years, it's going to be writing novels and directing movies. Life's too short to spend all of it in one industry.

Can you illustrate your days working in Mozilla Foundation?

Here's the beauty of open source: I've only physically worked in the Mozilla Foundation offices for about 2 months. I also spent a few months working at Netscape (the progenitor of Mozilla) during high school. But other than that, the last five years of Mozilla work have been done when I want and where I want. No suits, no status reports--just a bunch of dedicated people coordinating online to make things happen.

Blake, now you are a college student in Stanford and just 20 years old. At the similar age, Bill Gates launched Microsoft and Michael Dell set up Dell. Do you have the idea to make your own start-up and will you become a next Bill or Michael? If the opportunity comes now, will you drop out your college study?

I launched my own software company three months ago with a former Firefox teammate, and I'm taking the quarter off from Stanford to help grow it. I can't say what we're working on just yet.

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What is your current web browser? Choose up to two.  (2005-08-08 ~ 2005-08-22)
Internet Explorer
Opera
Firefox
Netscape
Other
*This interview was conducted by email.
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Xu Zhiqiang

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