I Am A User Too

A short break from the Producing OSS quotes to pick up a Quote of The Week from the excellent LWN:

We need t-shirts with “I am a user too!”

Frankly, and GNOME is by far not the only one suffering from this, a project like this SHOULD have “open source contributor” as one of their prime audiences (note that I say “contributor” not “developer”).

These contributors, like you and me, are the folks that will write bugreports in diff -u form. Heck we’re the folks that conquer your bugzilla and FILE the bug in the first place. We’re the folks that give you the translations you want. We’re the folks who very vocally tell you what is wrong (and sometimes we even tell you what is right) with your software. We’re the folks who advocate your software to our tech-noob friends. We’re the folks that look at your code sometimes, to find security issues and tell you nicely about it before we go public. We’re the folks who form the pool out of which you’re going to be fishing your next developer set. We are the 99%^Wone percent, I will grant you that. But we are the one percent you as project NEED to get better in the long term, we are the one percent that your project needs to survive.

Arjan van de Ven

Appearances Matter

[A]ppearances matter. Programmers, in particular, often don’t like to believe this. Their love of substance over form is almost a point of professional pride. It’s no accident that so many programmers exhibit an antipathy for marketing and public relations work, nor that professional graphic designers are often horrified at what programmers come up with on their own.

— Karl Fogel, Producing Open Source Software

Why Bother With Old Newsgroup Articles?

After Google bought Deja and turned it into Google Groups, they spent quite a lot of effort reconstructing old bits of Usenet, such that the archives now go back to 1981. When they announced this, I wondered why they’d go to such an effort. I thought that perhaps it was just that there were some Google engineers who were historians.

But now it’s clear that there’s another good reason – whether they thought of it originally or not. Prior art for patent lawsuits.

Bugzilla 700,000 Bug Sweepstake Results

Milestone bugzilla.mozilla.org bug 700,000 was filed on 2011-11-04 at 18:53 ZST by Justin Dolske. The title of the bug is “Buy Firefox developers some beer”, and it seems that this is exactly what he’s going to do. Read the bug for details of how to claim. He might end up a little less out of pocket if one of bugs 699997 to 699999 had ended up as bug 700000 – because they promised to buy Firefox developers some pie, cheese and bacon respectively. (Normally we at Bugzilla Sweepstake Central frown on funny business surrounding the filing of the key bug, but we will graciously overlook it in this case.)

The winner of the sweepstake to guess the date and time is Francesco Lodolo, who guessed 2011-11-05 15:14:00 – only 20 hours and 21 minutes out. Compared to last time’s difference of over 10 days, that’s pretty good! Also in contrast to last time, most entrants under-estimated; they thought it would take less long than it did to get here.

Francesco writes:

My name is Francesco Lodolo, nickname flod, and I started contributing to the Italian community at the beginning of 2004. Right now I’m in charge of the localization of Firefox (desktop and mobile), web contents and AMO in Italian.

Francesco wins a Firefox backpack. The two runners-up are Christopher De Cairos, who came in a very close second, being only 1d 9h 23m out, and Steven Bensky (3d 7h 8m out). They both win their choice of a t-shirt from the Mozilla store. Christopher writes:

My name is Christopher De Cairos. I live in Ontario, where I work for Seneca College’s Center for Development of Open Technology (CDOT). I got involved with Mozilla through taking Dave Humphrey’s open source development class, which introduced me to the concept of open source. After getting hired by CDOT I got involved in the development of Popcorn.js and Popcorn Maker.

Steven writes:

I call myself a “bookkeeper”. Good enough for the IRS, good enough for everyone else. Perhaps a bit more, perhaps a bit less. I work in the family construction business. I’m a Mozilla end user – SeaMonkey, in particular.

I’ve been using “mozilla” since the days of Netscape. After Netscape 4, the natural progression for me was Mozilla 0.x. Then from Mozilla 1.7 to SeaMonkey. And here I am.

Generally active at MozillaZine. Usually on ChatZilla in #seamonkey. Have filed a handful of bugs. Try to help out in resolving bugs where I can. (Not a coder, so can’t help in that respect.) Otherwise, I try to help out where I can, while learning at the same time.

Firefox Tablet Testing Idea

Do you have an Android tablet for testing Firefox Mobile, but never seem to get around to using it? If so, here’s a suggestion. Switch your feed reading to Google Reader or some other online aggregator (it imports OPML), and read your feeds on it each morning. As you follow interesting links, this will expose you to a variety of websites and you can file bugs as necessary. For bonus points, bookmark the bug filing page on the tablet and use it for bug filing too.

I’ve been doing that for the last week and have already filed six or seven bugs – including at least one encountered during the bug submission process!

Choosing Strong Passwords?

“Mozilla Firefox” on Facebook just did a post suggesting that people use this method to choose strong passwords. That’s a video Mozilla produced a little while ago, which suggests starting with the “take the first letter of a phrase you know” technique and adding a few more tweaks to it.

Now, no disrespect to Richard Milewski, who did that video, but I think that XKCD’s analysis of this kind of technique is very compelling. The passwords produced by the method we are promoting are not very memorable, because the algorithm has too many variables. Perhaps we should switch to suggesting the XKCD method? My ISP, Andrews & Arnold, apparently switched for all new accounts on the day that cartoon was published.

Firefox Mobile Map Experience

A Firefox Mobile video I saw a little while back has someone taking a trip in San Francisco, at one point passing a brightly-coloured wall of graffiti, and using Firefox Mobile for various things. Anyone know the one I mean and have a link? Anyway, that video gives a use-case for Firefox Mobile and Sync – if you’ve opened a Google map on your desktop, you can see a copy on the road. I was recently in that exact situation, and want to relate what the experience is like in practice. I’m not doing this to bash anyone, but to highlight a few places where perhaps we (or others!) need to improve before reality will be like the video. This is how it went in the video:

  • Start Firefox
  • Tap “Tabs from your other computers”
  • Find the tab’s entry and tap it
  • Instantly view map

This is how it went for me:

  • Start Firefox (on my Nexus One)
  • Wait 10 seconds for Firefox to load
  • Tap “Tabs from your other computers”
  • See nothing
  • Go to the preferences
  • Find that Sync is still connecting
  • Wait 30 seconds for Sync to connect and load the list
  • Find the tab’s entry and tap it
  • Wait for the page to load over slow 1.5G network which the phone has unaccountably decided to use instead of 3G
  • Find that it’s loaded Google Map’s mobile interface, not the desktop one, and that it has UI issues (perhaps it expects WebKit?)
  • Find that the location is wrong because the map I want was the second search I did on Google Maps, and when you do a new search from the in-page box Google Maps doesn’t update the URL, and Sync syncs URLs, not entire page state
  • Battle with UX problems to do a new search for the postcode I actually wanted (fortunately preserved in the page title, which Google Maps does update and which Sync does sync)
  • Wait for the map to load again
  • View map

In all, the process took about 3 minutes, by which time my wife was telling me to “put away the gadget and enjoy the sunshine”!

I’m not sure of the best way of solving some of these. Obviously, people are working on startup time, particularly with the new Java UI. Can we make Sync a background service on Android? Could we even preload tabs which were in the foreground on the desktop? Some of the other problems are down to Google Maps. I personally prefer OpenStreetMap but, despite UK postcode data being released quite a long time ago, its postcode search is still terribly imprecise. Still, hopefully this account will inspire someone :-)

Restricted Boot

If you think it should remain possible to install operating systems on general-purpose computers other than the one they came with, you might want to read about the FSF’s campaign to make sure manufacturers preserve this freedom when implementing the new “Secure Boot” feature, and then sign the statement about it.

We, the undersigned, urge all computer makers implementing UEFI’s so-called “Secure Boot” to do it in a way that allows free software operating systems to be installed. To respect user freedom and truly protect user security, manufacturers must either allow computer owners to disable the boot restrictions, or provide a sure-fire way for them to install and run a free software operating system of their choice. We commit that we will neither purchase nor recommend computers that strip users of this critical freedom, and we will actively urge people in our communities to avoid such jailed systems.

Bugzilla API 1.0 Released

I am proud to announce the release of version 1.0 of the Bugzilla REST API. BzAPI has been stable now for about six months, and so it seems like a good time to make a 1.0 release :-)

To give you some idea of how much it’s being used, in the week from 2nd to 9th October, there were 161,000 hits on the server – that’s an average of 23,000 requests for (or submissions of) bugzilla.mozilla.org data every day.

New In 1.0

  • Performance improvements for requests involving history
  • Bugzilla 4.2 branch and current trunk supported (as of the date of release)
  • You can now set values for custom fields when creating bugs
  • Increased length limits for URLs, up to 16k chars or your webserver’s limit, whichever is smaller

Compatibility Notes

  • In Bugzilla trunk and 4.2, the XML-RPC “comments” API has acquired an additional “count” field, which gives the number of the comment in order on the bug. The REST API’s “/comments” call does not include this field, because we can’t simulate it for older clients. However, this field may appear in other implementations of the REST API in the future, e.g. one which is built into Bugzilla itself.
  • Version 0.8 is now no longer available on the api-dev server.

File bugs | Feedback and discussion

Single Words In The URL Bar

What do we, and what should we do when people type single words in the URL bar?

ICANN is opening up the registration of new gTLDs (generic TLDs, like .com, .info, .museum etc.). Applications open in 2012, and they expect to create thousands of them over the next few years. In general, I think this is a good thing. It will make many more naming possibilities available, and drive down domain prices. However, there is one policy question we need to consider.

Let’s say I’m the large corporation FooBar Corp, and I apply for and receive the top-level domain .foobar, which I plan to use for websites connected to my company. The New gTLD Applicant Guidebook is 352 pages, so I haven’t read it all, but section 2.2.3.3 gives the permitted DNS record types for that entry in the root zone. It specifically allows SOA, NS, DS and DNSSEC-related records, and then says:

An applicant wishing to place any other record types into its TLD zone should describe in detail its proposal in the registry services section of the application. This will be evaluated and could result in an extended evaluation to determine whether the service would create a risk of a meaningful adverse impact on security or stability of the DNS.

So here’s the big question: could FooBar Corp set up an A record for “foobar”? And, if so, should web browsers take users to that site when “foobar” is typed in the URL bar?

I can see how companies would love it if users who typed e.g. “nike” into their URL bar automatically got taken to an official Nike website, instead of doing a search for “nike” using the user’s default search engine. But I’m not certain that this is what we actually want to happen, particularly for non-trademarks. Do we let someone spend $185,000 (the application fee) and buy all URL bar searches for the word “car”? Or “mortgage”? I think it’s at least questionable whether that is in the best interests of users.

Someone who knows: what exactly do we do now? I think we do a DNS lookup and, if it fails, do a search. So perhaps we would go to the A record for “foobar”. Is that what we want?

If we decide we should change Firefox’s behaviour, we would ideally do it before applications start, so applicants can’t claim they weren’t warned. So it’s important we discuss this now.

The Gospel According To Steve

Boriss helpfully quotes, from Steve Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford in 2005:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.

Except one man. Who taught that, in a world created by God, “following your own heart and intuition” – the secular gospel of self-fulfillment and turning your back on your Creator – is a path to slavery, and eventually eternal misery, disappointment, loneliness and regret.

Contrary to what Steve says, I want to go to heaven, and my death will probably be sooner rather than later and for the same reason, but I have no problem with dying. Death has no sting and the grave has no victory for those whose trust is in Jesus.

Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.

This was said by the man whose company made some of the most unhackable, locked-down, choices-made-for-you-by-other-people pieces of phone hardware the world has ever seen. If I bought an iPhone, I would have to “live with the results of other people’s thinking” in a myriad of different ways. Some or even most of their decisions might be good ones – but they would be their decisions, not mine.

When someone says “don’t be trapped by dogma”, they usually mean “don’t believe anyone’s dogma – except mine”. You also see this with the New Atheists such as Dawkins, who argue that “Christianity (or any other religion) shouldn’t be taught as truth in schools”, which is another way of saying that “I, and not the parents of a child, should decide what they are taught, and what they are taught will be atheism and/or pluralism”. In other words, don’t believe or teach anyone’s dogma – except mine. It is claimed that this position is ‘neutral’, but there is no such thing as neutrality.

Steve’s gospel doesn’t save and, like his products, it won’t set you free. Think different, and choose the alternative (and no, I don’t mean Android).

Kudos to Lenovo

The screen on my new Lenovo X220 laptop stopped showing a picture just before our holiday (my external screen still worked fine) and so I sent it off under warranty to Lenovo. They did such a good job on it that I’m moved to write a blog post in praise of them.

  • Everyone I talked to on the phone (after minimal holding time) was both helpful and well-informed about the situation
  • The workshop called me to get the model number to make sure they had the right replacement screen, even before the unit arrived with them
  • They fixed the screen (possible unseated cable)
  • They fixed the cracked screen bezel, even though it may not have been covered under warranty
  • When I rang up to ask how it was going, the lady went away, found out and called me back a few hours later to let me know
  • I told them I had a deadline due to a foreign trip, and despite it being faster than their guaranteed turn-around time, they got it back to me a day before the deadline, next-day delivery
  • They didn’t charge me a penny

I’ve been a Thinkpad user for about a decade now but this is the first one I’ve ever bought new. Based on this experience, I’ll be using their kit for some time yet. (And they run Linux very well.)

How To Be A Mozillian; How To Work In Community

That was the title of my session at the recent Mozilla All Hands. It’s an introduction for new Mozillians, particularly MoCo employees, as to how we do things at Mozilla, and why.

Thanks to our excellent video team, it was recorded and is now available as a WebM video. I should say that the recording was at my request, it happened without a lapel mic, and the relatively poor quality of the video should not be seen as a reflection on the standards or professionalism of our excellent videographers :-) Still, I hope it’s good enough to watch.

The talk outline is as follows:

Working as part of an open source community is very unlike working at a company. So how do you do both at once? How do you wear two hats, and what’s the relationship between the two? Or is it a matter of hats at all?

In this presentation you will learn:

  • Why Mozilla is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever worked
  • The skills you need to do your job well and efficiently in the open
  • When, how, how much and with whom to communicate
  • How to empower other community members
  • Techniques for dealing with trolls, time-wasters, the angry and the apathetic
  • How to reap the rewards of openness, get things done and retain your sanity
  • Why getting this right is vital to our success