Mozilla


While a renewed search deal between Google and Mozilla is welcome news to millions of Firefox users, Mozilla has three big ideas for 2012 and beyond that will see it competing much more with Google, Facebook and Apple. Here’s why you should be cheering Mozilla on.

Biting the hand that feeds it?
As InfoWorld’s Woody Leonhard writes, it was in Google’s best interests to prevent Microsoft’s Bing from becoming the default search provider in Firefox. As much as Mozilla relies on Google for 80 percent plus of its revenue, so too does Google rely on the search traffic from millions of Firefox users. While Mozilla’s blog post about the recently signed deal espouses a mutually beneficial agreement, its difficult to believe that the relationship is anything but strained between Google and Mozilla.

However, that relationship is going to get a lot more tenuous if Mozilla is able to make progress on three key areas laid out by Mozilla’s David Aacher.

Mozilla and Firefox became household names through the browser wars, particularly against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but mainly as a proponent of open standards and user rights on the web. Ascher writes: “In the case of the browser wars, the outcome has been pretty good for society, if slower than we’d have liked: standards have evolved, browsers got better and faster, and websites got more interesting.”

But now, Mozilla feels it’s time to look beyond the browser as the main front in it’s mission to safeguard the future of web for the people. Mozilla is also investing in an open stack for hardware OEMs, user-centric identity on the web and tools for building and running apps. These initiatives add to the value of Firefox from a user standpoint, but are being developed in parallel. Additionally, the latter two initiatives are applicable to other browsers also.

A truly open alternative to Android
The first initiative, named Boot to Gecko aims use open web technologies to deliver a runtime and underlying operating system for desktop and mobile applications. If this sounds like Android or Chrome OS, it should. Boot to Gecko is using some of the same lower level building blocks that Android uses, such as the Linux kernel and libusb. The team explains this choice was made to reduce the burden on device makers and OEMs who will be faced with certifying Boot to Gecko on new hardware. While some building blocks are shared, Boot to Gecko is not based on Android and will not run Android applications.

If Mozilla can successfully execute on initiative number 3 below, Boot to Gecko will be difficult for OEMs to ignore. There is a lot more work for Mozilla to do before Boot to Gecko can attract the attention of Android device manufacturers. However, OEMs and users will benefit from serious open source competition to Android.

User controlled identity
The second initiative, currently named BrowserID, although Mozilla is looking for a different name, addresses the need for users to regain control over their identity and sharing of personal information on the web.

BrowserID aims to become the open alternative to Facebook Connect and Google username on Google’s far reaching web properties. With BrowserID, Mozilla has built a user centric identity system that works in all modern browsers and will make the protocol available for other browser vendors to use. Ascher explains:

“For Mozilla devs, this is a bit shocking, as we’re not starting by putting a feature in Firefox first (although we sure hope that Firefox will implement BrowserID before the others!). While I love Firefox, this makes me happy, because in my mind, Mozilla is about making the internet work better for everyone, not just Firefox users, and in this case being browser-neutral is the right strategic play.”

The notion of making the web better for everyone, not just Firefox users, is one I’ve not picked up on until now. But I completely agree with Ascher. Few can argue that even Internet Explorer users are benefiting from Firefox’s efforts and Microsoft’s response.

If Mozilla is successful with BroswerID, which is certainly possible as developers increasingly grow weary of their reliance on Facebook or Google, users will get back control over their identity and information without having to sacrifice a personalized web experience.

Apps, if you can’t beat them, join them
Finally, Mozilla is addressing the “app-ifcation” of the web, not by fighting the trend it as may seem reasonable for a browser vendor, but by guiding how these apps are built, found, paid for and installed.

Mozilla’s Apps initiative aims to make web technologies the basis of building applications that can run across devices. Mozilla also wants to introduce a standard for application purchasing and installation that would allow users to consume applications from multiple app stores without restrictions. This initiative undoubtedly goes after the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace.

It would be interesting if Mozilla were to partner with Microsoft on this initiative as Microsoft builds out its app store.

Success isn’t guaranteed, but Mozilla knows about tough fights
Whether Mozilla can execute against all three of these initiatives while maintaining its efforts in the still important browser war is an open question. As a user, even if one of these three initiatives are successful, we’ll all be better off.

While Mozilla will face a lot of resistance on this front from the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple, fighting an uphill battle isn’t new territory for Mozilla.

should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Mozilla and Google’s open source browsers are amongst the most popular browsers on the planet. They’re even making inroads into enterprises seeking alternatives to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Mozilla and Google are however engaged in different paths to grow usage of their products.

Google Chrome optimized for speed
The marketing slogan headlining the Google Chrome download page reads: “Browse the web, Chrome Fast”. The rest of the sparse marketing text on the page highlight “Fast start-up”, “Fast loading” and “Fast search”. Not surprisingly, Google’s engineering driving culture are focused on the “speeds/feeds” category of features.

A recent ComputerWorld bechmark found that Google Chrome 6 to be 17 percent faster than Chrome 5. According to ComputerWorld’s benchmark tests, Chrome is now only slightly slower than Opera and Apple’s Safari, with less than 12 milliseconds between each other.

Mozilla on the other hand had limited itself to reaching “near or even to” Chrome 5 with respect to JavaScript performance for its next version of Firefox. While still in beta, Firefox 4 is within the 20 percent target performance of Chrome 5. However, Firefox 4 beta would be much more than 20 percent slower than the new Chrome 6.

Should that worry Mozilla or users of Firefox? Well, only if speed is the key metric for selecting a browser. Luckily for Mozilla, it’s not.

Mozilla Firefox looks beyond speed
Mozilla has always taken a broader approach to innovations in Firefox beyond speed alone. User productivity comes to mind as a key area of focus.

For instance, Mozilla Labs is working on a feature that could vastly improve productivity for knowledge workers, or anyone who surfs with tens of tabs open.

Mozilla engineer Aza Raskin explains Tab Candy:

It’s hard to keep everything straight with dozens of tabs all crammed into a little strip along the top of your browser. Your tab with a search to find a pizza parlor gets mixed up with your tabs on your favorite band. Often, it’s easier to open a new tab than to try to find the open tab you already have. Worse, how many of us keep tabs open as reminders of something we want to do or read later?
Enter: Tab Candy.

With one keystroke Tab Candy shows an overview of all tabs to allow you to quickly locate and switch between them. Tab Candy also lets you group tabs to organize your work flow. You can create a group for your vacation, work, recipes, games and social sites, however it makes sense to you to group tabs. When you switch to a grouped tab only the relevant tabs are shown in the tab bar, which helps you focus on what you want.

Not surprisingly, the Google Chrome ecosystem is attempting to copy Tab Candy in the Tab Sugar open source plug-in project. That Google isn’t tackling this type of user productivity feature themselves, like Mozilla is doing, can be traced back to Google’s apparent priority for speed versus productivity.

Google & Mozilla jointly growing browser footprints
While Google & Mozilla may differ in their approach to building browser make share, they both share a vision of the browser taking on a much larger role in computing.

For instance, Mozilla recently launched the Mozilla Labs Gaming division which is “committed to providing the game developer community with the platform and tools they need to make innovative games on the Open Web”.

The power of HTML 5 allows developers to create browser-based games that were previously constrained to native PC applications or game consoles.

According to Mashable, Google is also interested in the browser becoming the gaming platform of choice on PC devices.

Google has gone as far as creating an operating system that centers on the browser as the application runtime container and an application store for HTML 5 applications.

It will be interesting to watch Mozilla and Google’s browser investment areas in the future, particularly as Firefox and Chrome continue taking share of the enterprise browser market.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

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