RealTime IT News

Firefox's Volunteer Launch Brigade

John Musarra, a long-time Mozilla fan, is getting ready to help launch the forthcoming release of the Firefox 1.0 browser the old-fashioned way: by throwing a party.

But the coming launch, organized by volunteers, is also featuring a mix of traditional grassroots efforts along with a pitch for some big media coverage.

He's organizing what's been dubbed "Zilladelphia 1.0" at a local pub in Philadelphia to celebrate the official unveiling of Firefox 1.0, the final release by the Mozilla Foundation in less than two weeks.

"Zilladelphia" is one of 93 coming out parties slated to take place between Nov. 19-21, all designed to celebrate the public release of the "other" browser. In the process, the party-goers hope to score a conversion or two from the ranks of Microsoft Internet Explorer users.

"I'm not looking to draw hundreds and hundreds of people, just those who are already interested," Musarra said of his word-of-mouth efforts to launch the party. "And if they can bring a friend that we can 'evilly' convert, so much for the better," he quipped.

Chris Hoffman, Mozilla Foundation's director of engineering, said because it's an open source project and won't ship until it's ready, the Nov. 9 release date for the final version is not set in stone. But, he added, the organization is confident the release will be ready in time for the scheduled launch.

The standalone Web browser, developed by the Mozilla Foundation, has made strides in its campaign to gain acceptance among Web surfers, even as Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) remains the dominant surfing tool of choice around the world.

According to Firefox, the browser has netted five million downloads since the Sept. 14 launch of a Firefox 1.0 preview release (PR). From there, the group spurred a marketing campaign in an effort to bring more users to the fold. In the past week, the site has averaged 125,000 downloads per day, according to Firefox.

But Mozilla's browser has a long way to go before it makes a noticeable dent in IE's market dominance. While Mozilla-based browsers have more than doubled their presence on the Web to nearly 20 percent, according to browser statistics at W3Schools.com, IE still enjoys nearly 80 percent use. In addition, many Web developers are still creating Web sites tailored only for IE, which can make mainstream Firefox adoption challenging.

Musarra believes the efforts to convert IE users to Mozilla goes hand-in-hand with convincing developers to treat multi-browser support as a necessary cost of online business.

"They certainly do go together," he said. "The more distribution there is, the more incentive there is to code to standards and not Internet Explorer-specific things. One of the things the Mozilla Foundation is trying to get across is that you don't have to code for Mozilla products; if you code to established standards, what the [World Wide Web Consortium] has written up, then [Mozilla] will work fine and work really well in any of the other browsers out there -- Konqueror, Sarari, Opera, things like that."

Over the past year, the Mozilla Foundation has beefed up its mirror sites to accommodate the increasing number of users downloading Mozilla-based software, Hoffman said. Each release, he continued, roughly doubles the amount of downloads from the previous version and he expects the same with the public launch of Firefox 1.0.

Firefox 1.0 PR included several new items from its previous version, the June release of Firefox .9, including live bookmarks (for RSS feeds), anti-spoofing technology and a plug-in installer.

"[The preview release] was received very well and we got a lot of great feedback on it," Hoffman said. "So, we're in pretty good shape."

Preparations for a coming out celebration are already underway in many parts of the world, from the U.S. to the Czech Republic to Vietnam. Mexico, so far, has put together the largest gathering, with 73 participants scheduled to attend.

Party Time, according to organizer Gervase Markham's Web blog post on Oct. 12, was created because the Mozilla Foundation doesn't have plans to organize its own public party commemorating the event.

The party and launch are staying true to its grassroots, but looking to play the bigger media game too. Its volunteer plan is called "SpreadFirefox." Marshaled by the Mozilla Foundation, the effort asks users to donate their time -- as well as their money -- in the form of Web development support, public relations and copy editors. The foundation also awards $500 bounties for security experts who discover security vulnerabilities in the code.

It is also looking to raise money in order to purchase a full-page advertisement in the New York Times announcing the launch of Firefox 1.0. According to Firefox advocate Rob Davis, the group's goal is to get 2,500 people to contribute $30 to the fund.

Also scheduled for launch next month is an early release version of Thunderbird 1.0 (it's currently at version .8), the Mozilla Foundation's standalone e-mail application. Hoffman said a release candidate will be available for download at the end of October, with the final release available a couple days after the launch of Firefox 1.0.