Lots of goody goodness going on over at Mozilla today. First, they released Mozilla 1.5. Then they released Firebird 0.7. Then they released Thunderbird 0.3. Then they started selling Mozilla on CD, finally catching up to where the major browsers were seven years ago. And then, if that wasn’t enough, they announced that they’re redesigning their web site yet again, this time with help from Dave Shea and friends. These are all very good things. It’s good to see that Mozilla is thriving just as much by itself, if not more, as it did under AOL.
I’m still a little boggled about the whole Mozilla roadmap and where we currently are at. The document says that during Mozilla 1.5 and 1.6, Mozilla as we know it will be fading into the background and Firebird will become the dominant browser. Well, we’re at 1.5, and the nightlies are reporting themselves as 1.6, and yet Firebird is still a separate product, still a ways from its 1.0 release. So let’s just say the whole thing is still confusing and leave it at that.
I’m also torn over their new design. I want to like it, since it’s by Dave Shea, and Dave Shea invented the CSS Zen Garden and earned himself a place near the top of the list of Great Web Designers That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of. But this new design feels unfinished. Disjointed. Even a little lifeless. It’s nothing specific I can put my finger on, it just seems that, while it might have a snappier look to it, it’s actually a step backwards from their current design. I guess that’s why it’s still a beta version, and why they’re looking for comments. No doubt others will see the same shortcomings and be able to articulate them better than I, and everything will get straightened out by launch time.
Mozilla’s a great product, it’s just always had a marketing problem. Even when it was owned by AOL, one of the Web’s great marketers, it was ignored and forgotten. If a Mozilla installer had been included on an AOL CD, usage would have shot up a hundred fold. But AOL was never comfortable with this odd little creature that came stowed away with Netscape, and so they never did anything with it. Casting it loose was probably the best thing they could have done for it; now Mozilla’s free to do what it wants. Marketing should now be Job One around there. Get the word out. Mozilla was built on, and still relies on, grassroots marketing. That’s why I write about it so much; I’m doing my part to spread the word, and hopefully get a couple of new users on board. But grassroots alone can only go so far. I can point someone to mozilla.org, but I can only take it on faith that the site is going to meet that person’s needs when they get there. The first Mozilla site, the one they had up for years, was geared towards developers. You had to know exactly where to look to find out what the latest version was and how to download it. And if you were new to Mozilla and looking for information, good luck. Their current site does a lot better in some respects, but it’s still geared more towards current users looking for the latest news and upgrades. The new design is the same, and even more so. What Mozilla really needs is a website that can draw in somebody who’s never heard of Mozilla. If all the visitor has is a URL, or gets curious about this new word and types “Mozilla” into Google, they should be able to visit mozilla.org and find out what the heck Mozilla is, why they should use it, and what makes it better than everything else out there. This is the area their website has always been deficient in, and the new design doesn’t change that.
Mozilla, you need to cater to the newbie. Your current users are zealots; they’re committed to you, and they’ll keep coming back no matter what. They won’t mind if their needs take a back seat on your website. You need to speak to new users, and their needs should come first on your website. Draw them in, and you’ll only get bigger. Ignore them, and you’ll stagnate.