As much as you might like to hear the Mozilla staff saying that their application is focused on being a well-designed, focused web browser built around their world-class rendering engine, the reality is that Mozilla is seen by them as, "a cross-platform toolkit for developing Internet-based applications" just as much as it, "integrates a core set of applications that allow users to access the capabilities of the Web, including a web browser, an email reader and a chat client1."
This seems an odd view for the leadership of a project that was seen by many as a way for the open source community to lead the beleaguered Netscape to victory over Microsoft in the browser wars when it was founded, and this is reflected in the product. The Mozilla Project, throwing the combined work of hundreds of programmers into a project much as Microsoft does, has fallen victim to the same pitfalls we fault them for so often: bloat, lack of focus, and poor design. Who would have imagined that in 2002 it would be the open-source opponents to MS' internet scheme that would be forcing us to use a bundled suite and that IE would be praised for its competitively superior user interface?
Let's start with the bundling. One of the biggest complaints with Netscape's 4.0 browser (which Mozilla grew from) was that Netscape initially offered it only as the Communicator suite with a bundled email program and web page composer. Netscape had the good sense to release a standalone version of Navigator as well, but the Mozilla project has continued to force a whole suite of programs on end-users, and have added a few of their own.
Now these are not bad programs, but they would be much more valuable if they were available separately as open-source alternatives for users of any web browser and the browser would be much more valuable without them as many users who would consider Mozilla already use better email, chat, and page design programs. The bloat this causes also leads to a download size which is way out of line with the other alternative browsers out there and which creates quite a barrier to potential users who are on 56K.
Another complaint about Mozilla is its UI, or lack thereof. Perhaps one of the most ill-fated decisions in the project was the use of XUL (an XML-based system) for the user interface. This results in Mozilla not using a good, standard interface on any platform, and instead of progressing beyond the Netscape 4 UI, which was behind IE and one of NS' weak points at the time, we are still using Netscape designs by default! Now Mozilla does indeed allow you to change your theme, but this does little beyond changing which pixmaps you are seeing instead of your OS' widgets, and the sets which use images of your OS' widgets to emulate a real application seem only to drive home the fact that you are not seeing a real interface when you go to use them. XUL does have interesting possibilities if you are looking for a, "cross-platform toolkit for developing Internet-based applications," but if you are looking for a web browser they amount to little more than a lazy port job. Beyond this, Mozilla simply does not aim to do everything as simply and efficiently as possible, and is a good example of software by programmers, for programmers.
What all this points to is a crisis of leadership in the Mozilla organization (as the previous leader's resignation points to). The very fact that the goal of the project would change to include anything besides making the best possible browser sums up the problem with the project. Someone needs to just say no to some of these ideas, and to focus the great deal of talent that contributes to the Mozilla Organization in a much more productive way. A XML UI is an interesting idea, but it doesn't belong in the main distribution, nor do unrelated internet apps.
That said, the Mozilla project has given us an excellent, open-source, standards-compliant web rendering engine, and this is the true promise of the project. The Mozilla Organization may have left it up to others to build an IE-killing web browser around their engine, but they have done the hard work for us. Mozilla also incorporated some excellent features from other browsers, such as the keyword system, and came up with some great ideas of their own like tabbed browsing; the source for all these features is now available to us as well. That is why I see this as not the time to celebrate and implore our friends to switch to Mozilla, but to contribute to one of the many groups working to build a great web browser around the Gecko engine.
Some very notable examples are the Galeon project for GNOME, the Chimera project for Mac OS X, and the K-Meleon project for Windows (just reading the Galeon mainifesto will echo much of what I have said here, and Chimera, still building up to version 0.3, has become my primary browser; thanks to William Rees for pointing out K-Meleon). You should also remember that all the great alternative browsers that support web standards, such as Opera, are doing just as much to keep the web open.
So as much as I am disappointed by the Mozilla Organization, we all owe them a big thank you for the great engine, and we must all work together to continue to promote standards, whether you actually like the official Mozilla web application suite, you use another alternative browser, or you work with a project building a better browser around Gecko.