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Christopher Arnold: The Momentum of Openness - My Journey From Netscape User to Mozillian Contributor

Filed under
Moz/FF
Web

Working at Mozilla has been a very educational experience over the past eight years. I have had the chance to work side-by-side with many engineers at a large non-profit whose business and ethics are guided by a broad vision to protect the health of the web ecosystem. How did I go from being on the front of a computer screen in 1995 to being behind the workings of the web now? Below is my story of how my path wended from being a Netscape user to working at Mozilla, the heir to the Netscape legacy. It's amazing to think that a product I used 25 years ago ended up altering the course of my life so dramatically thereafter. But the world and the web was much different back then. And it was the course of thousands of people with similar stories, coming together for a cause they believed in.

The Winding Way West

Like many people my age, I followed the emergence of the World Wide Web in the 1990’s with great fascination. My father was an engineer at International Business Machines when the Personal Computer movement was just getting started. His advice to me during college was to focus on the things you don't know or understand rather than the wagon-wheel ruts of the well trodden path. He suggested I study many things, not just the things I felt most comfortable pursuing. He said, "You go to college so that you have interesting things to think about when you're waiting at the bus stop." He never made an effort to steer me in the direction of engineering. In 1989 he bought me a Macintosh personal computer and said, "Pay attention to this hypertext trend. Networked documents is becoming an important new innovation." This was long before the World Wide Web became popular in the societal zeitgeist. His advice was prophetic for me.

[...]

The Mozilla Project grew inside AOL for a long while beside the AOL browser and Netscape browsers. But at some point the executive team believed that this needed to be streamlined. Mitchell Baker, an AOL attorney, Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, and an influential venture capitalist named Mitch Kapoor came up with a suggestion that the Mozilla Project should be spun out of AOL. Doing this would allow all of the enterprises who had interest in working in open source versions of the project to foster the effort while Netscape/AOL product team could continue to rely on any code innovations for their own software within the corporation.

A Mozilla in the wild would need resources if it were to survive. First, it would need to have all the patents that were in the Netscape portfolio to avoid hostile legal challenges from outside. Second, there would need to be a cash injection to keep the lights on as Mozilla tried to come up with the basis for its business operations. Third, it would need protection from take-over bids that might come from AOL competitors. To achieve this, they decided Mozilla should be a non-profit foundation with the patent grants and trademark grants from AOL. Engineers who wanted to continue to foster AOL/Netscape vision of an open web browser specifically for the developer ecosystem could transfer to working for Mozilla.

Mozilla left Netscape's crowdsourced web index (called DMOZ or open directory) with AOL. DMOZ went on to be the seed for the PageRank index of Google when Google decided to split out from powering the Yahoo search engine and seek its own independent course. It's interesting to note that AOL played a major role in helping Google become an independent success as well, which is well documented in the book The Search by John Battelle.

Once the Mozilla Foundation was established (along with a $2 Million grant from AOL) they sought donations from other corporations who were to become dependent on the project. The team split out Netscape Communicator's email component as the Thunderbird email application as a stand-alone open source product and the Phoenix browser was released to the public as "Firefox" because of a trademark issue with another US company on usage of the term "Phoenix" in association with software.

Google had by this time broken off from its dependence on Yahoo as a source of web traffic for its nascent advertising business. They offered to pay Mozilla Foundation for search traffic that they could route to their search engine traffic to Google preferentially over Yahoo or the other search engines of the day. Taking "revenue share" from advertising was not something that the non-profit Mozilla Foundation was particularly well set up to do. So they needed to structure a corporation that could ingest these revenues and re-invest them into a conventional software business that could operate under the contractual structures of partnerships with other public companies. The Mozilla Corporation could function much like any typical California company with business partnerships without requiring its partners to structure their payments as grants to a non-profit.

[...]

Working in the open was part of the original strategy AOL had when they open sourced Netscape. If they could get other companies to build together with them, the collaborative work of contributors outside the AOL payroll could contribute to the direct benefit of the browser team inside AOL. Bugzilla was structured as a hierarchy of nodes, where a node owner could prioritize external contributions to the code base and commit them to be included in the derivative build which would be scheduled to be released as a new update package ever few months.

Module Owners, as they were called, would evaluate candidate fixes or new features against their own list of items to triage in terms of product feature requests or complaints from their own team. The main team that shipped each version was called Release Engineering. They cared less about the individual features being worked on than the overall function of the broader software package. So they would bundle up a version of the then-current software that they would call a Nightly build, as there were builds being assembled each day as new bugs were upleveled and committed to the software tree. Release engineering would watch for conflicts between software patches and annotate them in Bugzilla so that the various module owners could look for conflicts that their code commits were causing in other portions of the code base.

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WordPress 5.5 “Eckstine”

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Web

Here it is! Named “Eckstine” in honor of Billy Eckstine, this latest and greatest version of WordPress is available for download or update in your dashboard.

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Beaker Browser – A P2P Browser for Web Hackers.

Filed under
OSS
Web

Beaker is a free and open-source web browser built to enable users to publish websites and web apps themselves directly from the browser without having to set up a separate web server or hosting their content with a 3rd party.

To quote one of the project devs, it has been built to “to give users more control over the Web”. We’ve covered several projects based on similar technology (e.g. PeerTube) but this one has a little more icing on the cake.

[...]

The Dat protocol is favoured over HTTP for Beaker for 5 main reasons. It can sync archives from multiple sources; the URLs remain the same even when the archives can change hosts. All updates have checksums; changes are written to an append-only version log, and any archive can be hosted on any device. Although it uses Dat by default, Beaker supports connecting to traditional servers with HTTP so you can equally visit typical websites.

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Chromium/Chrome and GNU/Linux on Chromebooks

Filed under
Google
Web

           

  • After a decade of Chromebooks, it’s time for Chrome OS to sort apps in the Launcher

    I can’t believe it’s 2020 and I’m saying this, but you still cannot sort applications of any kind on a Chromebook.

    When a new app is installed, the app shortcut simply gets added to the next available space in the Chrome OS Launcher and when that space is full, a new Launcher page is created with the next app shortcut appearing.

    [...]

    What has made this situation markedly worse over the past few years is the addition of both Android and Linux apps. At least for the latter, any Linux app installs made through Chrome OS get grouped in a folder called Linux Apps. That doesn’t happen with Progressive Web Apps or Android software.

    You can create your own app folders and manage apps yourself if you want, so that’s something. But one of the things I like about Chrome OS is that the operating system doesn’t get in your way. Meaning: it lets you focus on doing things, not managing things.

    So even a basic sort feature by type of app (Android, Chrome OS, Linux, and PWA) would a start. Alphabetical app sorting would be a nice option too.

  •        

  • 5 must-have terminal commands for Linux on your Chromebook

    We’ve spent a lot of time over the past week exploring what is possible on Chrome OS. Thanks to some updates to the Linux container, we’ve installed Windows 10 and a variety of Linux flavors. I love tinkering with Chrome OS to see how far I can push the maturing ecosystem but today, we’re going to focus on what the Linux container is currently designed to do. That, of course, it to run the Debian framework and allow users to install compatible Linux applications on Chrome OS. Doing so doesn’t require you to be a Linux guru and thank goodness for that. I’m still learning as I go but mastering the Chrome OS Linux terminal doesn’t have to be a terrifying or even daunting.

  • 11 Best Web Development Extensions for Chrome

    When developing a website, you have to make a checklist of many complex requirements. Whether dealing with color or font schemes, CSS layout problems, or website responsiveness on various devices, it is important to stay on top of any emerging issues. The following are some of the best web development extensions for Google Chrome (and other Chromium-based browsers).

Epiphany History Selection Mode

Filed under
GNOME
Web

Since my last blog post I have been working on implementing a selection mode for Epiphany’s History Dialog. The selection mode is a pretty common pattern seen throughout GNOME applications. It’s used to easily manipulate a set of selected items from a list or grid. I’ve used the selection mode from GNOME Boxes as a reference when implementing it in Epiphany.

[...]

Activating the selection mode reveals the action bar at the bottom which can be used to delete the selected items from history or open them in new tabs in the main browser window.

Another new change is the addition of the Copy URL button located to the right of each history row. The button is used to copy the item’s URL to clipboard. This change is not directly related to the selection mode, but it was added in order to remove the right-click popover menu which was previously used to open history items in new tabs and copy URLs to clipboard.

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Mozilla Thunderbird 78.1 Released with Full OpenPGP Support, Search in Preferences Tab

Filed under
Moz/FF
Web

Mozilla Thunderbird 78.1 is now rolling out today to all supported platforms as the first point release to the latest major Mozilla Thunderbird 78 release with a bunch of exciting new features.

As you know, Mozilla Thunderbird 78 arrived two weeks ago with many exciting changes, including OpenPGP support, new minimum runtime requirements for Linux systems, DM support for Matrix, a new, centralized Account Hub, Lightning integration, and support for the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 operating system series.

Probably the most exciting new feature in Mozilla Thunderbird 78 is support for the OpenPGP open standard of PGP encryption, which lets users send encrypted emails without relying on a third-party add-on. However, OpenPGP support wasn’t feature complete in the Thunderbird 78 release and it was disable by default.

With the Thunderbird 78.1 point release, Mozilla says that OpenPGP support is now feature complete, including the new Key Wizard, the ability to search online for OpenPGP keys, and many other goodies. But it’s still disable by default to allow more time for testing, so you need to enable it manually to take full advantage of the new Thunderbird release.

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Chrome and Firefox: Chrome 85 Beta, #StopHateForProfit in FB, Firefox 79 Credits and MDN Web Docs

Filed under
Google
Moz/FF
Web

  • Chrome 85: Upload Streaming, Human Interface Devices, Custom Properties with Inheritance and More

    Unless otherwise noted, changes described below apply to the newest Chrome beta channel release for Android, Chrome OS, Linux, macOS, and Windows. Learn more about the features listed here through the provided links or from the list on ChromeStatus.com. Chrome 85 is beta as of July 23, 2020.

  • Chrome 85 Beta Brings WebHID API For Better Gamepad Support, AVIF Image Decode

    Following the recent Chrome 84 stable release, Google has now promoted Chrome 85 to beta as their latest feature update to this cross-platform web browser.

    Chrome 85 Beta brings initial fetch upload streaming capabilities, the WebHID API is taking shape to improve gamepad support within web browsers, a declarative shadow DOM API is now available as an origin trial, and auto-upgrading of images served over HTTP from HTTPS sites.

  • Use your voice to #StopHateForProfit

    Facebook is still a place where it’s too easy to find hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and calls to violence.

    Today, we are standing alongside our partners in the #StopHateForProfit coalition and joining the global day of action to tell Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Enough is Enough.

  • Firefox 79 new contributors

    With the release of Firefox 79, we are pleased to welcome the 21 developers who contributed their first code change to Firefox in this release, 18 of whom were brand new volunteers!

  • MDN Web Docs: 15 years young

    On July 23, MDN Web Docs turned 15 years old. From humble beginnings, rising out of the ashes of Netscape DevEdge, MDN has grown to be one of the best-respected web platform documentation sites out there. Our popularity is growing, and new content and features arrive just about every day.

    When we turned 10, we had a similar celebration, talking about MDN Web Docs’ origins, history, and what we’d achieved up until then. Refer to MDN at ten if you want to go further back!

    In the last five years, we’ve broken much more ground. These days, we can boast roughly 15 million views per month, a comprehensive browser compatibility database, an active beginner’s learning community, editable interactive examples, and many other exciting features that didn’t exist in 2015. An anniversary to be proud of!

Web/WWW: WordPress and Mozilla

Filed under
Moz/FF
Web

  • Safely reviving shared memory (Mozilla Hacks)

    The Mozilla Hacks blog covers some recent Firefox changes that will allow code from web sites to use shared memory and high-resolution timers in a (hopefully) safe manner.

  • Hacks.Mozilla.Org: Safely reviving shared memory

    At Mozilla, we want the web to be capable of running high-performance applications so that users and content authors can choose the safety, agency, and openness of the web platform. One essential low-level building block for many high-performance applications is shared-memory multi-threading. That’s why it was so exciting to deliver shared memory to JavaScript and WebAssembly in 2016. This provided extremely fast communication between threads.

    However, we also want the web to be secure from attackers. Keeping users safe is paramount, which is why shared memory and high-resolution timers were effectively disabled at the start of 2018, in light of Spectre. Unfortunately, Spectre-attacks are made significantly more effective with high-resolution timers. And such timers can be created with shared memory. (This is accomplished by having one thread increment a shared memory location in a tight loop that another thread can sample as a nanosecond-resolution timer.)

  • Extension Spotlight: SponsorBlock for YouTube

    Have you ever been engrossed in music or a great video when YouTube suddenly interrupts your experience to inject an ad? It’s jarring and ruins the mood of any moment.

    [...]

    A new SponsorBlock feature offers the ability to skip different types of unwanted sections like intros, outros, and those incessant pleas to subscribe to the channel. Ajay says future plans involve developing distinct section categories that will allow users to submit labels for different parts of the video, in case you want to skip forward or back to certain spots.

    The SponsorBlock extension for Firefox is one of the more original content blockers we’ve seen developed in some time. It’s a perfect example of the creative problem-solving potential of browser extensions. So give SponsorBlock a spin and enjoy fewer interruptions while you let loose for your solo living room dance party set to YouTube music.

  • WordPress 5.5 Beta 3

    This software is still in development,so it’s not recommended to run this version on a production site. Consider setting up a test site to play with the new version.

    [...]

    WordPress 5.5 is slated for release on August 11th, 2020, and we need your help to get there!

    Thank you to all of the contributors who tested the beta 2 development release and gave feedback. Testing for bugs is a critical part of polishing every release and a great way to contribute to WordPress.

    [...]

    WordPress 5.5 has lots of refinements to polish the developer experience. To keep up, subscribe to the Make WordPress Core blog and pay special attention to the developers’ notes for updates on those and other changes that could affect your products.

Project V: Open-source Tools to Build your Own Private Network

Filed under
OSS
Security
Web

If you are interesting to build your own internet-ready privacy network, You are in luck with this open-source project (Project V).

But wait, Why would any one would be interested to go through all of the troubles to build his own configured structure instead of choosing a service from the free dozens up-there?

For many the thrill of learning and see how it works, for others they like to be in-control of their own tools.

Project V is a multi-platform production-ready set of tools to build privacy-ready networks. It's core called V2Ray; a tool that manages network protocols and communications.

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Love RSS? Check out NewsFlash Feed Reader for Linux Desktops

Filed under
Software
Web

I rely on desktop feed reader apps to keep tabs on the multitude of projects, repos, blogs, and developer postings needed to feed this site (and thus you) with fresh content regularly.

Overall I prefer the simplicity of Feeds (formerly GNOME Feeds, sometimes referred to as gFeeds) to NewsFlash. While the former isn’t as featured as the latter it feels leaner in use, renders posts cleaner, and yields to convention more.

But if NewsFlash ever adds Feedly support though, I’d adopt it in a heart beat!

One small note: this app uses its own built-in scraper to ‘fetch’ blog posts so that you can read them in-app, without needing to use a browser. This is convenient but be aware that when reading our site you won’t be able to see in-article ‘elements’ such as info boxes, review boxes, image comparisons, image galleries, in-post callouts, themed Flatpak, Snap and other buttons, one-line article summaries, or pull quotes.

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