An Interview with Asa Dotzler (Mozilla)

By | June 13, 2008

Asa DotzlerIf you are into Mozilla’s products and/or interested in web browsers then Asa Dotzler name should be well known for you. However, if you are not familiar with him, here’s a short quote from Wikipedia:

He has been an active member of the Mozilla community since 1998. Dotzler joined the Mozilla organization, and has played a key role in delivering products including the release of Mozilla 1.0, Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail and usenet client.

And now, the interview

With the Firefox 3 release just around the corner I’ve decided to bother Asa Dotzler a bit and ask few questions about Firefox and other web browsers.

For a first question, let’s go back to the old times…

1. Why name it “fox”?

Originally, Firefox was called “m/b” a short-hand for the directory in the code repository where the first bits of it lived. Major code modules in Mozilla lived in the CVS repository under the mozilla/ directory. There was mozilla/xpfe where the old seamonkey browser front-end lived, mozilla/content where much of the rendering engine lived, mozilla/xptoolkit where widgets lived, etc. Firefox lived in mozilla/browser so the name was “m/b”, pronounced em-bee (or something like that.)

When we got ready for the first milestone release, we knew we needed some sort of real name for it so we decided on “Phoenix”, the mythical bird that rose from the ashes alive and renewed. It just seemed to sort of fit for those of us working on it.

Unfortunately, after a few milestone releases, we got an email from Phoenix Technologies, makers of the Phoenix BIOS (that bit of low-level stuff that you see before Windows starts up.). It turns out they had a browser for their BIOS and they didn’t like us using their name so we ended up renaming the browser to Firebird, a sort of derivative of “phoenix” that still fit with our theme of the flaming bird.

Unfortunately, again, this was already being used by a database company and they asked us to change. So, we finally settled on Firefox. I think the credit for that name goes to Jason Kersey, from He had been working with us a lot — especially on theme stuff, in the early days. We liked the name and we got some great artwork for the logo from Jon Hicks, Daniel Burka, and Stephen Desroches. When we saw the first drafts of the logo, we knew we had a great combination and an exciting and edgy but also very consumer friendly brand that would help us take the world by storm.

2. Are you 100% happy with the upcoming Firefox 3 release? Would you rather wait a bit more to integrate some features (as promised in Firefox 3.1 for example)?

I am more than 100% happy. I’m 300% happy with it. This is not just the best piece of software I’ve ever been involved with, I think it’s the best piece of software I’ve ever used. Firefox 3 is really, really solid. It’s got everything you need, with awesome speed and great new usability enhancements and innovations like the “AwesomeBar” that are going to revolutionize browsers the way we did when we introduced tabbed browsing to the world in Firefox 1.0

3. Is there any special feature which you’d like to see in Firefox 4?

I’m looking forward to features like what we’re working on with Mozilla Lab’s Weave and Prism. Being able to easily sync my Firefox data across machines and mobile devices as well as sharing with my friends and family through Weave-like features is going to be super cool. There are almost 200 million people using Firefox today and helping them move their Firefox experience between home and work, between desktop and laptop and mobile is going to be huge. Prism, the ability to create standalone desktop apps for my Ajax web apps like Google Reader and Zoho Office, is something I’m also really enthusiastic about. The single site browser idea in Prism is really taking off too. We introduced this quite a while back and now it seems that everyone’s looking at how they can add that kind of functionality to their browsers.

4. Do you use any other web browsers?

I do use the two other mainstream browsers, IE and Safari. I think it’s important to stay in touch with what’s working and what’s not working for the hundreds of millions of users that haven’t moved to Firefox yet. While I find more problems than benefits in the other mainstream browsers, I still force myself to browse with IE and Safari on a pretty regular basis.

5. What’s your favorite one besides Firefox and/or it’s based ones?

That’s difficult. I’m really not thrilled with either of them. I’d say that IE 7 is the least painful to use when I’m on Windows and Safari is the least painful on Mac.

6. Do you think that Google made a big impact in Firefox growth (Google referrals for example)?

They had some impact, that’s for sure. But I don’t think it’s as big as most people assume. Their referral program has helped Firefox but it’s absolutely tiny compared to the downloads we serve directly from Mozilla. We serve out 700,000 Firefox downloads (not including updates) every single day. In my view, what’s made the biggest impact on Firefox growth is the value of Firefox itself, not any of the partnering we’ve done.

7. What’s your opinion about “Firefox Users Tracking” idea?

I think a lot of people are rightly concerned about privacy — and Mozilla’s reputation for putting user privacy and security ahead of all other concerns is a solid one.

On the other hand, the big Web companies right now have all this data on users and that’s what gives them their strength in the market. The Web marketplace is in a big part a marketplace of user data buying and selling. That’s not a great thing at all, and Mozilla is looking at ways to disrupt that some, the way we disrupted the vendor lock-in with Firefox that was (before Firefox,) giving giant companies ownership of the Web itself.

If Mozilla can find a way to make data about how people use the Web freely available and in a very transparent way with utmost care given to personal information never being shared, and that can give the smaller players, both in and out of open source, a way to better compete with the Web giants, it could help forward Mozilla’s goals of promoting choice and innovation on the Internet. It could also help make the marketplace in user data less aggressive and less damaging to user privacy.

But it absolutely can’t and won’t be done if there’s no good way to do it without satisfying concerns about user privacy and security. Those always come first.

8. Many people are bashing Internet Explorer regarding web standards, performance, bugs and everything else. Is there anything about Internet Explorer what you like?

I like the direction the IE team has been taking IE with regards to standards support. They made a few good changes in IE 7 and they’ve promised a lot more in IE 8. If they follow through on that and help move the Web in the direction of more Web standards, that’s a good thing. Safari’s also doing good work in implementing existing and emerging Web standards. If all three of us keep at it, we can really move the Web forward. That’s the promise of standards in action.

9. You’ve almost 1 million pledges in “Download Day 2008” project so far. How many downloads do you expect within 24h period?

We just passed 1,000,000 pledges on Tuesday. I have no idea, honestly. I expect multiple millions of downloads but beyond that, I really don’t know. We’ve got a very enthusiastic community. I can’t wait to find out.

10. Is there anything what you would like to say for anyone who’s reading this interview?

The Web today is so much more than it was a decade ago when I got started with Mozilla. Today it’s an integral part of life for more than a billion people. It’s too important in too many ways to let it be steered by purely commercial concerns.

The world deserves a Web that’s about more than just making money — there’s educational, civic and cultural value, and much, much more that must be cared for and developed in ways that aren’t likely to come from big companies focused on making money and that’s what Mozilla’s here for.

We’re here to help make the Web a better place. Firefox is one of the best ways we can do that and I’d encourage anyone who supports our mission to join the Mozilla community, to create, use, and help spread Firefox.

Thank You for your time Asa Dotzler.

If you would like to know more about Asa, feel free to check his blog and/or Wikipedia


About (Author Profile)

Vygantas is a former web designer whose projects are used by companies such as AMD, NVIDIA and departed Westood Studios. Being passionate about software, Vygantas began his journalism career back in 2007 when he founded Having said that, he is also an adrenaline junkie who enjoys good books, fitness activities and Forex trading.

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  1. | June 14, 2008
  1. Mancho says:

    “…going to revolutionize browsers the way we did when we introduced tabbed browsing to the world in Firefox 1.0”

    Huh? The man is delusional.

  2. Kelson says:

    Let’s not forget that when Firefox 1.0 came out, most of the world had never seen tabbed browsing. This was a time when ~95% of web users were using Internet Explorer. They didn’t know Opera, they didn’t know Mozilla, they didn’t know Galeon, Epiphany, or even Maxthon (was it still called MyIE2 at the time?) And as they started trying out this Firefox thing, the one thing that kept showing up in positive reviews, over and over again, was tabbed browsing.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Firefox introduced most users to the concept.

  3. FF3 says:

    Great interview. I am really excited about Firefox 3 and Firefox 4

  4. Morbus says:

    Seriously? That’s like… WOW!
    Firefox didn’t introduce tabs, Opera did.

  5. Didn’t Opera have tabbed browsing before them?
    To be honest, I think Google is having a larger impact than he takes into account, as things such as gmail (the newest version) are made specifically for Firefox and IE7. Even though Opera is entirely compatible with the features, they refuse to let Opera users use them (sound familiar to you? It’s what MS is doing to non-IE users). Firefox and Google together are starting to feel…threatening, imo. They hold quite a lot of weight in the internet community.

  6. Michael Johnson says:

    I hate when people say “didn’t Opera do that first?” I mean, I’m an Opera user and have been since 3.0, and, yes Opera did do that first, 9 times out of 10. But I try to not be a fan-boy.

    But when it comes to Asa Dotzler, he seems to claim absolutely every Web innovation ever for Firefox. I’m exagerrating, of course. But the simple fact is, most of the “new” features in Fx3.0 (and 2 and 1) originated in Opera and to some extent Safari. A good chunk of the existing Fx extentions are inspired by Opera features. I especially like how he distances himself from such possible criticisms in this interview by saying he uses IE and Safari but doesn’t mention Opera. I don’t ever use it, how could I know?

    If you want innovation and standards compliance, use Opera. Or maybe Safari and other WebKit derivatives (the WebKit folks have been doing an awesome job). If you want something that works but is lagging, use Firefox. If you are a masochist, use IE.

    The one exception I make for this is with Firebug, which is a huge piece of awesomeness. I’m just glad Opera has come out with Dragonfly (though I’ve not used it much yet). And there again, Opera has innovated, even if it hasn’t caught up with Firebug in terms of functionality yet.

    / rant off /

  7. Sasha says:

    Michael, another thing that Opera is missing is Adblock/Adblock Plus. Some sites can’t be visited without it.

  8. “t’s got everything you need, with awesome speed and great new usability enhancements and innovations like the “AwesomeBar” that are going to revolutionize browsers the way we did when we introduced tabbed browsing to the world in Firefox 1.0”.

    Asa, you shit head! It wa me that introduced tabbed browsing to “the world of Mozilla”. Shall we have a look again at the log files? Showing that NOBODY liked my work, until the six nights that I worked with David Hyatt to make it work.

    BTW I never got credit in the about page, but that was promised remember? I guess you ALSO forgot this fact, but a lot of people, like 25 million downloads later, we know WHO and WHEN tabbed browsing was introduced in the world of Mozilla. And that very person was me!

    I promise you one thing; the next time we visit, and that will be pretty soon, you better ran for my 6 feet 8, size 14 feet shoes and my 200 pounds of muscle because I am going to let you beg for it!


  9. Daniel Hendrycks says:

    You should do an interview with someone from Opera, via Skype.