Happy Birthday, Mozilla!

17 years ago today, the code shipped, and the Mozilla project was born. I’ve been involved for over 15 of those years, and it’s been a fantastic ride. With Firefox OS taking off, and freedom coming to the mobile space (compare: when the original code shipped, the hottest new thing you could download to your phone was a ringtone), I can’t wait to see where we go next.

R.I.P. api-dev.bugzilla.mozilla.org

Complaining about bugzilla.mozilla.org (BMO) is a Mozilla project activity as old as the hills. Back in 2009, it was realised by the Foundation that to make everyone happy was (and still is) an impossible task, and I was given a mandate to “help people solve their own problems”. So around September 2009, I released the first version of my Bugzilla API proxy software, BzAPI. This software presented a clean, well-documented RESTful interface on the front end, and did all sorts of things on the back end (XML, CSV, RPC, HTML scraping) that developers no longer had to worry about. We made a dev server VM for it so people could try it out – api-dev.bugzilla.mozilla.org.

It was popular. Extremely popular. People started building things, and then more things, all of which depended on this server for Bugzilla data. For various reasons, IT never got around to building a production instance, and so over the last five years, I’ve been maintaining this core piece of Mozilla project infrastructure, which was depended on by TBPL and many, many other tools which interfaced with Bugzilla. At its peak, it serviced 400,000 requests per day.

Over the intervening years, BMO itself acquired a REST API which slowly became more capable, and then a BzAPI-compatible API shim was implemented on top of it by the excellent dkl, so people could change their code to access BMO directly just by updating the endpoint URL. After a few false starts, requests to api-dev.bugzilla.mozilla.org are now served directly by BMO, via that shim code. Earlier today, the api-dev VM was finally powered down.

Here’s to you, api-dev. Good job.

Signed Committer’s Agreements No Longer Required

For a long time, Mozilla has required people gaining commit access to our core repos to sign a Committer’s Agreement. This is not a copyright assignment or a transfer of rights; it’s basically a commitment to good behaviour, and to making sure code which gets into the tree is allowed to be there and is correctly licensed.

However, the logistics of printing it out, signing it, scanning/photographing it back in etc. were always a barrier to participation. In consultation with our legal team, we have decided that people simply assenting to the document is just as good so, as of now, people are no longer required to go through the process of signing it.

However, all people with commit access to any Mozilla repository are still expected to abide by it :-) We may be adding CONTRIBUTING files referencing the document to our Github repos to make this point more clear.

The Zeroth Human Freedom

We who lived in concentration camps can remember those who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a person but the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude to any set of circumstances – to choose our own way.

This quote is from From Death-Camp to Existentialism (a.k.a. Man’s Search for Meaning) by Victor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian Jew who spent four years in concentration camps, and afterwards wrote a book about his experiences which has sold over 10 million copies. This quote was part of a sermon yesterday (on contentment) but I share it here because it’s very powerful, and I think it’s also very relevant to how communities live together – with Mozilla being a case in point.

Choosing one’s attitude to a set of circumstances – of which “someone has written something I disagree with and I have become aware of it” is but a small example – is an ability we all have. If someone even in the unimaginable horror of a concentration camp can still retain it, we should all be able to exercise it too. We can choose to react with equanimity… or not. We can choose to be offended and outraged and angry… or not. To say that we cannot do this is to say that we have lost the most basic of human freedoms. No. We are all more than the sum of our circumstances.

Using Instantbird to Connect to IRC Servers Requiring a Username and Password

[Update 2014-01-16: A point of clarification. There are two possible ways to send a password for IRC. One is supported in the Instantbird UI – it’s the one that automatically identifies your nick with NickServ, the bot which makes sure people don’t steal other people’s nicks. The other, which is rarer but which I needed, involves sending a password to connect at all, using the PASS command in the IRC protocol. That is what is documented here.]

I was trying to do this; turns out it currently requires about:config manipulation and is not documented anywhere I can find.

Using about:config (type /about config in a message window, or access via Preferences), set the following prefs:


to the obvious values. Other useful tip: if the IRC server uses a self-signed cert, connect to it on the right port using Firefox and HTTPS, and you can save the cert out of the warning/exception dialog you get. You can then import it into Instantbird using the deeply-buried Certificate section of the Advanced Preferences and it will trust the cert and connect. (I think this is what I did, although memory is hazy.)

slic 1.0.0 Released

I’ve just released version 1.0 of some new software called slic, which I’ve been using to do license analysis on Firefox OS. From the README:

This is slic, the Speedy LIcense Checker. It scans a codebase and identifies the license of each file. It can also optionally extract the license text and a list of copyright holders – this is very useful for meeting the obligations of licenses which require reproduction of license text. It outputs data in a JSON structure (by default) which can then be further processed by other tools.

It runs at about 120 files per second on a single core of a 3GHz Intel I7 (it’s CPU-bound, at least on a machine with an SSD). So you can do 100,000 files in less than 15 minutes. Parallel invocation is left as an exercise for the reader, but could easily be bolted on the side by dividing up the inputs.

The code is Python, and it uses a multi-stage regexp-based classifier, so that with families of licenses it starts with a more generic classification and then refines it via checking various sub-possibilities. Future potential enhancements include a hash-based cache to avoid doing the same work more than once, and integration with a popular online spreadsheet tool to help manage exceptions and manual license determinations.

Global Posting Privileges on the Mozilla Discussion Forums

Have you ever tried to post a message to a Mozilla discussion forum, particularly one you haven’t posted to before, and received back a “your message is held in a queue for the moderator” message?

Turns out, if you are subscribed to at least one forum in its mailing list form, you get global posting privileges to all forums via all mechanisms (mail, news or Google Groups). If you aren’t so subscribed, you have to be whitelisted by the moderator on a per-forum basis.

If this sounds good, and you are looking for a nice low-traffic list to use to get this privilege, try mozilla.announce.

FirefoxOS 3 Ideas: Hack The Phone Call

People are brainstorming ideas for FirefoxOS 3, and how it can be more user-centred. Here’s one:

There should be ways for apps to transparently be hooked into the voice call creation and reception process. I want to use the standard dialer and address book that I’m used to (and not have to use replacements written by particular companies or services), and still e.g.:

  • My phone company can write a Firefox OS extension (like TU Go on O2) such that when I’m on Wifi, all calls transparently use that
  • SIP or WebRTC contacts appear in the standard contacts app, but when I press “Call”, it uses the right technology to reach them
  • Incoming calls can come over VoIP, the phone network or any other way and they all look the same when ringing
  • When I dial, I can configure rules such that calls to certain prefixes/countries/numbers transparently use a dial-through operator, or VoIP, or a particular SIM
  • If a person has 3 possible contact methods, it tries them in a defined order, or all simultaneously, or best quality first, or whatever I want

These functions don’t have to be there by default; what I’m arguing for is the necessary hooks so that apps can add them – an app from your carrier, an app from your SIP provider, an app from a dial-through provider, or just a generic app someone writes to define call routing rules. But the key point is, you don’t have to use a new dialer or address book to use these features – they can be UI-less (at least when not explicitly configuring them.)

In other words, I want to give control over the phone call back to the user. At the moment, doing SIP on Android requires a new app. TU Go requires a new app. There’s no way to say “for all international calls, when I’m in the UK, use this dial-through operator”. I don’t have a dual-SIM Android phone, so I’m not sure if it’s possible on Android to say “all calls to this person use SIM X” or “all calls to this network (defined by certain number prefixes) use SIM Y”. But anyway, all these things should be possible on FirefoxOS 3. They may not be popular with carriers, because they will all save the user money. But if we are being user-centric, we should do them.

Unanimity Is Not a Requirement

People sometimes wonder how to best involve all of the affected/important/relevant parts of the Mozilla community in a decision. The prospect of doing this can lead to a certain amount of fear – of criticism, bike-shedding, etc.

At the last All Hands in October 2013, at a session in Brussels, we produced a Best Practices document called “Productive Discussion” to help with exactly this problem. Given Mitchell’s keynote at the recent All Hands, I thought it was worth reflagging its existence.

An Invitation

Ben Smedberg boldly writes:

I’d like to invite my blog readers and Mozilla coworkers to Jesus Christ.

Making a religious invitation to coworkers and friends at Mozilla is difficult. We spend our time and build our deepest relationships in a setting of on email, video, and online chat, where off-topic discussions are typically out of place. I want to share my experience of Christ with those who may be interested, but I don’t want to offend or upset those who aren’t.

This year, however, presents me with a unique opportunity. Most Mozilla employees will be together for a shared planning week. If you will be there, please feel free to find me during our down time and ask me about my experience of Christ.

Amen to all of that. Online collaboration is great, but as Ben says, it’s hard to find opportunities to discuss things which are important outside of a Mozilla context. There are several Christians at Mozilla attending the work week in Portland (roc is another, for example) and any of us would be happy to talk.

I hope everyone has a great week!

Search Bugzilla with Yahoo!

The Bugzilla team is aware that there are currently 5 different methods of searching Bugzilla (as explained in yesterday’s presentation) – Instant Search, Simple Search, Advanced Search, Google Search and QuickSearch. It has been argued that this is too many, and that we should simplify the options available – perhaps building a search which is all three of Instant, Simple and Quick, instead of just one of them. Some Bugzilla developers have sympathy with that view.

I, however, having caught the mood of the times, feel that Mozilla is all about choice, and there is still not enough choice in Bugzilla search. Therefore, I have decided to add a sixth option for those who want it. As of today, December 1st, by installing this GreaseMonkey script, you can now search Bugzilla with Yahoo! Search. (To do this, obviously, you will need a copy of GreaseMonkey.) It looks like this:

In the future, I may create a Bugzilla extension which allows users to fill the fourth tab on the search page with the search engine of their choice, perhaps leveraging the OpenSearch standard. Then, you will be able to search Bugzilla using the search engine which provides the best experience in your locale.

Viva choice!

Bugzilla for Humans, II

In 2010, johnath did a very popular video introducing people to Bugzilla, called “Bugzilla for Humans“. While age has been kind to johnath, it has been less kind to his video, which now contains several screenshots and bits of dialogue which are out of date. And, being a video featuring a single presenter, it is somewhat difficult to “patch” it.

Enter Popcorn Maker, the Mozilla Foundation’s multimedia presentation creation tool. I have written a script for a replacement presentation, voiced it up, and used Popcorn Maker to put it together. It’s branded as being in the “Understanding Mozilla” series, as a sequel to “Understanding Mozilla: Communications” which I made last year.

So, I present “Understanding Mozilla: Bugzilla“, an 8.5 minute introduction to Bugzilla as we use it here in the Mozilla project:

Because it’s a Popcorn presentation, it can be remixed. So if the instructions ever change, or Bugzilla looks different, new screenshots can be patched in or erroneous sections removed. It’s not trivial to seamlessly patch my voiceover unless you get me to do it, but it’s still much more possible than patching a video. (In fact, the current version contains a voice patch.) It can also be localized – the script is available, and someone could translate it into another language, voice it up, and then remix the presentation and adjust the transitions accordingly.

Props go to the Popcorn team for making such a great tool, and the Developer Tools team for Responsive Design View and the Screenshot button, which makes it trivial to reel off a series of screenshots of a website in a particular custom size/shape format without any need for editing.

Rebel Alliance Ideas

Chris Beard has been encouraging us to think like the rebels; what can we do that other people won’t do? How can we make an impact?

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The internet, in global average, is getting less reliable, slower and more laggy. Finish Janus and persuade our mobile partners to deploy it and default to it. Your Firefox OS phone now accesses the net faster than an Android phone.
  • Make Firefox OS connect by default to openwireless.org access points, and encourage Firefox OS users to run them. There’s a virtuous circle here. More net in more places; a global movement of being generous with net access.
  • Finish Daala faster, by finding people other than the core team to do everything except design the codec and write the algorithms (e.g., testing, speed optimizations, fuzzing, writing Windows Media plugins). We need to get the word out that this project is critical.
  • Show the core free software community, who have great influence over tech choices and who should be our natural allies, that we care about them. Be the first organization ever to make a free-from-bottom-to-top mobile phone (running Firefox OS) and give some help to the Replicant team to port to it as well, just to prove we mean it and it’s real.
  • Make it possible to search for specifically open source software in the Marketplace, and show we believe it “promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource” by promoting apps which are open source.
  • Ship Collusion (which has been in the works for years), even if there’s not a perfect mapping between what it shows you and what’s actually bad. Make sites feel they have to justify all their 3rd party links.

What are your ideas?