Services & Software

Mozilla: Hit bug on head, win lizard

The group behind the open-source Mozilla browser challenges geeks to guess when the project's 200,000th bug will be reported.

In a tech industry equivalent to guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, the development group behind the Mozilla browser is challenging geeks to guess the exact date and time when the project's 200,000th bug will be reported.

In a posting to three newsgroups devoted to the Netscape-hatched open-source browser, including "netscape.public.mozilla.general," Mozilla staff member Gervase Markham invited developers to e-mail a guess. The prize? A "limited-edition Mozilla 1.0 commemorative CD, with large red lizard on the front."

The name Mozilla is a combination of Netscape's original moniker, Mosaic Communications, and the name of the giant lizard/dinosaur of Japanese monster movie fame. Markham announced the contest this week. The entry deadline is Nov. 14, at noon PST.

One-fifth of a million bugs may seem like a sizable swarm, but Mozilla representatives point out that the number includes every ticket submitted through the group's Bugzilla bug- and suggestion-tracking system since its launch in March 1998. They also say many of the tickets are reporting the same bug, or are requests for new features, rather than alarms about security or functionality glitches.

The pace of Bugzilla reports has quickened over the course of the project. Although it took more than three years for the system to record its 100,000th bug--a similar sweepstakes was held in August 2001--the second 100,000 were submitted in just over a year.

Markham called the 200,000-bug milestone an indication of Mozilla's success in attracting volunteers.

"The fact that we've (nearly) reached 200,000 items in Bugzilla is a tribute to the dedication and effort of the Mozilla (quality assurance) team and the contributions of tens of thousands of people," wrote Markham in an e-mail interview. Those contributors are "helping us make the product better."

Netscape Communications' establishment of the Mozilla organization marked the first time a mass-market, proprietary software title was released as an open-source development project. But Netscape's bold move yielded disappointing results, as the software languished in development for 32 months.

When Netscape finally released a branded version of the browser, called Netscape 6, critics and users complained that it had too many bugs.

Later releases of Netscape 6 and, more recently, of Netscape 7, have fared better. And Mozilla's homegrown Bugzilla reporting system has taken on a life of its own. Organizations using Bugzilla for their own development projects include Red Hat, Ximian, Apache, Brandeis University, ComputerWorld, SGI, and the U.S. Army and Navy, according to Mozilla.