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Stumblin' in: My Mozilla career

A few people in the Mozilla community have known the project for many years already, newer "family members" might not have experienced the pre-Firefox days at all, others are just entering or visiting this steadily growing crowd of people as testers or bug reporters - or "just" interested users.
Some of those might read my name as a "SeaMonkey Council member", i.e. one of the five people steering the SeaMonkey project, working on keeping the integrated suite alive (that has its own long history, reaching back to when Netscape still dominated the Web market).

So, how does one grow from a student and web user to one of the SeaMonkey project leaders? For me, it was mostly a matter of stumblin' in - or actually seeing that "something needs to be done" - and trying to help make it happen.

Just for some background, my father entered the computer sales business early on, bought a PC quite early on, back in the 80s (a then quite modern 8086 with 12 MHz, 640K RAM, CGA monochrome display and a 20 MB harddisk) and so I learned working with PCs quite early while going to school (ah, those DOS days... and programming with GWBASIC ;-) ). Following that, we probably were among the first people who had Internet in a private household around here - and, of course, Web and Netscape were almost synonyms in those days.

So, as an always-proud Netscape user, hating how Microsoft used their Monopoly to drive the market leader off the browser market, I started wondering in 1999 if my favorite browser producer is working anything new and stumbled over mozilla.org, trying their Mozilla M5 milestone build (made available for download under something called "the Seamonkey project"). Somehow even that early stage felt promising and cleaner in design (esp. when it came down to website rendering) than Communicator 4 to me, but clearly it was very experimental. My first post to a Mozilla newsgroup already clearly tells what I felt about the Gecko-based product: "I am convinced the final release will be the best existing browser software by far." - along with some bugs I encountered ;-) Following the advice of some Netscape employee, I filed my first bugs in Bugzilla for those issues.

I decided to remember that project and check back later for newer milestones - as a beginner physics/chemistry student, long-time DOS/Windows user and (Visual)Basic developer I didn't feel I could help in any other way than testing that new technology. Starting with M7, I tried to use this product for browsing more and more and after some time I got interested what this XUL technology is that is said to build up Mozilla's user interface. Back then, all chrome files were unpacked plain files in the app directory and I quickly discovered that that was just something like the HTML I knew from creating web pages (I still had to learn what XML really was), being styled with CSS (which I really did know) and with strings in some simple-looking plain text format (not knowing XML, I didn't know those DTD entity definitions either). Intrigued but not yet convinced by all that stuff being simple text files, I decided to try out if they really make up what I'm seeing, replacing some colors in CSS with some Star -Trek-style colors, and replacing a few English strings with German variants - and then I was really impressed: It just did work!
While I decided that Star Trek styling was nice for playing around personally (later my LCARStrek theme based on that), the translated strings could potentially be useful to others, and so I posted a message to n.p.m.l10n in December, telling that I'd like to help with the German localization of Mozilla. As Tao Cheng from Netscape, the L10n head at that time, replied "If you have no objection, I'll put you as the German translation contributor." (note him saying "the" contributor), I realized I had just more or less taken over the responsibility of creating a full localization. I tried to live up to that and on December 31 I managed to release M12 as the first "fully" (as in: as far as possible) localized German Mozilla version.
In late January of 2000, I opened up a website (The SeaMonkey German website still has old news and downloads that I ported to the new site to archive them) and since then, practically every release of the suite has been made available in German language by me. Ah, and in September I got to know some people of our community personally for the first time when we had the first Mozilla Europe Developer Meeting near Frankfurt, Germany (organized by someone by the name of Axel Hecht, BTW).

For a some time, I contributed to the project as the main German localizer, and reported bugs here and there. In April 2002, I got a mozilla.org CVS account, originally for getting German L10n into CVS (it should take years to actually have a working model for locales in CVS and then even a different repository - seaMonkey is even still on the road to that currently). This was some kind of milestone for me personally, as I began to do some small fixes for problems in the L10n area, like some locale switching fixes, followed by the per-release localeVersion updates until I finally automated that. And suddenly I had become a code contributor (still proud it was me who made about:plugins localizable and themeable back then, which is code that can even be seen in Firefox), and I started using that CVS account for those few, mostly minor, code fixes.

In the summer of 2004, after the demise of Netscape in 2003 and the only contributor who had write access to the FTP staging server and the mozilla.org web pages being AWOL, the L10n community realized more than before that a new lead is needed: For one thing, localized builds had to go up onto mozilla.org servers again, and we needed someone to improve communications of localizers with Mozilla Foundation. As I saw someone had to make that happen, I brought forward a proposal for a new Mozilla Localization Project (MLP) staff team and tried to collect people who wanted to help there. When we got such a new team together, those people asked me to take the position as official MLP project lead - and in this I ended up as being the main L10n contact in talks and teleconferences about Firefox 1.0 release planning, even though I didn't localize Firefox myself (a different German localizer was working on that while I continued to do the suite part). The current MoCo L10n lead, Axel Hecht, also did care a lot about L10n issues there - even though he was no active Mozilla localizer himself. When Axel rose into that position, my being the MLP lead got less important, but other challenges were already waiting for me (BTW, despite trying to step down as MLP lead later on, nobody volunteered to take over, so I'm more or less still in this position).

Finally, in early 2005, the future of my beloved Mozilla suite became more and more uncertain and when bz asked MoFo for clarity on that, I also undersigned his open letter to staff and experienced the suite "Big Bang" first hand. When the transition plan laid out a way for the future of the suite as a volunteer project, I once again figured a project leading group is needed, and tried to figure out people willing to help in that team. After extensive discussions, mostly on IRC, Neil, biesi, IanN, CTho and me agreed to form that steering committee, which we later named the "SeaMonkey Council".
Once again, in a repeating pattern, my strong will to make something happen and putting my contribution where my mouth is made me stumble into being a leading contributor in the respective area.

In this role as a SeaMonkey Council member, I'm mainly concentrating on the organizational matters of the project, while the other members are more focused on doing actual development, along with our broader community of SeaMonkey contributors. Next to that, I'm trying to contribute some code myself, still work with the L10n community and, of course, keep the German localization of the suite alive and kicking.

It's been a great ride so far, I'm still eager to get stuff done, and I hope to continue the story of how I got here with some great future success stories of the SeaMonkey project!

Entry written by KaiRo and posted on April 27th, 2007 02:02 | Tags: history, L10n, Mozilla, SeaMonkey | no comments

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