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Interview: Chris Hofmann

Chris Hofmann will give a talk about "The life of a Firefox feature" at FOSDEM 2011.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I've been around the Mozilla Project since its inception back in 1998, and was the first employee when we set up the Mozilla Foundation in 2003. Over that time I've managed a lot of releases, and helped to build the large community that now contributes to Firefox and all the Mozilla projects.

What will your talk be about, exactly?

I'll be talking about how ideas become features in Firefox and shipped to over 400 million people around the world, and about how the pace of innovation and feature development is starting to move much faster once again with increased competition in the browser market.

What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

Most of all I want to encourage people to get involved in sharing their ideas about how to make the browser better and participate in the work we are doing at Mozilla to try and make the web better.

What's the longest time span that a Firefox feature has needed from the first feature proposal to the implementation?

It varies quite a bit. Some features have moved from being an idea to implementation and shipped to users in a matter of weeks, while others have been on a long hard path of trying to figure out the right solution. An important feature in Firefox 4 is a change to the CSS :visited property which allowed queries into global history and sites to track your movements around the web. You can see in Mozilla bug 147777 that this problem has been known for quite a while, but figuring out how to properly address the problem without "breaking the web" has been a challege. David Baron of the Mozilla project has been thinking about a fix for this problem since 2002. He's come up with a solution that's now going into Firefox 4 and is being adopted by the other browser vendors.

As a Netscape employee before joining Mozilla, you contributed to every Netscape and Mozilla browser release since 1996. Looking back, what do you consider the most important aspect of the evolution of Firefox?

From the very beginning of the Mozilla Project we understood the value of continuing to build community, and increasing participation was going to be an important part of our success. When Netscape/AOL pulled funding and participation on the project in 2003 the project hardly skipped a beat. It's been the Mozilla Community that has a passion for trying to make the web better, and trying to have impact in the way that people use the web, that's been a key element to our success.

Which features can we expect after the release of Firefox 4?

Right now most contributors are heads down focused on trying to finish up Firefox 4, so there hasn't been a lot of work or discussion about what features we want to organize to tackle next. In the next few weeks I think we will start to see a transition to this kind of planning and more discussion about what the next versions will bring. There are a few things that we do understand. We need to ship releases on a faster pace, and as always we need to stay focused on the key elements that make a good browser including: finding ways to make the browser faster, more secure, more compatible with the web and web standards, and easier to use. There are still lots of improvements to be made in each of these areas.

Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

This will be my 3rd or 4th visit to FOSDEM. Its been a couple of years since I've attended due to schedule conflicts, but I know its always a great event from the Friday night Beer Event to the Sunday afternoon closing session. Its a great opportunity to hook up with old friends on the Mozilla Project, and see what's happening on other Projects. I'm looking forward to attending again.

Creative Commons License
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.