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Interview: Seth Bindernagel

Slo-Tech: Can you introduce yourself?
Seth: My name is Seth Bindernagel and I am the director of localization for Mozilla Firefox.

Slo-Tech: Our community regularly follows nightly builds of Opera, Firefox, Chrome, etc. as it’s a very competitive landscape. How do you see it from the Firefox perspective?
Seth: The development community in all of those browsers is very competitive and – from my perspective – I see the competition very intense. We feel pressure from all of the browsers to continue innovating. And when I say pressure, I mean things like the release cycle for Chrome. They’re releasing new versions of Chrome every six weeks, and their improvement is amazing, considering how quickly they’re releasing their browser. Opera is pushing innovation on both mobile and desktop, and their mobile innovation, as well as the speed with which their rendering engine is rendering things like JavaScript and other things is amazing. So, we’re getting a lot of competition and it drives us to be better – it’s what we asked for. We always wanted to be in a competitive market place. We didn’t want the browser world or the Web to be dominated by one player, namely Internet Explorer. And now we’re in the heart of it. So, in many ways, Mozilla’s very mission is starting to be accomplished to have competition in the browser space, because we really do honestly believe that we all get better. So, result of that is that we collaborate and compete with these browsers. Google, when they released their WebM open video standard, approached us and Opera and invited us to the Google I/O summit and said, “Would you guys debut this new encoding with us? You know, bring it out with us – we want to move away from H.264 – and we want you guys to participate.” And they invited us to do that before that conference, so that we could be ready. So, we collaborate, because we know what’s better for the Web, but we’re also competing. You can look at the benchmarks on Sunspider, you can look at the V8 benchmarks and you can see how fast these JavaScript engines are performing, and we’re all competing against them. So, I think it’s a very good thing and we feel the pressure – it’s great pressure.

Seth Bindernagel. Photo by Brian King

Seth Bindernagel. Photo by Brian King



Slo-Tech: Talking about standards, one of the controversial decisions from Mozilla was not to support H.264 standard, and many of our users commented that this may not be the best way to kill Flash. Do you have a comment on that, a couple of months later?
Seth: At the time when the debate was happening around whether or not we should support H.264, the Mozilla position was very clear, and I agreed with it. H.264 came with patent encumbrance so it wasn’t really the most free open-source solution that was out there. So, from our principle, our very mission to be the pushing innovation in free and open-source software it didn’t fit as well as other solutions that were out there. We knew WebM was coming a couple of months in advance of their announcement, so we started working heavily on that. I think that gave us some enablement to know that we’re going to be moving toward a patent unencumbered solution with WebM. We’re happy to see that, but we took a lot of criticism by not supporting H.264 and we just stood our ground because we believe that the Ogg Theora solution was a more principal approach to our belief and sort of open-source free software movement. And that was unencumbered patent that didn’t require people to pay royalties to a company if they wanted to use it.

Slo-Tech: Do you see that that decision has paid off or is it too early to tell?
Seth: It’s hard for me personally to answer these questions because I’m not the person working on video inside of most of the browser. My personal opinion is that any stance that we can make that’s a principled stance that aligns with our mission absolutely pays off. And to have a partner like Google, who is pushing for open standards like WebM, it paid off, no doubt about it. H.264 remains something that is being supported by tons of people and so much of our video on the Web is encoded in H.264 – it’s fine. But I think it’s paying off in Mozilla, and in the long run it will pay off, yes.

Slo-Tech: Talking about other browsers, what do you feel differentiates Firefox from them? What would be your killer feature or what’s your take on the Web?
Seth: I think Mozilla is starting to show that its paced innovation; and its ability to compete at the platform level, at the security level; and some of the same principles we’ve always had: performance, customizability, security – these remain some of the tenets that I think differentiate us. Our JavaScript engine is outpacing other JavaScript engines in various benchmarks and in some it’s losing. But we’re keeping pace: that differentiates us. And our ability to customize the browser still remains a really, really robust feature. Massive community of people have built amazing add-ons, and I think that differentiates us. Maybe one of the biggest differentiators is that we still really hold true to being a free open-source software company. Anyone can get involved with massive community of people around the world who are acting as volunteers, who are contributing to our project – and that really differentiates us. At our highest level, we are a non-profit global organization trying to make the Web better.

Slo-Tech: Tonight’s event was organized by local volunteers, working on localizing Firefox and other Mozilla products. How do you see current localization efforts, being the director of localization?
Seth: I think it ties into the point that we were just talking about. That we have a community of volunteers across the world, who are taking the Mozilla source code and they’re figuring out not only where bugs that they can fix are, where innovation that they can add to is, but how they can customize and deliver the Firefox browser and other applications to the local community, to locales like Slovenia, in their best way. It’s 100% volunteer-driven at the localization level. That is massively impressive – nothing stops us from localizing Firefox into 250 languages. We could be in every language in the world if there’s a dedicated volunteer who wants to take us, and that’s amazing. There’s no market value driving us as where we want to go. It’s whoever wants to become engaged, we can do that: it’s easy, we have a process and we’re there to help.

Slo-Tech: The Mozilla Foundation recently announced that you had over one million Test Pilot users. Can you tell us more about that?
Seth: Test Pilot is a program that was launched inside Mozilla labs and it’s a way for our users (who are willing to) to opt in. If users choose to participate, they can send us anonymous data about their browser usage and we can get a better sense of how to customize, enhance and develop our browser based on the data we get. But like everything in Mozilla, it’s all about choice. If an end-user doesn’t want to participate, they don’t have to. No one is being tracked without their knowing it, no data is being sent that could be personalized and tracked back to a user; it’s about people choosing to help make the Web better and choosing to help make the browser better and participating in the project. So, Test Pilot is actually delivering a lot of amazing analytical data for our developers to go through and figure out how to make our browser better.

Slo-Tech: Are there any open experiments in terms of localization? Is there any innovation going on in that field? 
Seth: Yes, it’s very much so. I could point you to a couple of places – Google searching would take you to it – but we have a project within the l10n world, localization world, that we’re calling “l20n”, or “l10n 2.0“. If you do a search for “Mozilla l20n”, you’ll see a newsgroup that we’ve created and you’ll see development of a project in which we’re basically trying to change the way that Mozilla localizes its code. And if it works, if it’s effective, that innovation would be open for anybody to choose. It’s highly complex: we’re trying to bring the way that people speak their languages naturally to the user interface. Most of the paradigm has always been: this is how we do it in English; go figure out how to translate it. And what we’re trying to do is: this is how it could be spoken in any language; this is how the user interface should be read by the end-user.

Slo-Tech: That’s exciting! Do you have any last thoughts for our users?
Seth: Well, I think the geek community in Slovenia seems to be very on top of all the issues that Mozilla cares about. I think Mozilla continues to be one of the competitive browsers that people should choose and our community is thriving. When you’re a small organization with a community of volunteers across the world and you’re taking on massive global corporations like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and you’re outnumbered sometimes 10 or 100 to one and you’re still able to compete and drive innovation, I think that’s praiseworthy and that should be something that anyone’s attention should be pointed to. It’s a very honorable thing to be involved with – we’re very proud of Mozilla, we’re very proud of Firefox and we’ll continue to do what we think is the best for the Web.

Slo-Tech: We would like to thank Seth Bindernagel for the interview.
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