Thoughts on Mozilla using Closed-Source Software

Disclaimer: The intention behind this letter is definitely not to demonstrate hostility towards fellow Mozilla community members or Mozilla as a whole, therefore it should not be interpreted as such. It is merely aiming to provide some food for thought regarding the long-term planning of Mozilla’s cloud-based infrastructure.

Disclaimer No. 2: I’m not criticising the software itself used by Mozilla, but rather emphasizing on the fact that using closed-source software goes in contradiction with what Mozilla stands for.

TL; DR: Mozilla is relying on closed-source cloud platforms to support its operations, in constrast to its Manifesto.

Mozilla has several times helped free the web from proprietary technologies. Think of what happened to Microsoft’s ActiveX and Adobe’s Flash, for example. Firefox has brought a significant change to the way everyone can access the web and so have done multiple other open technologies developed by Mozilla.

Mozilla embraces free and open-source software, or at least strives to. The source code of Mozilla products is released under free software and open-source software compatible licenses. Likewise, the vast majority of the the content published on Mozilla websites is released under open content licenses.

Free and open-source software is actually embedded in the Mozilla Manifesto. It constitutes Principle No. 7: “Free and open source software promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource.”

Mozilla, unfortunately, sometimes tends to forget its roots. Proprietary, closed-source solutions are leveraged to support its operations, which is completely the opposite of what Mozilla promotes. I assume these selections are made in the name of ease-of-use, maintenance and cost savings. Isn’t it ironic, however, to produce and promote free and open-source software and meanwhile use closed-source software despite the existence of equal open-source alternatives?

I came across this post on Medium.com, recently. It was presumably published on behalf of the Mozila Open Innovation Team and called for participation in an online accessibility-focused, web design sprint. The idea behind the sprint is fantastic and I certainly welcome similar initiatives - although there was something else that caught my attention.

To begin with, Medium is a proprietary service. I do realise they have released quite a few open-source components on GitHub, but the core product still remains closed-source. The Open Innovation Team seems to distribute content on Medium exclusively without at least cross-posting on any official Mozilla websites (feed aggregators do not count). Does Wordpress or similar open-source content management systems not meet the expectations of Mozilla?

Secondly, the aforementioned Medium post included a call-to-action. Interested parties would need to fill in and submit a Google Form in order to apply for the sprint. I doubt I need to elaborate any further on the extensive use of G Suite by Mozilla - many operations such as their communications and project planning rely on Google services. Has Mozilla not considered open-source software like Nextcloud for cloud storage and Collabora Online for document editing?

Thirdly, it was stated that particular design sprint would take place on Slack, the well-known collaboration platform whose core technology doesn’t come under an open-source license either. Is Mattermost or similar open-source software not comparable to Slack?

My final concern is: why does Mozilla persist on using closed-source software while there are well-established, enterprise-class open-source alternatives? Discourse and Etherpad, for instance, comprise two open-source software implementations that have been serving the Mozilla community efficiently. Can’t Mozilla keep making infrastructure-related decisions in that direction?

I am hereby asking the Mozilla leadership to take immediate action and determine which is the right path to be followed organization-wide in terms of infrastructure planning. There are several open-source solutions to be considered. If Mozilla sincerely values open-source software, as it is explicitly mentioned in the Manifesto, an example needs to be set for all of us who put our faith in the organization’s mission.

Update: Corresponding Discourse topic, helpful for discussions among community members and interested parties.

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