Jan Varga's Root Interview in English

Hi. Tell us something about yourself, your job, age and other things of interest.

At first, I would like to say hi to all members of mozilla community and other open source supporters. My name is Jan Varga, I am 26, and I am happily married :) I come from a city called Ruzomberok in Slovakia. I have been interested in computers since my childhood — back then I was using a PMD computer. :) At the moment I work on information systems based on Mozilla and also contribute to Mozilla project itself.

How did you come about working for Netscape?

It all started at the university. A year before my graduation I was thinking about an appropriate development platform for my thesis. I found the site by chance. At that time I did not have any idea of what Mozilla is. The greatest problem I had then was that there was nobody to give me the necessary information. Despite this, I became interested in Mozilla and along the line I got to know more and more. Finally I found out that XUL would have been best for my thesis. A few months later the first version of my thesis came to limelight. It worked quite well, but I was not satisfied. Simultaneously I started contributing some small fixes into the Mozilla code. At the beginning, of course, they were some simple things in XUL and JavaScript. As time went by I got deeper into the core and started contributing fixes in C++. After acquiring this knowledge, I decided to write database support for Mozilla, which was also used in a new version of my thesis.

Since then I started to think about working for Netscape. There were also few phone calls that motivated me to study English intensively. :) Meanwhile I graduated from the university and I joined the civil military service (military service is obligatory in Slovakia, however you can choose a civil one instead). It all happened before September 11, 2001. Afterwards, things were more complicated and delayed. Soon, as luck would have it, there was a vacancy in one of the teams. I knew this was my chance even though I was still committed to the civil service. After a few e-mails, I was invited for a nerve-wracking telephone interview, which took about 2 hours. I had a feeling of not being successful. It finally turned out that there were chances of getting the job. It took few months before I was eventually employed (since I was neither from the USA nor any of the EU member countries) and all procedures, like the French work permit, were carried out.

Finally came the long awaited day when I started at Netscape. Most of the work were done from my place via the Internet and telephone.

What exactly did you do for Netscape?

As regards my job description, I had many tasks to carry out. Initially, I investigated the possibilities of reducing the memory requirements and speeding up the whole product. I also worked out a comparison between Mozilla and the Phoenix browser. I later started working on a project called Buffy (Netscape 7.1) where, for instance, I implemented the automatic image resizing and improved the bookmark management. I worked on Buffy for about one year. Among other things I documented the various techniques used in my development and participated in many meetings.

The release of Netscape's source code was interesting and serious step. How did it all happen?

I worked for Netscape for about one year only, so I was not there when Netscape's source code was released.

How much of the original code is still used in Mozilla?

Nowadays there is almost no original code in Mozilla. If I remember correctly, only the preferences back end originates from the old code.

Generally, it looks as if you had done an interesting job. Why exactly did you quit?

The truth is that AOL stopped being interested in the next Netscape client development (although it looked very promising, they even worked on integration of Gecko into the AOL client and the Mac OS X version has it). During this Summer the majority of the employees working on Mozilla were laid off. My situation was a little bit better, because the French law forbids laying people off without a warning period; in addition the employer has to find another job for his employee within the company. The problem was that there was no other similar job available, and I was not interested in development on the Windows platform. So, after negotiation between both parties, I and some of my colleagues left Paris. Moreover, I also heard about some of my colleagues that left AOL even though they got a new position. Well, what would you do if you were reassigned from browser development to AOL Music or web page coding?

As an employee of Netscape, how were you affected by the lawsuit between Microsoft and Netscape?

This is a good question. As you can figure out, the extra judicial arrangement between Microsoft and AOL was the last coffin nail for Netscape. Consequently, this arrangement meant laying off most of the employees. The subject of the arrangement was $750 million USD, which was paid by Microsoft to AOL, including a free license to use IE in AOL's products for 7 years.

When you flash back, after all that happened, what is your opinion about working for Netscape?

Despite of all the problems, I think working for Netscape was a great experience for me, and I am proud that I got the chance to contribute to the browser's development. I am still in touch with my ex-colleagues. They are great people, well educated, nice and tolerant.

After all these interesting experiences you started to work on Mozilla. What role do you play in this project?

For the time being, I am working on the tree widget, database support and some other things. I also spend some time on reviewing. :)

Is there any important difference between Mozilla and Netscape development? (I am talking about the process of development)

Considering the development itself, there is no big difference, except the fact that one of them is open to the public and the other not. The difference lies in the project management and feedback.

What kind of interesting things can we expect from Mozilla in the short-term time period?

Right now, developers are working on the deCOMtamination of the Gecko engine. Among other things, the new versions of standalone browser — Mozilla Firebird — e-mail client — Thunderbird — Calendar and Composer are developed. All these products use a new toolkit, which is similar to the old one, just a little bit cleaner, and it includes some new stuff like customizable toolbars.

Since you mentioned Firebird, how do you see the new concept of Mozilla. What does it take from you and bring to you as a programmer?

I must confess that I did not like it very much at the beginning. I later realized that it was good idea (except for the controversial name :)). There is no doubt that it will bring a faster development because the individual products are developed independently. Furthermore I would like to mention the stability of the product. If the browser crashes accidentally, this will not affect your e-mail client and so forth. These standalone programs are distributed with all the libraries these days. With time the GRE should come, and then you will install the common kernel, which will be shared among all these standalone programs. It is valuable to mention the extensions that you can install or temporarily disable.

Do you think that this change allow faster bug fixing? I have heard about bugs which are neglected for several months.

If only months, some of them are there for years! :) But it is not as easy as it seems at the first glance. Some bugs are not even bugs, they are more improvements that are requested by 1 of 1000 users. On the other hand, I must confess that there are bugs that are fully well-founded and nobody has paid attention to them. Personally I think that the speed of bug fixing will depend mainly on the number of developers who will work full-time on Mozilla.

What do you think of the battle of the two strongest browsers (IE and Mozilla)? According to you, what is in favour of Mozilla and IE respectively?

IE has one big advantage, which is its integration into the OS. You cannot do anything about it. That is why most of the users are ignorant of the fact that there is something else apart from IE and OE. They do not care about security holes, viruses and instabilities. I even know some users that consider it normal to restart computer a few times per day and to reinstall it once in a while.

Personally I think that it is high time for wider usage of the Mozilla browser. Microsoft is so sure about its market share that it started to make some risky decisions, e.g. it will not be possible to install a new version of IE separately, you will get it only with a new OS, which I guess will be a disadvantage for companies that use IE as middleware for their systems.

The last version of IE did not bring any fundamental innovation, and on the other hand Mozilla has tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, spam filtering, and so on. Mozilla also strengthened its position when the Mozilla Foundation was established, and this Foundation should get $2 million USD in two years from AOL. By this step AOL has improved its image a little bit. The Foundation hired some of the Netscape ex-employees, and is planning to hire more. In addition, I would like to mention that some of the former employees found jobs at IBM while others established their own private businesses like, and I do not want to overtake events, but I hope that there will be other entities soon.

Not long ago you could find a warning at site that Mozilla is not intended for the end users. This is not true any more and nowadays the Foundation is focusing right on the end users. Telephone support was set up recently, and the new web site is coming soon.

Root published the original Czech/Slovak version of this interview on Thursday 6th November 2003. Translated into English with the permission of Root and Jan Varga. We would like to thank all the people who helped us with this translation.

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