Open source key to faster Firefox releases: Mozilla founder

Elizabeth Howell
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Mozilla's strategy of releasing versions of its popular Firefox browser more frequently rests on the back of open-source development, says Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice-president of technical strategy.

Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice-president of technical strategy. (Provided)

Mr. Shaver will speak at the fourth annual FOSSLC conference at the University of Ottawa on Saturday, held in partnership with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. This year's edition focuses on software development.

"(Open source) has been helpful for us as we accelerate our development," the Ottawa native says, pointing out features like translation are done by volunteers. Firefox 7 was just released in beta form this month; the seven-year-old browser also had versions 4, 5 and 6 released in 2011.

"For some of our contributors it's been challenging because they need to model on having to do work at a different pace. We're having lots of conversations (with developers) about how to make the process faster and easier, and how to give them some predictability about releases."

Firefox remains the second-most-used browser on the web behind Internet Explorer, according to multiple web counters, but is facing competition from Google Chrome's growing popularity, which also comes on the back of open source.

On Mozilla's side, businesses have been concerned that the rapid pace of releases would make it difficult to support the browser long-term. In response, Mr. Shaver said, the company has formed an enterprise support group to address those concerns.

Discussions are ongoing, but he jokes the compromise "will be something everyone is unhappy about."

Mr. Shaver first got into open source while still living in Ottawa, using Linux before it even hit version 1.0.

Before co-founding Mozilla in 1998, he worked at the former Ingenia Communications Corp. in the 1990s.

The Ottawa-based company, incubated at Carleton University, provided technology support for the federal government and private and public-sector organizations. Ingenia was later bought out after running into financial difficulties.

To refresh his memory about Ingenia during the interview, Mr. Shaver quickly consulted open-source Wikipedia.

"That page is actually pretty accurate," he said with a laugh. "I wish I had read this before I got there."

Mr. Shaver will deliver the keynote address at the FOSSLC conference. FOSSLC, an open-source group, was founded in Ottawa in 2008 and on its website, says it regularly partners with other organizations to hold conferences in Canada, Europe and other locations.

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