It seems that I have this argument almost on a daily basis with people: is there a difference between Mozilla and Firefox? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. However, most people look at me with glazed eyes when I try to explain that you can think of Mozilla as an application platform and Firefox as an application built upon that platform. They’re literally like Visual Basic and a VB app: Mozilla provides the a ton of standard widgets to use for application development, Firefox uses those widgets to create a Web browser.

As I was surfing around today, I came across Blake Ross’ blog. Blake Ross is one of Firefox’s main developers, and the creator of the now-famous “delicious delicacies” explanation of cookies. He very aptly described the difference between Mozilla and Phoenix (the codename for the Firefox project):

Mozilla was a technology platform aimed at software vendors who would customize, repackage and market it to a number of different audiences. It made sense to build as feature-rich a platform as possible so that vendors could pick and choose the features they wanted with ease. It made less sense to focus on perfecting the user interface, because “perfection” was decided by the population who would ultimately use it, and this population varied among the software vendors who leveraged the platform.

Phoenix, on the other hand, sought to cut out the middle man and market directly to an audience. Since this audience was primarly non-technical in character, we felt it necessary to judge patches not just on technical merit but also on how closely they adhered to this new vision. Code+UI review, however, took more time than we were willing to spend in our eagerness to develop Phoenix quickly. So we sought to find the people who understood our vision so well that they didn�t need this additional layer of review, and then bring them onto the team. The goal was never to discourage outside contributions. Quite the opposite, in fact. We basically wanted to use open source as the world�s best job interview. Rather than get people in front of a whiteboard for two hours and ask them to move Mount Fuji, we wanted people to submit patches that would demonstrate exactly what they would bring to the table if they joined the team.

Thanks, Blake, for giving me a place to point everyone who doesn’t understand the difference between Mozilla and Firefox.

Disclaimer: Any viewpoints and opinions expressed in this article are those of Nicholas C. Zakas and do not, in any way, reflect those of my employer, my colleagues, Wrox Publishing, O'Reilly Publishing, or anyone else. I speak only for myself, not for them.

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