Is Mozilla an Open Source Project?

By | July 20, 2015

At the 2015 Community Leadership Summit, keynote speaker Henrik Ingo asked what he intended to be a trick question:

Everybody knows that Redhat is the largest open source company by revenue, with 1.5 billion dollars per year in revenue. What is the second largest open source company?

Community Leadership Summit 2015

Community Leadership Summit 2015

It took awhile before someone came up with the correct answer – Mozilla! Why is this a trick question? Because people don’t view Mozilla as an open source software company! Even in an open-source friendly crowd, people need to be reminded that Mozilla is open source, and not another Google or Apple. The “open source” brand is getting ever more powerful, with hot new technologies like OpenStack, Docker, and node.js adopting the foundation-owned open source model, while Mozilla seems to be drifting away from that image.

The main point of Henrik’s talk was that projects that are “open-source” while dominated by a single company show limited growth potential when compared to projects where there is an independent foundation without any single dominating company. Mozilla is an odd model, with a company that is dominated by a foundation (at least in theory). It seems though that these days, what has emerged is a foundation that is dominated by a company, exactly the model that Henrik claims limits growth. As that company gets more and more “professional” (acting like a company), it gets harder to perceive Mozilla to be anything other than another big tech company.

Something has changed at Mozilla, that I don’t really understand. Not that I have any inside knowledge (Thunderbird folks like me don’t get invited to large Mozilla gatherings any more), but is this really the brand image that Mozilla wants? I doubt it. Hopefully people smarter than me can figure out how to fix it, as there is still something about Mozilla that many of us love.