Tag Archives: Hewlett-Packard Company

Podcast: HP, Palm, Spam and Social Media Cold Turkey

This podcast is from my weekly slot on Radio Australia Today with Phil Kafcaloudes and Adelaine Ng, wherein we discuss HP buying Palm, students going cold turkey on social media, and China no longer being the spam capital of the world?

To listen to the podcast, click on the button below. To subscribe, click here.

Loose Wireless 100430

I appear on Radio Australia Today every Friday at about 9.15 am Singapore time (that’s 0.15 GMT/UTC.) There’s a live stream of the broadcast here, or find out your local frequencies here.

Driver Phishing II, Or Who Is Trentin Lagrange?

I’m fully awake now, and doing some digging on who is behind the Driver Robot “driver phish.” The digging has introduced me to a whole level to the software scam industry.

The company that sells it is Victoria, BC, Canada-based Blitware (“or Blitware Technology Inc.,  to be precise,” as its website urges us). Nothing gives on its Who Is page, nor on the driverrobot.com website the software is hosted at. But a clue to the possibility that this isn’t just some cute little software developer is back on the LogitechDriversCenter website, which carries some named testimonials, among them this:

“I got a new graphics card but the framerate was terrible, and the manufacturer’s website didn’t help at all. It turns out that the driver that came with the card was 6 months out of date! Driver Robot got me the latest driver automatically, and now my whole system is more responsive, especially the games.”

Trentin Lagrange, CA

The good thing about a name like Trentin Lagrange is that it’s not that common. Not like the other two testimonials, which come from one Tim Whiteman and one Susan Peterson (not that they aren’t helpful. But nothing like Trentin.)

Who is Trentin?

A Google search of Trentin Lagrange indicates that either he’s a huge fan of driver update software, or that it’s not just about Logitech drivers or one small Canadian company anymore.

Trentin Lagrange, it turns out, has left glowing testimonials for driver update software, not just on the dodgy Logitech website (and a sister one at logitechdriverdownloads.com) but on websites like Realtekdriver.net, which also carries the company’s logo and calls itself “Realtek Drivers Download Center”:

image

As with the Logitech website, it’s only if you scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on a link “About us”

image

do you get to the truth of whether it’s a company website:

REALTEK is registered Trademarks of Realtek Semiconductor Corp.
All other trademarks are properties of their respective owners.
This website is not owned by or related to Realtek Semiconductor Corp.
We are not associated with Realtek Semiconductor Corp. in any way.
We are just running a site to help users who have trouble to getting hardware device drivers,
This web site is not associated with Realtek Semiconductor Corp. in any way.

Trentin has also left testimonials on websites that impersonate Dell-–delldriverscenter.com—complete with Dell logo

image

and favicon

image

And SIS at sisdrivers.org:

image

and MSI at msidrivers.org

image

and Intel at inteldriverscenter.com

image

and Asus at asusdriverscenter.com

image

and Acer at acerdriverscenter.com

image

and canon at canondriverscenter.com

image

as well as HP – hpdriverscenter.com

image

and driverforhp.com, with this HP-looking banner atop:

image 

No denials of being associated with HP on their about page, so I’m guessing HP’s lawyers haven’t been in touch yet.

Another website, atidriverscenter.com, seems to have closed. It was active in July, when this person fell for the scam and complained on a forum.  At least some companies seem to be watching.

Well, maybe not. This website, atidrivercare.com, is still working:

image

You get the picture.

Google’s Role

All of these websites appeared as sponsored ads above the search results in Google when looking for that manufacturer’s drivers (hp drivers etc) which throw up links to, for example, “official HPs [sic] Drivers & Updates”:

image

(For many users these sponsored ads are either normal search results, or sponsored in the sense of vetted, so they’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re clicking on something official.)

It seems that either Trentin, Tim and Susan are just really generous with their comments and share software tips on a regular basis, or this software schmoozefest is linked to Swishsoft the company that sells Swift Optimizer, software that compresses Flash files. All three put glowing reviews on the software website, althought it seems Susan has moved from the U.S. to Australia in the meantime. Must be the taxes.

And no, I couldn’t find any reference to Trentin Lagrange apart from glowing software testimonials. Either the guy just lives to write software reviews or he is not really living.

So, we’re clear that whoever is behind DriverRobot is also behind a number of websites that basically impersonate the websites of popular hardware vendors, either within the boundaries of the law or outside the knowledge of these companies’ lawyers.

Sponsored Run

But it’s also energetically fending off accusations that it’s all a scam. Do a Google search for driver robot and you get these sponsored ads above the results:

Similarly, the ads on the side of the results:

  • DriverRobot This Is The Real Deal?
    The Truth Will Shock You! reviewblogs.info
  • “DriverRobot” Report We Bought It And Tried It.
    The Truth Will Shock You! www.todaysreview.info/DriverRobot
  • Driver Robot Exposed Buying Driver Robot?
    Get The Facts! RealityChek.net

    The top one is a straight link to the download site. The others sound like links to stories exposing the scammery, right? But they’re not: They all take you straight to driverobot.com. No reviews, or even pretence at reviews.

    Clever, huh? Outwit your detractors who accuse you of impersonating official company websites by impersonating your detractors. There’s a twist I hadn’t thought of.

    Where are the Reviewers?

    But what about those logos from respected software reviewers, like PC Magazine, Softpedia (five stars!), Geek Files ((5/5 stars, Exceptional Product!) and Chip on the LogitechDriversCenter.com website and elsewhere?

    image

    I could find no reference to Driver Robot on the PC Magazine website. On Softpedia’s website I could find no “editor’s review” but found one user review—giving it two stars out of five but saying it used “borderline means to promote its service.” GeekFiles.com contained only discussions, no reviews.

    Depressing

    All of this is faintly depressing, because all the usual checks and balances we look to on today’s web seem to have gone out of the window:

    • a website address can contain a company’s name, with no apparent action from the company itself to protect either its name or its customers;
    • Googling a product doesn’t seem to work: sponsored ads mislead with words like “official” and what look to be review sites are actually redirects owned by the product’s owner
    • Badges from third party download and software websites don’t seem to be a guide, because they are either out of date or fake.

    The fact is that many people are going to be taken in by this kind of thing. Everyone needs drivers, and everyone searches for drivers by googling the manufacturer’s name and the word driver. As many people search for hp drivers as search for kenya on Google:

    So what I want to know is:

  • What are the companies involved doing to protect their brands, their products and their customers from misleading and potentially damaging products sold in their name?

  • What are software reviews sites doing to protect their brands, and their consumers from fraudulent badges?

  • What is Google doing about sponsored ads that mislead the public? 

The Worm and Tide Turn

It’s funny how things have changed. Before the days of the web, if someone offered you something for free you’d be all grovelly and the offerer would be all haughty. Like watching those matrons jostling and bashing each other with handbags at the Christmas sales, the sales assistants standing by assessing their nails.

Now, at least online, we’re frustrated and angry if things don’t work out the way we like, even if we aren’t paying for it. When Facebook had the effrontery to start trying to make some money from us we all went ballistic, including moi. Of course, that was partly about privacy, and about ownership. We are gradually becoming aware that everything revolves around our desire to spend, and so, finally, the customer is king. Or at least our data is.

We are slowly waking up to the fact that everything that is pitched to us as a reward is actually a lure: a customer “loyalty” card (loyalty by whom to whom? The company to the consumer? I think not). And a freebie is often a pair of handcuffs in disguise: A free TV when you sign up for a 24 month contract? (Try saying no to the TV but yes to a 12 month contract instead.

The truth is that we are being increasingly mined for our proclivities, and in so doing are being swamped by a cornucopia of gifts in the hope that we’ll give up some of our secrets. The web is the purest version of this: Every Web 2.0 service that has been launched has been free, or, at least partly free. I can’t think of one genuine Web 2.0 (and I don’t mean the faux Web 2.0 offerings, which try to look and feel like Web 2.0 but, like 40-year old men wearing sneakers and jeans cut a little too trendily for their age, give themselves away easily.

Swamped by this pile of freebies, our time becomes the most precious commodity to us. We realise we are in the ascendant and can flit easily from one service to another because so many exist and because we have to reach quick decisions about whether any merit our attention. Given this, you’d think that Web 2.0 services would be really careful about that initial experience (what folk like HP call the OOTBE — the out of the box experience.)

But it’s not always so. One service I signed up for wouldn’t accept the first password it sent me; I had to reset it and then it worked (my message to their support team went unanswered.) A second, webAsyst, wouldn’t recognise its own CAPTCHA codes:

image

it told me, only to admonish me:

image

There are two lessons here.

Web 2.0 is about speed. The interface — large fonts, interesting colors, fast loading pages or AJAX — is all about matching the speed of our online lives. So these obstacles undermine those efforts. Get that first impression right, because we won’t hang around.

Web 2.0 is also about user friendliness. If something doesn’t work, give the user some options about how to fix it, and, if you can, concede that it may be your own poor coding at fault rather than the poor user. In the webAsyst case, all the usual rules are broken:

  • the CAPTCHA doesn’t work.
  • the error message doesn’t have an OK button or anything to indicate what I might do next.
  • there’s no way to refresh the CAPTCHA to give me a different set of numbers to try (yes I tried replacing the 0 with an O with the same result.)

The result? I don’t bother with webAsyst anymore and I smell a 40 year-old man struggling to look cool in a 20 year-old’s getup.

Customer Abuse in Exotic Locales, Part I

imageimage

HP have long been fighting a battle against refill cartridges, especially in my part of the world. But I think they’re going too far in this case — abusing customers and damaging their credibility and brand in the process.  

Recently I received spam in my inbox from the website www.hporiginalsupplies.com, in Indonesian, inviting me to the HP Original Supplies Zone, where it said I could receive information about original HP products. (The email said I had received it because I had participated in HP promotions before. The only way that they could have received that particular email address was through my official dealings with HP, when at no time do I recall giving permission to be spammed — which raises its own concerns.)

The email itself contained some links to HP.com but its images etc were mostly hosted on the hporiginalsupplies.com website. I could find no easy way of confirming this was a legit HP site — the website was registered by a local webhosting company called Master Web Network. So no way of telling there. And as you may have found if you clicked on the link, the home URL itself throws up only a blank page; only this one, for unsubscribing, seems to.

It took a while for the HP guys to figure it out too: They came back to me today to tell me it is legit. It’s a website for an “electronic direct mailer” or eDM for “the HP Original Rewards program in Indonesia…. HP Original Rewards is an HP loyalty program designed for Small and Medium Businesses (SMB) for the purchase of original HP print cartridges.”

To their credit, HP acknowledge that the “eDM doesn’t comply with HP’s brand standards” and have promised to do something about it. But that’s not really what troubles me. What troubles me is this:

  • Why is HP setting up website addresses with its brand name in without following the usual brand procedures — a way for consumers to check whether it is, indeed, an HP site through the usual methods.
  • Why is HP sending out spam, sorry, eDMs? OK, this is just Indonesia, but hey, we’re still people, right? I don’t like being spammed at any hour of the day by anyone, but especially not by a big player who doesn’t even bother to identify themselves properly.
  • What makes this worse is that we’re talking about HP trying to persuade people to buy non-fake, non-refilled disposables. But how would I know that isn’t a company pretending to sell legit goods? The malls and streets here are full of exactly that: HP boxes and containers full of goods that aren’t, or are no longer, legit HP products.

I can understand HP’s difficulties here. It must be hard to launch these kinds of promotions while keeping an eagle eye on agencies and promoters you may outsource the work to. But if you’re trying to get the message across to consumers that they should be buying your genuine products and not falling for fakes and knock-offs, you shouldn’t be spamming them from a domain that itself looks fake and dodgy.

Killing the Couch-Loving Individualists

Is HP’s anti-telecommuting move just a bid to shed expensive jobs? Thanks to my old chum Tom Raftery (thanks for the accommodation, Tom, and congrats on the baby!) Bernie Goldbach reckons it is. And he makes the important point that customers

considering H-P as part of a core IT package during the next 12 months–ensure you are comfortable about the manner in which your requests for assistance are to be handled. The mid-career people who consult with you about your enterprise computing purchase today may not be on the H-P payroll at the end of the year. If you are working with someone from H-P to construct a robust data centre, I would ask whether that project manager or IT specialist has to move. You need to know whether the people who are upgrading your services will be around to service it next year, regardless of the hour of the day when you need help. When you buy H-P, you expect better than Wal-Mart.

What I probably didn’t stress enough in my morning post was that telecommuters, whether they’re doing the washing, mowing the lawn or riding a tractor during conference calls, will probably be at their computer long after the cubicle drones are on the beach parasailing. Telecommuters, I suspect, tend to be more diligent, even if they may take a nap on the sofa (I’ve just got a new one by the way; $150 for a very nice custom-made number from Ojolali) in the middle of the day. Whether it’s through guilt at breathing non-cubicle air or a heightened sense of professionalism born of independence, telecommuters are probably more productive than their cubicle-bound brethren.

This seems to be borne out by a survey in Australia conducted by Sensis, which reported that only 1% of businesses reported negative impacts from teleworking. Staff, however, told a different story: 13% felt they were actually working longer hours, according to The Melbourne Age. It’ll be interesting to see what happens at HP.

Turning Back the Telecommuting Tide

Good piece in the MercuryNews.com on HP’s decision to cut back on telecommuting: “HP believes bringing its information-technology employees together in the office will make them swifter and smarter. The decision shocked HP employees and surprised human resource management experts, who believe telecommuting is still a growing trend.”

Speaking as a telecommuter still in his morning sarong, I’m disappointed. But from a manager’s point of view I can understand. Telecommuting inhibits the natural transfer of skills and experience from the old timers to the newbies: The piece quotes the architect of the HP division’s change, Randy Mott, as saying that by bringing IT employees together to work as teams in offices, the less-experienced employees who aren’t performing well — which there are “a lot of” — can learn how to work more effectively.

Then there’s the problem of folk abusing the telecommuting option:

[O]ne of HP’s former IT managers, who left the company in October, said a few employees abused the flexible work arrangements and could be heard washing dishes or admitted to driving a tractor during conference calls about project updates. The former manager, who declined to be identified because he still has ties with HP, said telecommuting morphed from a strategic tool used to keep exceptional talent into a right that employees claimed.

Shame, because reversing telecommuting in a company that may have attracted better talent because of its telecommuting opportunites is not as easy as HP may think:

By August, almost all of HP’s IT employees will have to work in one of 25 designated offices during most of the week. With many thousands of HP IT employees scattered across 100 sites around the world — from Palo Alto to Dornach, Germany — the new rules require many to move. Those who don’t will be out of work without severance pay, according to several employees affected by the changes.

As one employee tells the paper’s Nicole C. Wong: “I like my flexibility. The only reason I’ve stayed with HP this long is because I’ve been telecommuting.”

Should Offensive Comments Be Deleted Or Edited?

Further to my posting about HP blogger David Gee removing another comment from his blog, here’s a reply to an email I sent him requesting comment:

My May 10 blog posting summarizes my personal opinion on blog censorship well. I stated the following: “Comments, whether positive or negative, are all fair game as the blogsphere resoundingly reminded me last week. Spam, off-topic, or defamatory comments are not appropriate and I reserve the right to remove them. That’s also fair game.” As such, I did pull this blog comment which included foul language. I believe we have the right to remove offensive posts. I would also draw your attention to the coverage this activity received in Slashdot as there is plenty of healthy debate around what’s “acceptable” and what’s not when posted to a corporate blog.

That said, I also believe that we should not be editing incoming comments (ie, remove the foul language), but instead we have the right to remove them per the criteria above. I can only imagine the feedback I’d receive if I started editing comments.

This approach has some merit. But I still have some problems with David’s answers which to my perhaps oversensitive ears have a little too much polish to them to have the authentic feel of a one-person, unfiltered blogger. Or as David puts it: “My blog is my own and I keep it pure by delivering my own unfiltered point of view.” This raises more questions than it answers about corporate blogging, and, to be fair, David is by far the least egregious example of why it doesn’t often work.

Let’s parse again. “Comments, whether positive or negative, are all fair game.” Good. True. “Spam, off-topic or defamatory comments are not appropriate and I reserve the right to remove them.” Hmmm. David before only referred to Spam or defamatory comments, not off-topic, so something is being slipped in here. Should off-topic comments be removed? In a corporate world, off-topic comments may seem to be, as he puts it, ‘fair game’ for removal. It’s like someone talking about something irrelevant in a meeting. He or she would soon be hushed (unless she was the boss.) In the blogosphere, I’m not so sure.

Of course, in a perfect world everyone would stay on-topic. But if they did, Slashdot would be a really boring place to visit, as would most blogs. And who is to decide what is off-topic and what isn’t?

David says, ‘As such, I did pull this blog comment which included foul language. I believe we have the right to remove offensive posts.’ No one likes foul language, but is deletion the only reponse? David points in his post to the BusinessWeek blog post about the topic, in which Heather Green writes the following:

So, we moderate because the magazine doesn’t want to risk that even one or two of the postings on this site ends up being pornographic, racist, libelous, or hateful. If we run into those, it’s likely that we will email the person who sent it and ask them if they want to rephrase. But we don’t delete critical comments, as you have seen.

I think that’s a fair and good solution. And, given that HP blogs require registration before comments are made, HP are in a good position to go back to the poster and seek a rephrase.

All this feeds my sneaking suspicion that a lot of corporations — and the individuals who ‘officially’ blog for them — see blogs as a marketing tool in the traditional form. The evidence is there: Registration before being allowed to comment. No email address for the blogger (I reached David through HP’s Singapore PR division). Lots of on-message stuff in the blog, lots of talk of passion and having lots to say. All true. But that’s not just what blogging is about. Being a corporate blogger means opening a window on your company, and expecting a bit of a bumpy ride. To many people you’re not an individual, you’re a representative of the company. You may not like what you hear in your comments, but you’re duty bound to represent the company and handle customers as you would expect to be handled yourself as a customer. Deleting a comment because you don’t like the way it’s expressed is a bit like ejecting a customer from the store because they seem a little agitated.

David’s area is management software, so elsewhere he could reasonably argue that any comment from a reader that’s not about management software is off-topic. But that’s not, in my view, how corporate blogging works, at least in these early days. Corporate blogs are not just about getting the message out. They’re about getting messages in. David has learned one part of the lesson by reinstating the first comment that he deleted. By deleting the second, and not seeing the problems with that, he’s failed to learn the second: That every reader is a customer, and not everything a customer says may be agreeable.

HP Blogger Deletes Another Customer Comment

A few days ago I wrote about HP’s censoring, and then uncensoring, of a comment to its blog. The removal of the comment caused a furore and led to the HP blogger, David Gee, apologising and acknowledging the good learning experience:

This was a good learning experience for us and we strive to maintain honest and open communication with our customers. If we are going to use blogging as a legitimate connection between us and our customers, we need to choose either to be in all the way or out. We choose to be in. We want to hear from you.

Kudos to them, but I couldn’t help noticing they’ve done it again. As I pointed out in the previous post, another customer had posted an even more outspoken comment, as follows:

I think you are a bastard if you delete posts like that. We have freedom of speech in this country and if you dont like it, THAN MOVE!

Wanna know what I think of HP??? I think HP is the worst computer company ever to exist! They lie. I got lied to 5 times over the phone during a series of technical support calls.They told me that if they sent the fixed product to me and it wasnt “really fixed”, that they would issue a refund. But you know what they did? They replaced (and deleted all of my data) the hard drive!! The problem was the internal WIFI card that I did not want to spend $50 buying a new one!

This Country is a democracy, and if you dont like it, than move!

-Casey S Posted by AngryHPCustomer#9999999991 on May 8, 2005 1:09:49 AM PDT

When I wrote the earlier post on Monday, Asian time, that post was still there. Two days on, I’ve looked hard, but I can no longer find it. Seven hours after AngryHPCustomer Casey S posted his comment, David Gee posted this:

Thanks for all the feedback and commentary here, in Slashdot and by Dan Gillmor. There’s a lot of constructive opinion which I for one greatly appreciate, and we’ll try and keep the spam and defamatory entries sidelined so we can focus on the discussion at hand.

I’m guessing Gee judged Casey S’ comments to be defamatory rather than spam. But are they? Well he does call David Gee a bastard, but he does make it conditional on him deleting posts such as the one the post is discussing. So I’m not sure how defamatory that is. Casey S’ post does contain some spelling errors, but it also contains what appears to be some legitimate feedback on HP’s customer service, albeit expressed in insufficient detail for HP to pursue directly.

But there’s a bigger point here. David Gee admitted messing up on the first deletion. That’s good. This second one is more tricky. But blogging, and taking comments, is not just about constructive opinion expressed politely. ‘Honest and open communication’ means just that. It means allowing all sorts to express their views, however poorly they may do so. Offensive comments that have no bearing whatsoever on the subject should be removed; offensive comments that do have some bearing on the discussion should either have their offensive wording removed (offensive being the comments about David Gee’s illegitimacy, not the assessment of HP as ‘the worst company ever to exist’), or the post removed and an explanation as to why put in its place. To do neither, and just remove without ceremony or explanation the post on a topic entitled ‘Taking It On The Chin’, ends up distorting the comment record and making a mistake little different to removing the earlier comment.

To parse David Gee’s subsequent comment more deeply: Lumping ‘spam and defamatory entries’ together is somewhat disingenuous, since it appears to put CaseyS’ comments in the same bucket as comment spam. Which it clearly is not. The word ‘sidelined’ to me sounds like a euphemism for ‘deleted’ or ‘erased’, since I can no longer find any record of CaseyS’ post. To talk about doing this to ‘focus on the discussion at hand’ sounds to me like steering a debate in the direction one wants, which is not what comments on blogs are about. Lastly, I’d suggest that CaseyS’ comments, though distasteful to some and not as coherent or directly relevant as others on the page, do refer to the ‘discussion at hand’, namely censoring blogs. Indeed, by removing the comment, David Gee has made CaseyS’ comments directly relevant to the ‘discussion at hand’.

In short, blog censorship is a tricky business and I’d urge HP not to indulge in it unless it really has to. Removing comment spam and comments that are clearly unrelated to the topic in hand is a no-brainer; they are no use to readers of the blog. But anything else is censorship, however disagreeable it may be to read. Casey S, however badly expressed his comments were, had a point. He is a customer, apparently, with a complaint. He should be heard, and his complaint should be investigated. He should not be erased without an explanation. HP — and other big companies embracing this new medium — have only just begun its learning experience.

(I’m going to send a note to David Gee and ask for his comments, which I’ll post here later.)

HP Gets Blogging. Or Does It?

I’m looking forward to the history of this period being written. It’s all moving very fast, and it’s sometimes easy to miss moments that could, for want of a less cliched term, be called tipping points.

We keep hearing about how companies have got to wake up to the power of blogs, and the idea of customer power, and engage in dialogue. But we don’t always see it as starkly as in this case, as pointed out by Dan Gillmor:

HP’s David Gee, head of worldwide marketing for HP’s management software business, deleted a negative comment on his month-old blog, encountered an angry and widespread anger, and backtracked. He apologises here:

We’re learning more and more about our customers every single day. Since I started to blog back in March, I’ve received comments posted online and eMail directly to me. Some are positive and some are negative. Earlier this week, an HP customer posted a comment about his experience upgrading a media center PC. His experience was not good and he let us know. We pulled the comment. This was a bad decision and we have reversed it.
This was a good learning experience for us and we strive to maintain honest and open communication with our customers. If we are going to use blogging as a legitimate connection between us and our customers, we need to choose either to be in all the way or out. We choose to be in. We want to hear from you.

As folk commenting on the post point out, this is a rare grovel, and free of PR spin. It would be interesting to know to what level that decision had to go before it was made. Because this is not an itsy-bitsy change. It’s fundamental. If you allow negative comments, if you allow customers to vent their spleen on your website (blog or otherwise), then you have to be ready to do that every day, with every customer, and feel the burn as customers start to talk to each other as much to you. On your time, and under your logo.

Just to underline the point, a poster added their own tuppennies’ worth to the bottom of the post:

I think you are a bastard if you delete posts like that. We have freedom of speech in this country and if you dont like it, THAN MOVE!

Wanna know what I think of HP??? I think HP is the worst computer company ever to exist! They lie. I got lied to 5 times over the phone during a series of technical support calls.They told me that if they sent the fixed product to me and it wasnt “really fixed”, that they would issue a refund. But you know what they did? They replaced (and deleted all of my data) the hard drive!! The problem was the internal WIFI card that I did not want to spend $50 buying a new one!

This Country is a democracy, and if you dont like it, than move!

-Casey S Posted by AngryHPCustomer#9999999991 on May 8, 2005 1:09:49 AM PDT

At the time of writing this, the posting is still up there. HP, welcome to the world of blogs.

Interview With Firefox’s Ben Goodger

I was fortunate to be able to fire off some questions to Ben Goodger, Lead Engineer of Mozilla Firefox by email, for this week’s column on browsers in the Asian Wall Street Journal/WSJ.com (subscription only). Here’s a full transcript of the interview.

1) How different has it been, getting Firefox into shape, than if the operation were run as a commercial operation?

It’s been an enormous challenge for a huge number of people. Over the years, hundreds of engineers have contributed code, hundreds and thousands more testing and other types of materials, probably millions of man-hours spent. The major difference and biggest benefit to the Open Source process is that we get the benefit of those thousands of people for whom an internet of free and open standards is important. That community includes some of the brightest minds in the business, committed to improving security and user experience. Some important contributions from the volunteer effort include our visual identity (iconography, theme design, website etc), much of our distributed quality assurance effort (thousands of people download “nightly builds” and use them as their browser – a great way to find and report bugs as they occur), and our massive localization effort.

2) What is your response to people’s fear about something free: That it’s less secure, less likely to survive, less professional, less, well, proper?

The industry backing of the Mozilla Foundation by companies like Sun, IBM, Novell etc coupled with an increased awareness among the web development community (Hewlett Packard released guidelines on its web site recently advising its content authors to test their materials in Firefox) as well as accelerating adoption among users and organizations alike show that Firefox is more than a flash in the pan. The results are shown in the marketshare which continues to climb month over month, in our download statistics which if anything show an increase following the holiday period. We’re just getting started.

I’m aware people will be skeptical of something that’s free. Well, all I can say to that is: buying the CD from www.mozillastore.com is a great way to satisfy your urge to spend money and it also supports the Mozilla Foundation 🙂

3) It seems to me that innovation in software has been mainly in browsers, the past few years. Not just Firefox, but K-Meleon, Opera, iRider, Deepnet, Netcaptor, etc. Would you agree with that, and if so, why is this? And then, following on from that, do you think Microsoft have missed a significant opportunity by not really working on IE in the meantime?

I wouldn’t say that innovation has been mainly in browsers – a great number of new pieces of software that I couldn’t live without have risen in the past half decade, look at iTunes, Google, and next generation internet apps like Skype that make use of higher bandwidth connections. But you’re right, there have been significant developments in Web browsers in the past few years – specifically in the areas of making it easier to find and manage content (see Firefox’s Google bar, Find Toolbar, Tabbed Browsing and RSS integration – all ways in which we make it easier for people to get at stuff).

I think it’s very difficult to be in Microsoft’s position – they have a lot of customers who have written applications to work with their system and a precedent for not having changed their formula much, which makes movement in a particular direction a more involved proposition as they need to carefully determine the impact of their changes on the people who have written solutions specifically tailored to their system. I do think they will move however, it’s not a matter of if, but when. They see what’s going on, and they will react.

4) What of the role of plugins? It seems to me there’s been a fascinating movement of innovators just working on individual little features? How important has that been? How hard was it to make the software so people could do that? Is this the future of software?

This was one of the benefits of the architecture chosen by the original implementors of much of the UI architecture we use now, I have to single out Dave Hyatt and Chris Waterson here for mention – they among others back in the Netscape days had the foresight to see the value of an extensible system, one which after years of refinement has led us to where we are today.

Plugins are an important part of the ecosystem of Mozilla applications. They allow people to customize their software in nearly infinite ways, adding new innovations that we may not have thought of yet, or tailoring the experience to suit very specific audiences in ways that we cannot in the main line distribution. Plugins in web pages allow for a richer content experience. In short – these application extensions are part of the applications’ DNA which allow every user to have the software that makes sense for them.

5) Where do you see Firefox going? Will it continue to innovate? Will you continue to be a part of it?

We’re still working on our 2.0 plans, we have a lot of ideas, no final schedule yet. It will absolutely continue to be a beacon for Open Source Software innovation and usability. At this time, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, and the talented people I work with all feel the same.

6) Where do you see the browser going? Will it replace other programs, as it seems to be replacing the RSS reader?

We will integrate services as and when they make sense, not for any other reason. At all costs we must resist the urge to go down the path of unnecessary feature creep – that’s what we have developed our extension architecture for. As for other applications, some have moved to the web such as email and photo management, and we will obviously continue to be a portal to those.

7) You’re pretty young. How easy/hard has this been for you? Did you expect Firefox to make such a big splash?

The work I’ve done on this project is the most interesting/challenging I’ve done to date, and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. By extending ourselves and setting the bar not just at the level of the competition but higher we make a statement not only in the quality of the software we create, but about the value of the Open Source model of software development. I think we expected Firefox to be more successful than the Mozilla Application Suite (currently in 1.7.x) that preceded it, but I don’t think we expected it to be quite this big. Every release for the past year things seemed to get exponentially bigger in terms of popularity and buzz. We’ve now had over 21 million downloads – that’s amazing for any piece of software.

Thanks, Ben, and good luck in your new job. (More by Ben and his new job here.)