Open Enterprise Interview: Tristan Nitot


The Frenchman Tristan Nitot goes back a long way with Mozilla. Indeed, he was involved with Mozilla before it even existed as a separate project, when he was employed by its creator, Netscape, from 1997 to 2003, first in charge of product marketing in Southern Europe and then as a technology evangelist, managing developer relations in Europe. This meant he was ideally placed to found Mozilla Europe, of which he is currently President. He is also well known for his popular blog,, which he began in 2002.

GM: Could you say a little about the background to Mozilla Europe when and why it was founded, what its aims are, and what exactly it does and how?

TN: Mozilla Europe is a non-profit organisation founded in late 2003 just after AOL/Netscape decided to give up on the Mozilla project in July of that year. Its goal is to make the Mozilla project successful in Europe. This is done in two particular ways:

• Make sure that Mozilla products are widely adopted, in order to have influence over the industry (Mozilla's mission is to "promote choice and innovation on the Internet").

• Make sure that local communities are strong and well represented within the Mozilla project. This includes engineering and localisation, which is particularly important in Europe, because of its dozens of languages and countries.

GM: What's the current level of Firefox and Thunderbird use across Europe? Why do you think there is such a wide disparity between the numbers in each country - and why is the UK so much worse than places like Germany?

TN: I will focus mostly on Firefox usage, as it's a product for which usage is easier to measure. For example, Xiti Institute regularly publishes reports on browser market share. These show that Europe is leading the way in terms of adoption compared to America. There is indeed a big disparity between countries, and there are several reasons for this. Here is a quick list:

• The presence of an active local community of volunteers with a leader

• Local acceptance of open source and free software

• Specific cultural differences.

In Poland for example, there is a very active Mozilla community, open source is strong and, on top of this, Microsoft is considered as boring by youngsters. Also, open source is quite strong there. In Germany, there is a strong acceptance of the open source movement, while privacy and security matter more than in most other European countries. Considering the respective track record of Mozilla and its main competitor (Internet Explorer), Firefox is very successful in Germany. By contrast, open source is weaker in the UK, where Firefox adoption is slower.

GM: What are the particular challenges that Firefox and Thunderbird face in Europe? What can be done to overcome them? What can people and companies do to help?

TN: There are many ways to help the Mozilla project achieve its mission, and not all of them require a degree in computer engineering ;-)

The easiest thing to do is to install Firefox and use it as your default browser (if you don't already, that is!). The next step is to encourage your friends and relatives to install and use Firefox. You could carry a USB key with you with Firefox install file stored on it, so that it's quick and easy to install it on PCs. Then you can explain the advantages of more security, the benefits of add-ons and so on.

If you're interested in computing, Mozilla can use your help in testing newer versions of Firefox, including pre-versions. Firefox is currently in version 2 and in Beta for version 3. If you know what you're doing, you can run it and see how you get on.

There are also testing days where you can help. Testing is one of the best ways to get involved with the Mozilla project before contributing code, for example.
GM: Realistically, what is the maximum market share Firefox and Thunderbird can reach in Europe? What role will Mozilla Europe have once it has achieved that? How do you see Mozilla Europe evolving in the longer term?

NT: At Mozilla we fight for choice and innovation in the Internet space. Our goal is to have influence over the industry with a competitive market place on the long term - not to be in a monopoly position.
Even if we were to be in such a position, anybody who thinks that we're not doing a good job (as monopolists tend to become lazy) could take our source code and build a new browser based on our technology. So this would keep us on our toes!

GM: More generally, what do you see as the main trends in open source in the next few years - opportunities, threats etc. - particularly in Europe?

NT: Open source has a great future, particularly in Europe. This is because it is proven as a better software development model and more suited to the needs of the users. However, open source sill faces many challenges – it has to overcome its own limitations in terms of user experience and marketing.
Usability and user experience: It is important to remember that open source projects are often built by engineers for themselves and other engineers. This means that, in many cases, the resulting piece of software is hard for ordinary people to use. Despite its inherent quality, this is something that open source software has to learn and fix.

Marketing: Unfortunately the best product does not always win and unfortunately, getting open-source products in the hands of users is a hard task. Also, established, closed-source software vendors do their best to prevent open-source from spreading. They use a number of techniques to achieve this.

The first is about formats and interoperability. The game here is to prevent competing products accessing files data (files or documents) created by a proprietary application. For a long time, this issue was more important in the office applications realm. Now we are in a connected world, this issue has extended to new domains like network protocols (SMB/CIFS for printing and file sharing, for example), Internet applications (Microsoft Silverlight applications running in the browser, requiring a proprietary plug-in) and Digital Rights Management.

The second technique used by proprietary players is in the legal field, using software patents and royalty schemes and open source software is often unable to respond. For example, embedding a piece of software requiring a royalty-fee codec (such as a video) breaks the open source nature of the code, because it prevents redistribution.

Right now, such methods are being used by some vendors and are threatening the open source model. I think open source has a great future if it manages to ‘avoid’ these threats. As individual users, we need to make sure that the products we adopt are open source: In today’s world we are ever more dependent on technology and keeping it open is the best way to master it in the long term.

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