Interview

Q&A: Expert outlines Mozilla benefits, part 2

Jan Stafford

What are the most-used Mozilla tools?
The obvious choices are browser, e-mailer and newsreader, composer, calendar, address book and IRC chat. The composer has won praise as an excellent Web development tool recently, and the browser has been a highly regarded browser for a little while now.

Also in the Web space, the DOM Inspector has been a big hit. It's used to analyze HTML- and XML-based documents, whether they are Web pages or GUI applications. Many Web developers install Mozilla just so they can get decent debugging tools like the Inspector and the Debugger for their content.

It's hard to say where the biggest hit for

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Mozilla is. Applications and platform versions have crept into every corner, from desktop to set-top to palmtop, in a fairly stealthy way. You might be using it without even knowing. How should IT pros get started with Mozilla?
At the highest level, an IT pro can take a systems engineering or COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) software perspective and review the key features. That cuts away the hype, both old and new. In terms of technology leadership, the rules are always the same; you have to play with it a bit. That's a harmless thing to do, but install twice rather than once.

Here's a tip: Use the second install for your riskier experiments.

Learning a bit of XUL is also a smart move. XML-based GUIs are a major emerging trend. Putting a toe in Mozilla's XUL water is a painless way to see the shape of the future. What basic skills do IT pros need to work with Mozilla?
Deploying Mozilla applications is no different [from] any other application. There are a few Web-like tricks that make remote deployment very easy. Some basic customizations can also be done using command-line tools, or using a text editor.

For more significant work, basic Web skills, scripting and basic XML ... a tool like WinZip will do. You don't have to touch the source code. You don't have to write any C or C++ code or use 'make'. What are some dos and don'ts for using Mozilla in a corporate environment?
The main 'do' is to know your own capabilities and needs. Mozilla can be customized in a huge number of ways. Deep customizations require time, training and energy. Like fire or debt, Mozilla is a good servant but a bad master. Only drill down while there's still value to you. Understanding the customization options is more important than displaying your first XUL page, even though the latter idea gives more instant gratification.

Don't compile Mozilla from source; just use an existing major release. Also, don't use a nightly release without a good reason. If you find yourself going down the development track, don't be hiding your changes. If you offer them back to the Mozilla community, you'll be rewarded with feedback, fixes and good feeling. Only bigger Mozilla applications have any hope of inventing IP. Mostly it's share and share alike, just as common Web page or PHP techniques are shared today.


Click here for part one of this interview.

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