Too Many Life Events

The other day I logged into IBM's benefits system and received the message "You have too many life events." I knew what the problem was - it couldn't process both next year's enrollment and my return from leave of absence (more on that later), but those words really stuck with me.

I'm currently reading the book "When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life" by Julie Morgenstern. One of the concepts that she talks about in the book is that people can have trouble moving on to new things in their life because the tendency is to hold on to the old and be dragged down by it. It's not just about stuff - it's about time, activities, projects and habits.

The internet has really perpetuated this problem. If you were to search for me on Google, you would find references to Microformats, Firefox in the Enterprise, various Firefox Add-Ons like Operator and Activities, OS/2 and more. Because of the internet, I am forever tied to these various projects. What I've discovered about myself is that I have a tendency to hold on to everything I've ever done and feel guilty that I'm not participating in some of the activities that I started. As a result, I have trouble starting and focusing on new things because I feel like I should be maintaining the old. My hope is to use this post to give a life status and quantify what I'm really working on. First lets start with IBM.

As of November 15, I am officially an IBM employee again. I ended my leave of absence two months early. What basically happened is that IBM found a browser related position for me and the economy tanked. In the interest of my family and my future, I thought it was prudent to return to IBM and get a steady paycheck. I'm continuing some of my work on the side, particularly with Brand Thunder and Minggl as long as it continues to not conflict with my work at IBM. I don't consider my try at consulting a failure - I learned quite a bit about myself and how I work. I think part of the problem in the beginning was that I had expectations that I could find a way to get paid to continue the work I did before as opposed to creating new work. In the end what I realized is that I need to spend some time learning how to market myself and getting a VERY firm financial foundation before I try again. We'll see how long that takes. Note that Kaply Consulting will continue, and I'll be at the Add-on-Con in December not necessarily drumming up business but certainly networking.

Given that my job at IBM really has very little to do with what I've done before, I've realized that it's time to SHED some of the old things that I've been working on. I have enough going on outside of IBM to keep me busy and I will have very little time inside of IBM to maintain those projects. So without further adieu, the list:

Firefox in the Enterprise - I had always believed that I could help to build some momentum behind creating a better story for using Firefox in the enterprise, but I no longer believe that is the case. While I hope that other people take up this banner, without the support of Mozilla in this effort, I'm not sure anything will ever really come of this. Every year or so there seems to be a slight resurgence, but it never goes anywhere. I know there are some companies out there doing work around this like FrontMotion and Novell, but I really believe that someone needs to come behind this effort and really work to increase Firefox enterprise adoption. I'm just not that person. Obviously I've created a lot of information and technology around this subject and I will answer questions, but I have no interest in leading this effort anymore.

CCK Wizard - The CCK Wizard was really my first effort in extension development. When IBM was evaluating what was missing for Firefox enterprise adoption this one came up and I did it. Even though there have been a lot of downloads and people are using it, I've always been surprised at how many people simply don't know about it. It's a great tool if you need to deploy a customized browser for your organization. The greatest thing about the CCK Wizard is that it started me on a road of learning a great deal about customizing Firefox which helped me in future efforts. That being said, within the next week, I will update the CCK Wizard for Firefox 3 on amo and then I will cease work on it. As it relates closely to the enterprise work, it really doesn't fit in the scope of what I'm working on. I might at least test it with Firefox 3.1, but I'm not making any commitments to that.

Group Policy Support - One of the other areas that was perceived as lacking in Enteprise Firefox was Group Policy support. I was working with Cesar Oliveira from Seneca College on putting something together, but honestly I just didn't have the time to put into it. I hope he at least got a good grade from the work he did. This effort gave me even more expertise on tweaking and customizing the browser, but in the end its simply not something that I can invest more time into, so I'm not going to be working on it. This is a really interesting concept, though, and hopefully someone in the future will pick it up.

Rebrand - Most people probably don't even know about this extension, but it was an interesting side project that still gets downloads. I had a request when I was working on the CCK Wizard to remove Firefox branding so I created a wizard that does this. Note this works without modifying the base Firefox install. I've since discovered in my work on the Starpulse Browser and the Huffington Post Browser for Brand Thunder that rebranding is more complicated than just an extension, especially on Mac. However, it is possible to completely rebrand Firefox without rebuilding the source and even get your updates from Mozilla. If this is something you want to do, I recommend you contact Brand Thunder or me. We'll help you make it happen. I'll be removing the Rebrand extension from amo in a week or so.

Firefox Microformats - Even though I've worked in the Mozilla/Firefox space for quite a while, microformats was really my first substantial contribution outside of my OS/2 work. I was excited to be able to do it, and it branched nicely from my work on Operator. I know it's being used by the Ubiquity folks and that's pretty cool. Hopefully other extensions will see it as a way to easily integrate microformats with their extension. What I discovered working on microformats is that I had really gotten away from what it means to work on a project with schedules and deadlines. The support in Firefox 3 was good, but it would have been better if I'd paid more attention to the product side of things. From a future perspective, I will continue to own the microformats code and fix bugs as necessary, but I have no plans to enhance the code.

Operator - Deciding what to do with Operator is difficult. It holds a special place for me because it was the first extension I did that kind of became "mainstream." It has almost 100,000 downloads and still quite a few users. Microsoft even mentions it being inspirational for their microformats work. That being said, I'm going to do a few fixes for Operator, call it 1.0 and then stop development. My primary motivation for ceasing work on Operator is that I simply reached what feels like a dead end to me. Looking at things like openService and Ubiquity commands, I realize that I kind of architected myself in a corner with regards to adding custom functionality. In addition, Operator was really intended to just be an experiment as to how a microformats UI would work in the browser. Hopefully some day a decision will be made on how to do that and Operator type functionality will simply be a part of the browser. I know people still like Operator and what it represents. And I know it has been used recently by some big companies for some interesting things. I plan to integrate at least some of the key functionality with Activities so my microformats work will certainly not go away completely.

Activities for Firefox - In looking at the stats from amo, this one surprised me. While Operator has been downloaded more, Activities has more daily users and more downloads per week. Originally I had done this extension just to show how easily Microsoft's new Activities functionality could be done in Firefox. What I've learned since then is that this extension combined with extensions to openService creates a much better platform for the future than Operator. As such, this extension will be the one extension that I continue to work on. Hopefully the microformats work in Activities will be enough to satisfy folks. Note that Microsoft has renamed this technology to Accelerators - I'm not sure if I will rename the extension.

OS/2 - I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of this one. I'll continue to do builds as I can, and once I'm in my new office, I'll setup the build machine to do nightly build again. If there is someone out there that wants to step up and takeover doing official builds, I'd be more than happy to give them the machine to do it with. But I will continue to do this in the foreseeable future.

Dave Ramsey Facebook App - This was basically a learning experience for writing a Facebook application. Enough people have installed it and care about it that this one is staying around.

Everything I've worked on (except for the Facebook app) is open source, so if any of this technology interests you, let me know and I'll show you where the code is.

Look for updates on my SHED progress in the near future, as well as more information about my new job at IBM.

NorthWestMozDev Meeting

I haven't posted in a while, and I am planning some posts, but in the mean time, thought I'd put a plug in for the next northwest Mozilla developers meeting that Brij Charan is putting together.

I'm setting up the 2nd NorthWestMozDev meeting here in vic.
It's basically a meeting for the group of mozilla developers here in the north west to discuss various mozilla based technology.

I need a response from everyone that is attending please, as I need to book the location, etc.
If you do not respond, I cannot count you in as attending.
There is only so much space, so I need to know exactly who is attending.

When?
Saturday, November 29th, Victoria.

Where?
Downtown Victoria, BC, Canada

What?
Mozilla technology, programming, hackfest.
Note: Not a marketing session, more of a development meeting.

It'll be similar to the Vancouver meeting setup.
Which was basically an open group hack fest.
We all split into groups and discuss various mozilla technologies, as well as exchange new development methodologies, and optimizations with each other.
We also showcase any new techniques (that aren't under NDA) to eachother to help optimize your mozilla workflow.

Who?
People invited will likely be:

* Flock folks.
* BT Folks,
* Songbird,
* Activestate,
* Mozilla Mail,
* Other Mozilla community members.

Contact Brij here: brijcharan at gmail.com

Firefox Affiliate Branding

One of the conversations I had quite a bit at the Firefox Summit was around affiliate branding and my belief that Mozilla should be doing more to allow for custom versions of Firefox for a particular brand. Brand Thunder, a company I'm working with, is publishing a case study that backs up this belief. If you don't know what Brand Thunder does, they produce custom themes and extensions for brands. So for instance, if you love the Washington Capitals, you can install their custom browser theme for Firefox.

What Brand Thunder has determined is that after the Capitals made the Firefox theme available, the number of visitors to the Capitals website using Firefox went up, and Firefox marketshare couldn't account for all of it.

We don’t want to give away all the facts that are found in the case study, but one that we’re proud of is we doubled the penetration of Firefox usage on the Capitals web site. OK, we’ll give Firefox its due since it saw 40% growth over that period of time (growing from 16% to 19% over the time frame analyzed). Even giving Firefox credit for a 40% lift, that still leaves 60% that looks an awful lot like Brand Thunder contribution.

So where's the affiliate branding connection? The problem is that in order to use the Washington Capitals theme, people had to go get Firefox and install it. This step probably eliminated quite a few people. How many more Firefox users would there be if they could have simply downloaded a version of Firefox with the Washington Capitals extension and theme already installed?

Enterprise Firefox Requirements

I was going through some old documents from the office and found the result of a brainstorming session around Enterprise Firefox requirements. I wanted to capture this list somewhere and figured this was the best place. Note that some of these might be done and some of these might not even be clear - this was just a moment in time. It will be interesting to see what other folks think of the list. It is in no particular order.

  • Security (keycards, etc.)
  • MSI Packaging
  • Active Directory Integration
  • Perfect unattended install
  • Allow entire Firefox directory to be specified
  • Roaming profiles
  • CCK for Thunderbird
  • Store preferences in registry?
  • Allow cache to be local with a remote profile
  • Better ActiveX sandbox for Firefox
  • Scalable deployment/management
    • IEAK
    • Active Directory
    • Registry Editing
  • Centralized Management
  • Better enterprise patch deployment tools (Tivoli)
  • WebDAV?
  • LDAP
  • Kiosk mode
  • Whitelisting

What do people think? What on this list is really important?

A Self Cleaning Inbox

Maybe someone has already thought of this, but it was new to me...

I was talking with Myk Melez at the Mozilla Summit and as he described for me how he manages his mail, I realized that one of the problems with mail systems today is that we treat them the same way we treat regular mail. When I receive snail mail, I go through the mail, quickly throw away the junk and then probably leave the rest in a stack on the counter where bills are forgotten or coupons expire. Basically I'm picking out the easy stuff to throw away and keeping the rest. This is how most people treat email as well. Junk mail is easy to get rid of, but a lot of stuff just sits in our inbox for no reason. What if we turned this process on its head?

Imagine an inbox where mail that you've read disappears from your inbox after say three days. It could be archived or deleted. The only way to keep it from disappearing is to flag it or file it after you read it. You would be forced to make a decision on mail when you receive it (or within three days) and mail you don't really care about would simply disappear. And your inbox would only contain very new stuff or stuff you deliberately flagged.

This would probably be a fairly straightforward arrangement to setup in gmail, so I think I am going to try it. Once I empty my inbox of course :).

Time for Something Different (Well Not That Different)

The month of June has some particular milestones in my IBM career. June 29, 1989 was my first day as a co-op. June 7, 1993 was my first day as a full-time employee. And just about every promotion I've ever received was in June.

And now it's time for another one.

Effective June 30, I will be taking a leave of absence from IBM to work on Firefox.

I know what you're thinking. Isn't that what I do at IBM? Actually, there is very little Firefox work left in IBM, and most of that is me. What I have determined about myself is that I really enjoying working in the Mozilla community and I want to figure out if there is enough interesting work out there in the Firefox space to keep myself gainfully employed.

So my plan is (with IBM's approval) to offer consulting/contracting services around Firefox during my leave of absence.

So if you need help with enterprise deployment/customization of Firefox or developing custom Firefox extensions, you can drop me a line - consulting at kaply.com.

And for all you OS/2 users, don't freak out; the OS/2 builds will continue. I'll probably setup a tip jar for the extra bandwidth I'll need at home.

Semantic Web Austin

GeekAustin hosted the Semantic Web Austin launch party last night. I was a speaker and got a chance to talk about Operator, Activities and the Microformats support in Firefox 3. I also took the opportunity to hand out some Firefox stickers. All in all, a very fun event, and a nice chance to meet Austin internet folks. If you want to learn more, Austin 3.0 has some interviews and other info about the event.

Customizing Firefox with the CCK Wizard

New version with fix for search engines not working.

FYI, I'm making a beta of the CCK Wizard available today for Firefox 3.

If you are deploying Firefox in your enterprise, educational institution, or even your household, you'll want to check out the CCK Wizard (info at that link is a little dated right now).The CCK Wizard is an implementation of the old Netscape CCK that allows you to customize various aspects of Firefox and then contain all of those customizations in a single Firefox extension. Here are some of the things you can do

  • Add an identifier to the user agent string
  • Change the default home page and startup override home page
  • Change the title bar text
  • Change the animated logo
  • Add a web page and tooltip used for the animated logo
  • Add a help menu item that links to a web page
  • Provide sites for which popups and XPInstalls are allowed by default
  • Preinstall browser plug-ins
  • Preinstall search engines
  • Change the default search engine
  • Add folders, bookmarks and live bookmarks to the personal toolbar
  • Add folders, bookmarks and live bookmarks to the bookmarks folder
  • Set default preferences
  • Lock preferences
  • Add registry keys (Windows only)
  • Add certificates (See NOTE below)
  • Set default proxy configurations
  • Package other XPIs with your distribution
  • Disable about:config

Note that if you customize Firefox using the CCK Wizard, there are certain restrictions on redistribution outside of your organization, especially if you add certificates. Read the Mozilla Foundation Trademark policies for more info, or contact licensing@mozilla.org.

And please let me know if you find any bugs.