Mozilla nabs top UI developers from Humanized

Mozilla taps three employees from Humanized to work on UI innovations in its Mozilla Labs.

Mozilla has hired three of the five top employees at Humanized, a small company known for its innovative work to provide more intuitive user interfaces, but will not reveal their identities.

Mozilla confirmed the hirings through its public relations firm on Wednesday, but would not disclose their names. On the Humanized Web site, only five people are listed on the company's "Who We Are" page: Developer Jono DiCarlo, President Aza Raskin, Web and Systems Architect Scott Robbin, Vice President Atul Varma and Treasurer Andrew Wilson.

In a statement attributed to CEO John Lily, Mozilla said that the deal bringing the three to the company is not an acquisition and no intellectual property is changing hands. The Humanized recruits joined the Mozilla Labs team on Wednesday and will be working on the Firefox browser as well as other projects in the labs, he said. Eventually, the three will start blogging and reveal their identities and the nature of their work at the company, a representative from Mozilla's PR firm added.

Both companies are intentionally close-mouthed about the exact nature of the exchange between them. Reached at the Humanized Chicago office, Wilson, who also does system architecture and programming work, said he's not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the deal or say who exactly is moving to Mozilla.

However, he offered that "all of us will remain in Chicago for the next two months to make the transition happen." He confirmed that Humanized has not actually been purchased, so it's unclear exactly what that transition entails and what the fate of the company's Enso project is, or how it might fit into Mozilla's plans.

Enso user-interface software is available free and, according to information on the company's Web site, was designed to make it easier to perform daily tasks that require the use of various applications or functions.

Enso runs in the desktop background and allows users to type in simple commands to access applications instead of leaving the window or application they are in to go to another one. For example, if a user wants to open Firefox from the current screen, instead of having to find the Firefox icon or go to the Start menu in Windows, Firefox can be opened by holding down the Caps Lock key and typing in "open firefox." Performing calculations and acquiring word definitions also can be executed in a similar way from within the user's immediate screen view.

Humanized's Raskin is handling inquiries about specifics, Wilson said, but Raskin did not return an e-mail requesting comment Wednesday.

Aside from the Firefox browser, Mozilla also has an open-source e-mail client, Thunderbird. But the browser is more popular and has been more influential in the industry, igniting the first spark of competition in many years against Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser when it was launched in November 2004.

No matter who from Humanized has joined Mozilla, it's apparent the company is getting some brilliant young minds to help them galvanize any future UI innovations the company may be plotting. If their Web-site bios are any indication, Humanized is run by wunderkinds. DiCarlo, for instance, graduated from college at the age of 17 with a degree in physics before earning another degree in computer science from the University of Chicago, while co-founder Raskin started the company when he was 21 after co-authoring a physics textbook at 19.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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