Handling Mozilla

If you read blogs heavily, you’ve probably seen some alarming talk come out of some (but not all!) Mozilla staffers… yesterday Slashdot picked up a blogpost with quotes about “subverting the web” and such, and that “most downloaded software” campaign still rankles. There’s some needlessly confrontational speech coming out of sections of Mozilla.

Is there an official Adobe position on this? Not that I’ve been able to determine… I’ve asked many leaders here within Adobe, and the best advice I’ve received has been “don’t roll around the muck with that, we’d rather stand up for what we believe in”.

I’m concerned because of the risk that people friendly to Adobe might respond in kind, and actually bring about a real opposition where none needs to exist.

Here’s my best understanding of the important stuff:

  • Adobe is committed to increasing digital enfranchisement, worldwide, regardless of economic status, language, culture, or position in life. The people I work with strive to provide universal publishing capability for text, media or applications. That’s the key driving factor among the people I see here, day in and day out. Adobe’s goal is to make it easier for others to speak.
  • Adobe needs to work with partners to achieve this. While one product group within Adobe may see competition in some other company’s products, at the platform level those small differences iron out. We need to work within the current digital ecology, and keep friendly relations with everyone who contributes to that ecology. Even if another group is difficult, we still want to work with them, to realize the larger longterm good.
  • Antagonistic behavior tends to get corrected eventually. There’s a very tricky question about our individual responsibility for the antisocial behavior of others, but longterm, acting-out tends to bring about its own punishment. (That’s philosophical, but a concrete example is a cardriver who stops in the middle of an intersection, ambiguously… a blast of a car horn might provide some short-term feedback, but over time someone else’s roadrage, or a police citation, will provide a better longterm solution.) Bottom line is that we as individuals don’t necessarily need to correct all bad behavior in others.

So, if you’re perturbed by some of the things you hear, there’s two things I’d ask you to do:

  1. Evaluate what they’re saying yourself… there’s always something to learn from. Don’t take it at face value, but don’t dismiss it either. If they can make a case, please do listen to it and try to understand it. (This is easier when they make their case clearly, completely yet concisely, of course. 😉
  2. Follow your own understanding. With weblogs it’s easy to get pulled offcourse into trivia, into reactionary stances. Think of what you’d like to accomplish, how you might be able to accomplish it. Go for the important stuff, and don’t get dragged down into the daily soap-opera. Do what’s important.

Why might some of the Mozilla staffers speak so antagonistically? I suspect a lot of it is to unify their base… we’ve already seen many examples where the Mozilla community rises up against Mozilla staff (Thunderbird issue, Google and privacy, XUL continuance, etc). Pointing to an enemy “out there” is an age-old unification method. Dysfunctional, true, but there’s historical precedent for diverting internal opposition this way. That’s just supposition on my part, though.

Debating these issues is hard, because so many in these discussions don’t seem to recognize their own use of mental shortcuts and labels. Attempts to define “The Open Web” have had about as much success as those for “Web 2.0”. The semantic use of assertion, multi-valued labels, and lengthy text all obscure resolution.

(By the way, I’d like to thank Mozilla staffers Gervase Markham and Robert O’Callahan for holding open dialog in the comment sections of their weblogs… it’s okay if we disagree, just so long as we can continue talking with each other. Many within Mozilla do hold open dialog, and I respect that greatly.)

Summary: The guidance I’m getting within Adobe is to let intemperate speech burn itself out. Adobe’s overall goal is to work with Mozilla, to accomplish larger goods. Don’t let little things get in the way… don’t let such a stance become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’ve got big things yet to attain.

(Disclaimer: The above is my own personal understanding, not an official company document or group statement. I did ask my cube-neighbor Rachel Luxemburg to read it over, and she noted some text which might have been pulled out of context elsewhere, but the above is just my own point of view.)

One Response to Handling Mozilla

  1. Kevin N. says:

    I think the bottom line, and the reason for much of the flames you guys get over the Flash Player, is the fact that it is now a full fledged development (and distribution) platform, for others to develop applications on. It’s mostly on (popular) software platforms where companies get a lot of negativity for keeping things closed and proprietary (you guys are more open than many, but not enough, in the opinions of many, including me).
    What I’d like to see is a real public conversation between Adobe personnel, and the open source community(ies), where the advantages and disadvantages of keeping your code closed or open is discussed thoroughly. Why does Adobe resist opening the source of the Flash Platform?
    [jd sez: Business decisions are up to each party… I don’t have leverage to force all execs to include all external parties in all of their decisions, just as each person out there doesn’t have to listen to me and explain to me their own decisions. But if something concise and persuasive does get said, it usually reaches all parties concerned.]
    It seems that when a company has built a platform that it would like others to build on top of, those others should have the security to know how sturdy it is – and to honestly have the flexibility to leave if they do find themselves in an unfortunate disagreement with the platform producer. Open source provides that freedom and security.
    I personally think that the personnel at Adobe has demonstrated the kind of industry leadership, and community support that would pair perfectly with an open source platform. I frankly can’t see any significant reason for Adobe to keep the Flash platform closed (other than possible technical/legal/licensing issues – which I’d love to read about).
    [jd sez: One of the first things I do in such conversations is to confirm what the speaker means by “Flash Platform”, what specifically they seek by “opening” it… goalposts tend to move around a lot.]