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Jamie Zawinski

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Jamie Zawinski

Jamie Zawinski
Born James Werner Zawinski
(1968-11-03) November 3, 1968
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Occupation DNA Lounge proprietor

James Werner "Jamie" Zawinski (born November 3, 1968 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), commonly known as jwz, is an American formerly professional Software Engineer responsible for significant contributions to the free software projects Mozilla and XEmacs, and early versions of the Netscape Navigator web browser. He maintains the XScreenSaver project which provides screenblanking for Mac OS X and for Unix and Unix-like computer operating systems using the X Window System.[1]

Zawinski is currently the proprietor of the DNA Lounge, a nightclub in San Francisco.


Zawinski's early career included stints with Scott Fahlman's Lisp research group at Carnegie Mellon University, Expert Technologies, Inc. and Robert Wilensky and Peter Norvig's group at Berkeley. In the early 1990s, he was hired by Richard P. Gabriel's Lucid Inc. where he was eventually put to work on Lucid's Energize C++ IDE. Lucid decided to use GNU Emacs as the text editor for their IDE due to its free license, popularity, and extensibility. Zawinski and the other programmers made fundamental changes to GNU Emacs to add new functionality. Tensions over how to merge these patches into the main tree eventually led to the fork of the project into GNU Emacs and XEmacs.[2]

Zawinski, with Marc Andreessen's help, worked on the early releases of Netscape Navigator, particularly the 1.0 release of the Unix version.[3][4] He became quite well known in the early days of the world wide web through an easter egg in the Netscape browser: typing "about:jwz" into the address box would take the user to his home page (a similar trick worked for other Netscape staffers). In addition, Zawinski says he came up with the name "Mozilla" in a staff meeting.[5] [6]

In 2000, Zawinski starred in the 60-minute-long PBS documentary "Code Rush". However, the footage was taken during 1998 while Zawinski was still working for Netscape in which he is portrayed as a pivotal person in the company. In addition, he underlined his preference for the night scene which led him to buy a nightclub.[7]

Zawinski was a major proponent of opening the source code of the Mozilla browser and a key person in the creation the Mozilla project, but became disillusioned with the project when others decided to rewrite the code instead of incrementally improving it.[8][9] When Netscape was acquired by AOL he wrote a famous bulletin explaining the nature of the Free Software Mozilla code.[10] He resigned from Netscape Communications Corporation on April 1, 1999.[11] [12] His current occupation is managing his DNA Lounge nightclub in San Francisco.

"The company got big, and big companies just aren't creative. There exist counterexamples to this, but in general, great things are accomplished by small groups of people who are driven, who have unity of purpose. The more people involved, the slower and stupider their union becomes." - Jamie Zawinski (on his resignation from AOL)


Jamie Zawinski is a Lisp programmer, but most of his projects are written in Perl[13] and C.[14]

While still working for Netscape, Zawinski was supposedly known for his dislike of C++, stemming from his view that the language is too complex:

when you’re programming C++ no one can ever agree on which ten percent of the language is safe to use. There’s going to be one guy who decides, “I have to use templates.” And then you discover that there are no two compilers that implement templates the same way.[14]

Because of this he believes C++ to be responsible for bloat and compatibility problems in Netscape 4.0.[15]

Also, Zawinski criticizes several language and library deficiencies he encountered while programming in Java, precisely an overhead of certain classes but also a lack of features such as C-like assertions and typedefs. Despite the positive aspects, ultimately Zawinski returned to programming in C "since it's still the only way to ship portable programs."[16]

In his post-Netscape life, he continued to proselytize against C++. In Peter Seibel's book "Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming", Zawinski calls C++ an "abomination."[17]

Zawinski's law of software envelopment

Zawinski's law of software envelopment (also known as Zawinski's law) relates the pressure of popularity to the phenomenon of software bloat:

Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.

Examples of the law in action include Emacs, MATLAB, Mozilla, Opera, Trillian, Drupal, Orchestra (which became Mailbox).

This law is attributed to Jamie Zawinski, who popularized it. It may have been inspired by the humorous Law of Software Development and Envelopment at MIT, which was posted on Usenet in 1989 by Greg Kuperberg, who wrote:[18]

Every program in development at MIT expands until it can read mail.

See also


  1. ^ "XScreenSaver: Download". Retrieved 2014-02-03. 
  2. ^ Zawinski, Jamie (2000-02-11). "The Lemacs/FSFmacs Schism.". Archived from the original on 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  3. ^ Netscape Navigator's "about:authors" page
  4. ^ Steinert-Threlkeld, Tom (November 1995). "Can You Work in Netscape Time?".  
  5. ^ Zawinski, Jamie (1996). "the netscape dorm.". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  6. ^ Dave Titus with assistance from Andrew Wong (December 2002). "How was Mozilla born: The story of the first mascot on the Internet". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  7. ^ Leonard, Andrew (2000-02-10). "Free the night life!".  
  8. ^ Suárez-Potts, Louis (2001-05-01). "Interview: Frank Hecker". 
  9. ^ Boutin, Paul (July 1998). "Mozilla.organizer".  
  10. ^ Zawinski, Jamie (1998-11-23). "fear and loathing on the merger trail".  
  11. ^ Zawinski, Jamie (1999-03-31). "resignation and postmortem.". Retrieved 2013-03-29. 
  12. ^ Chalmers, Rachel (1999-04-06). "Mozilla Founder Resigns on Open Source Project's Birthday.". Computergram International. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  13. ^ Zawinsky, Jamie (2013). "jwzhacks". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  14. ^ a b Seibel, Peter (2009-10-16). "C++ in Coders at Work". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  15. ^ Yu, Robert (2010-04-15). "C++: A Garbage Heap of Ideas". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  16. ^ Zawinski, Jamie. "java sucks.". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  17. ^ Seibel, Peter. "Coders at Work". Apress. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  18. ^ Kuperberg, Greg (1989-07-26). "Software development and envelopment at MIT.". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 

External links

  • Personal homepage
  • MCOM personal employee homepage
  • The Duct Tape Programmer by Joel Spolsky, and Zawinski's response
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