Thoughts on Mozilla using Closed-Source Software


(David Ross) #8

OK I’m going to bite on this. I’ve recently stopped co-organising a London Linux meetup after a solid year, due to my commitments within the Mozilla UK community. These somewhat purist FOSS debates really get to me.

What is the PURPOSE of this thread? It’s clearly coming from a place of anger.

I am hereby asking the Mozilla leadership to take immediate action

Come on, really?

Mozilla actively supports, and puts its money where it’s mouth is, through their MOSS program. They’re not about 100% free liberated open source software (FLOSS) usage**. Never have been. They do a huge amount of promoting alternatives, creating them, supporting them, and yes sometimes dropping them. That’s the nature of the tech industry.

As community members we can choose to build and create whatever the hell we want. If you wish to show Mozilla how amazing something is, build your own community around that thing. Yes, Discourse is a great example of that. But it’s taken YEARS to get adoption from Mozilla. Once adoption has shown to everyone how clearly amazing that thing, then people start to listen. Momentum turns heads, not shouting.

Making demands of an organisation might not be the best way about seeking change. Just my two cents.

** Edited hours later. I meant in everything they use.


(Kairo) #9

My largest concern is that MoCo is increasing becoming closed to people who do not want to use services that fall into the “unhealthy for the Internet” categories of Mozilla’s own [https://internethealthreport.org/](Internet Health Report) - using Slack, a centralized proprietary service, more and more is one example of that. The whole GApps topic always bugged me from that POV (even though I understand the internal reasons for doing it - I had discussions with people responsible for those decisions back then).
But then, I feel an even larger problem is that even NDA Mozillians cannot participate in some areas because they can’t access information and documents, which are increasingly staff-only.
That said, my motivation to contribute is also declining, due to other projects being also interesting and more open and welcoming, and due to a number of people I highly respected leaving Mozilla.


(David Ross) #10

Mozilla has been testing Mattermost https://chat.mozillafoundation.org/


(David Ross) #11

Has Mozilla not considered open-source software like…

https://wiki.mozilla.org/ParticipationSystems/CoCo_Tools_List


(Giannis Konstantinidis) #12

Hey David,
thanks for your input.

Let me quote myself:

Yes, it does support free and open-source software and open content. It is very well-known.

The issue I see is, while it promotes software freedom and openess on the web, it still leverages closed-source cloud solutions for its infrastructure despite the existence of equal, enterprise-class alternatives.

Not everybody has the time, motivation or even skills to start building communities. Not everybody makes a living from contributing to open-source projects, either.

People can, however, publicly express their disagreement on something, make calls-for-action and allow for discussions to take place. Simple as that.

I never made any demands, I simply asked. Please don’t put words into my mouth.

Thank you!


(Giannis Konstantinidis) #13

Splendid! How can we get involved? How can we help?

I’m sorry, but this is merely a software comparison table. This particular table does not currently reflect any attempts from Mozilla to implement free and open-source infrastructure solutions - with Mattermost being the only exception. Also, it hasn’t been updated for almost one year.


(David Ross) #14

Have you considered: the reason you are increasingly feeling this way might be that these locked down components of Mozilla have always existed but, via Mozilla’s improving transparency, you are becoming more aware of them?


(David Ross) #15

@giannisk you may not have intended it, but the use of a phrase “I hereby ask” is most often used in official proclamations , legal demands, or decrees. I’m genuinely sorry if that’s not what you meant.


(Dave Lane) #16

I’ve just written this response, riffing on Giannis’ excellent (and much-needed) essay… I still need to read all of this thread, but I think based on what I’ve seen so far, we, as a community committed to openness, have to recognise the danger of accepting expedience when it is contrary to our principles. Because doing so fundamentally undermines our legitimacy.
I should also say, I’m impressed by Giannis’ very thoughtful approach - I think those who interpret his intent as anger (which, in my opinion, is a very valid response in the face of what is really betrayal of values) are missing the point. I think it means he cares deeply about this community. For a community’s leadership to have full legitimacy with its constituents, it must engage in prefiguratism - using means which are consistent with its ends. (I define it in more detail in the essay above).


(Dave Lane) #17

For what it’s worth, Giannis, Mattermost, Rocket.Chat and other “Slack alternatives” are easily on par with Slack and in many ways (thanks to their openness, and being built on more modern platforms) are ahead of Slack from a superficial usability perspective. They’re streets ahead in being FOSS, distributed, open standards-compliant, and hosted by community. I currently maintain a few Rocket.Chat instances, which is easily Slack’s equal (I’m also forced to use Slack daily to participate in various “open” communities that have chosen a closed collaboration space, so I’m able to make a pretty comprehensive comparison).


(Dave Lane) #18

For what it’s worth, Emma, I think Creative Commons is every bit as guilty of making the slide into “fauxpen” as Mozilla appears to be. I have largely pulled out of involvement with Creative Commons (global) due to their leaders’ quite decisive rejection of openness in their platform selections. Their justifications ring very hollow to me, and I’ve lost confidence in their commitment to their stated open ideals.
And yes, I’m quite disappointed by that betrayal, as I’ve invested a lot of my time and energy in Creative Commons over the years (including 3 years on the advisory board of the New Zealand affiliate) due largely to their clear commitment to open principles that I share…


(Dave Lane) #19

By the way, Emma, if your goal is accessibility, a good way to achieve that is to a) use an FOSS messaging platform first and foremost, on principle, and then b) use a Slack bridge (assuming, at the moment, Slack offers a fundamentally better service for those with difficulty accessing the FOSS platform in its current form) to allow equal participation for those who prefer the capabilities of a proprietary platform. Using accessibility to justify proprietary over FOSS is not really the best approach to achieving an open aim (doing so implicitly damns FOSS in favour of proprietary which sends the wrong message, I suspect). I can offer assistance in using the Slack bridge for Rocket.Chat as I have first hand experience setting that up. Works very nicely. Taking on that extra complexity for the time being also makes it clear to participants that enhancing the accessibility support for the FOSS solution is a useful contribution!


(Emma Irwin) #20

HI David,

I was suggesting that the vision of open source, needs to include solutions that accommodate accessibility. I am neither justifying proprietary solutions, nor suggesting open source cannot manage those. I think storytelling our experiences thinking about, researching can generate better discussion and solutions. An example is that you have brought up bridging, something we do with community tools (although I can’t speak to those other than to be using them myself). This is a better discussion imo than ‘use open’. It’s what does that look like for people who will never use IRC, what does that look like for people already using Slack - (btw, I also really liked Rocketchat).
Once again - I am only sharing my experiences as I would hope others would feel comfortable to as well.


(Dave Lane) #21

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Emma. I just think it’s crucial to recognise that a proprietary tool like Slack simply isn’t acceptable for a community that exists to promote openness… Its use could only be legitimately justified if it could be said that “there is not currently a viable FOSS option, but we’ll move to one as soon as it is possible” - I’m thinking of the quote from Johnathan Nightingale promoted in the Mozilla Manifesto.
Also, a lot of people in the open community mistakenly consider Slack to be a network-effect platform. It’s not. Each new community you join requires a new account. As such, it’s just as easy to invite people into an open community - either way it’s just another browser tab… plus, in my experience the FOSS messaging platform desktop and mobile apps are far more efficient (require fewer computing resources) than Slack’s anyway…


(Kairo) #22

For one thing, they surely haven’t “always” been used by Mozilla compared to how long I am in this community (since 1999) as many of those things didn’t even exist back then.
For the other, I was on staff for 5 years from 2011 to 2016, and so have an interesting insight into systems that were accessible to me back then and which aren’t now even though I’m under NDA. I also watched Mozilla switching to closed systems in those 5 years and afterwards - including for example one system that was closed from the public recently that I created myself, intentionally as an openly accessible system, and which even I as an NDA Mozillian can’t access now.


(Daniele Scasciafratte) #23

I want to be short because is a long discussion that we had often inside many group in Mozilla.

I am the first one that want to use open source but we had to admit a fact that not all the open source solution suites for our needs as community in a short time with a real support and Mozilla doesn’t have the resources to put developers to create specific suites.

About Google Forms is a long discussion already done on Discourse (Activate Mozilla - new unified impact form and Tech Speakers activity).

About blogs I am for WordPress (I am a contributor in that project) but I understand that medium is the actual trend and is very easy to promote and we have to no forget that mozilla have already many wordpress websites.

About nextcloud for documents is not the mainly problem but all the docs. Collabora actually doesn’t have all the features in google docs like the comments and the multiple editing.

About Slack (Internal chat structured for a community) so this discussion was already done we need only to reuse or look on discourse for discussion that have points about it.

The same discussion is also for Vidyo, there is an open source alternative that support phones, channels and let to have in a channel 60 people with an easy to use software for user and administrator and that registers the calls? Actually not so much.

I say that and I am a vice president of an Italian association that do promotion of open source for companies so I know about what I am talking. Open source cannot fit everything we need as community and we cannot do so much without lost months behind a project to let that to be suitable for us.
Maybe if we had more developers that contribute on that project the situation can change. I don’t know how many people look on the page about contribute in Mozilla and doesn’t say to contribute only to Mozilla but also to projects that Mozilla use like WordPress and Django. I don’t know how many people follow the Moss project but in the past helped with donations to introduce features that Mozilla needs.

So Mozilla is working in that direction as we can as foundation, volunteers, employee. Also we have to not forget that Mozilla is not so strong as number of employee like the competitors that in the same time is involved in too many projects that are not only about software.

In few words Mozilla is doing what is possible but we need to help (as already suggested https://wiki.mozilla.org/ParticipationSystems/CoCo_Tools_List) where we can in the other projects and explain case by case. As an example with Google form there was the issue of localizations so there is people that is working on an alternative so guys keep an eye on discourse because this discussion already happen there!


(Giannis Konstantinidis) #24

Hey Daniele,
thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Which makes me think: does Mozilla strive to follow existing trends or does it exist to lead major changes related to internet freedom and open access?

Closed-source software also used to be a trend decades ago. Well, not that much anymore since people decided to change this.

Yes, some open-source solutions might be missing extra features, others might be missing key features. Perhaps the workflow won’t be as efficient when key features are missing, that’s totally understandable. But, what about when open-source solutions are missing tiny, little details?

I would suggest exploring what our needs truly are and evaluating whether open-source software can replace our existing closed-source infrastructure solutions. Enterprise-class open-source cloud software is evolving constantly - together with our feedback and help (i.e. upstream contributions), we can sincerely co-lead open innovation.

I believe Mozilla is much stronger in terms of budget, volunteers and employees compared to other open-source projects - yet some of those other open-source projects are consisted of thousands of volunteers while completely standing with open-source, dismissing closed-source solutions for their infrastructure.

I disagree Mozilla is doing what is possible. To me, doing our best is embracing open-source solutions whenever possible in accordance with our Manifesto.

I agree we need to help and this is the reason I wrote this open letter.

Thanks once again for your thoughts!


(Daniele Scasciafratte) #25

Everyone when as to migrate from something to something prefer to not lose their previous feature because sometimes are very important for a specific workflow. We can talk about how many people had Firefox OS but wasn’t using as daily also for tiny details.

I don’t think so much as coder, else our project will became amazing but is easy to see what happen on Mozillians or Remo where few people do patches. Actually from my point of view mozilla is full of volunteers but developers that contribute in mozilla projects are very few especially when are web platforms. So before talking about new softare tot use we have to improve the ones that we are using.

It is doing the possible because we are discussing publicly on discourse and volunteers are doing evaluation of every software based on the actual needs and not only because there is an alternative.
Also Gimp is an alternative to Photoshop but without an evaluation of every needs (as usually I do for work to my customers) is impossible to say that Photoshop is used for cut the photos or because has cool filters.

So the Open letter is good of course but without understand the needs is difficult to continue and do the next step because actually mozilla is involved in many important projects and doesn’t have resources to put on it to evaluate a replacement of every software.

So the issues actually are two for us:

  • understand the needs of every software to evaluate an alternative and how much time is required to switch it
  • what the community can do for it

(Dave Lane) #26

I’m happy to provide you with a demonstration of NextCloud + Collabora’s ability to do both collaborative editing and commenting on content if you like - contact me via https://davelane.nz/contact - I maintain a system for the New Zealand Open Source Society on https://cloud.nzoss.nz


(Giannis Konstantinidis) #27

I am surprised that nobody from the Mozilla Leadership has posted an official statement.

Does this have the attention of the Open Innovation Team/Participation Systems?