Opinion: Fixing Firefox -- Getting Ahead By Looking Back - InformationWeek

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7/18/2005
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Opinion: Fixing Firefox -- Getting Ahead By Looking Back

The Mozilla Foundation's success with Firefox doesn't mean that open-souce code is immune to the mistakes proprietary projects make -- especially backward compatibility, which proved once again this week just how elusive it can be.

The Mozilla Foundation's success with Firefox doesn't mean the organization is immune to the same development problems familiar to proprietary software makers. Flaws in the latest release of the browser show that backward compatibility is a headache, even if the development process is open source.

Mozilla, which can't hide from its mistakes like many proprietary vendors, has acknowledged that the latest Firefox upgrade, version 1.0.5, breaks some third-party applications built to extend the browser's capabilities. The problems were noted on the organization's blog, along with comments from some very frustrated developers.

The problem is in the latest version's application-programming interfaces, which were changed during the development process. Mozilla promises to have a new version of the browser available in a couple of days to fix the flaws. In the meantime, developers working on foreign-language versions of the browser are upset over the delay, since it means users in their countries will have to wait even longer for the security fixes that were in 1.0.5, which has only been available for about a week.

The incident must be a humbling one for the Mozilla development team. Director of engineering Chris Hofmann acknowledges that such backward-compatibility problems are common in application development, and the best you can do is get a fix out as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, another traditional media company has gobbled up an Internet firm. News Corp., which owns the Fox Network, says it has agreed to buy Intermix Media for $580 million in cash. The deal was announced the same day that Intermix said it would acquire social-networking site MySpace.com.

If News Corp. completes the buy, it would triple its reach among U.S. Internet users and make it an immediate player in online social networking. In addition, MySpace.com's focus on teenagers and young adults makes it a potential favorite of online advertisers.

Mergers between traditional media and Internet companies are bound to continue as the online-advertising market continues to dramatically outpace traditional advertising venues, such as magazines and newspapers. Companies like The New York Times, News Corp. and others have learned that if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.

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