Category Archives: Mozilla

The most important decisions we make

NOTE: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of anyone else.  Also, I’m supposed to be in California this week.  Reading this, hopefully you’ll understand why I’m not.

 

It’s been a scary weekend.  On Saturday afternoon, in an increasingly futile attempt to stave off the effects of incipient middle age, I went for a short run.  When the sweating, panting mess I so rapidly degenerated into wilted through the front door 20 minutes later, something was wrong, but for a change, not with me.  My wife was talking seriously about something on the phone.  I could tell she was concerned.  My first reaction was that a friend had called for help – my wife is the kind of person people turn to – but as the crashing sound of blood pumping through my ears started to dissipate, I realised she was talking to a nurse about an attack of some kind she had just experienced.  Could be anything.   Better get it checked out, to be sure, was the advice.

So I threw some clothes on and we jumped into the car, talking logistics all the way to Accident & Emergency: a babysitter to stand down, a restaurant booking to cancel, friends to disappoint.   We parted at the hospital, and I took the girls home for dinner.  Two hours later, a phone call that made the room spin: my wife was undergoing emergency neurological tests and would be under observation for 72 hours.  My nervousness must have communicated itself to the children who, without me speaking, started envisioning a worst case scenario.

Cue internal chaos.  Packing a bag, cooking food to take, trying to think straight and not let fear take hold.  Dropping things off at the hospital a second time was worse, squalid logistics getting in the way of managing the children’s and our own feelings to any degree of satisfaction.

I love my wife.  Being married to her defines who I am more than any other choice I have made in life.  The goodness inside her sustains me and the thought that anything was so threatening to her well-being is monstrous.  And in those fearful hours, all I had to cling on to was that identity.  Four words, “I am her husband”, would tell anyone everything they needed to know about my right to access, to information, to respect.  When suddenly the life my wife and I have built together seemed under any kind of threat, the monument of our public commitment to each other was the main thing to hold on to.

Very often, critics of the notion of same-sex marriage seem to feel it can be reduced to something empty, as though symbolism carries no weight.  As though legal constructs around civil partnerships, common law marriages, tax codes, inheritance rights and so forth suffice.  All of that misses what’s important.

 


 

This week, one man’s political activism against same-sex marriage has been held up as defining his ability to lead Mozilla.  There have been no complaints (none whatsoever) about his behaviour, and the oganisation he founded has one of the most inclusive and open cultures of any I have ever been associated with.  But it seems that Brendan Eich, for reasons he chooses to keep private, opposes equality for same-sex couples.  I think he is wrong to do so.  And it is a wrongness that isn’t theoretical or abstract, it’s a visceral one.  Marriage is not about the easy things, it’s about the hard things.  Denying the support of the institution of marriage to same-sex couples is denying many people the very thing they need to lead a fulfilling life.

You or I may be troubled by Brendan’s personal support of prop 8, but there are many issues of ethical substance that the Mozilla community – any community – is capable of disagreeing on, and remaining a coherent community, including some that in 2014 could be regarded as even more important  than that of same sex marriage (importance in some absolute terms – it is also possible for me to imagine there are many people for whom this is the most important issue of the day).  And I feel I (and many other Mozillians), feel the need to clarify where we stand.

So, why does Brendan’s donation matter so much to so many?  I suspect it’s this: the issue of same-sex marriage has become a litmus test in north America. It defines whether you are red or blue.  I grew up in a radically left-wing but somewhat socially conservative city.  One’s stance on same-sex marriage defines little else about how someone thinks for me, but I realise that in other cultures, it might signal a great deal.  And if you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual, it might seem to define how they think about you.   For constructive thoughts from such a perspective Christie Koehler’s blog on the topic is recommended.

 

Let’s get this on the table.  I do not wish to engage in Whataboutism.  The notion that you cannot raise an ethical objection in one field without philosophical clarity in all others is, of course, unhelpful.  But we should also recognise that social attitudes change.  That this is normal.  That at any one time, there will be a plurality of views on issues that in hindsight, appear open and shut.   The language of my grandparents’ generation wouldn’t pass muster these days.  As recently as the 1970s, there were open campaigns for paedophile rights in the UK.  In the 1980s casual racism was celebrated in light entertainment on television.  And to this day gender equality is very obviously a mess and not regarded as a mainstream issue worthy of similar activism as same-sex marriage.

One example that will appear trivial to many: I am a vegetarian.  When people learn this, they typically have one of three reactions: to tell me how little meat they eat themselves, to tell me how they couldn’t possibly live without meat, or to ask me how long ago and why I became a vegetarian.   The answer to the latter is since I was 13 or 14, and that for as long as I could remember, it always seemed to me obviously wrong to cause distress to and kill animals needlessly (more or less).  I do not suspect I would win many converts if I became more militant in my vegetarianism, although I am always happy to engage with people that wish to discuss it, both seriously and flippantly.  But I need to be accepting of the wider moral context.  Not many people share my perspective.  Regarding it as defining of someone’s character is futile.

What about issues we can all agree on?  How many Mozillians supported Obama in 2012, even after it became clear that drone strikes were a chosen instrument of foreign policy for his administration?  Many Mozillians had “Obama 2012″ stickers on their laptops even as mechanised death rained down from the sky on young children born in the wrong part of the world.  How will we view the Obama era in 20, 30 years’ time?  A great man compromised by circumstance?  The lesser of two evils?  A leader who guaranteed his own nation’s security whatever the price?  Will Americans view it differently to non US-nationals?  There’s debate to be had there.  And however strongly I feel about same-sex marriage, I am capable of feeling even more strongly about the 174 Pakistani children reported killed in drone strikes before Obama’s reelection.  Should we judge Obama through the lens of drone strikes?  Should I decide whether or not I will work with someone through the lens of their support for a president who himself supports drone strikes?  I believe that would be self-righteous, not righteous.  It would be a failure to understand the choices they feel they have in front of them.  It can seem absolutely wrong and yet part of a complex picture.

 

I feel very proud to be a Mozillian and very fortunate to work full time for the project.  This week, a number of individuals who are as fortunate as I am in this regard called on Brendan to step down as CEO because of his personal political activism against same-sex marriage.  They are to be applauded for their courage: being prepared to take a stand, big or small, on a matter of conscience defines social progress.  The now unacceptable attitudes of previous decades I mentioned above have, in part, been modernised by such activism.  But I am not prepared to allow my association with the project be defined by this issue.

We have what unites us: the work of Mozilla.  I feel on safe ground in declaring the Internet is the greatest change to the world in our lifetimes.  Its effects are widespread, and unpredictable.  And must be directed to the public good.  Do we want an instrument of progress, of participation, or of passive consumerism?  Do you share the belief that connecting economies, societies, and individuals on their own terms has great potential for humanity?  Do you believe that this needs protecting, nurturing?  That is what defines us, what gives us clarity of purpose.  Not drone strikes, not vegetarianism, not same-sex marriage, and even as we frequently find commonality of views within our community on many of these topics, we must also accept there will be divergence.  Like many Mozillians, I have aspirations that the open Web will improve the world and the situation with respect to many of the issues that I hold dear.  But I don’t believe it is reasonable to demand that everyone else who believes in the open Web must have the same aspirations for it.  We can, however, continue to contribute to the great culture of this community: a culture of intellectual curiosity, of respect, of inclusiveness (as Lukas Blakk amongst others is doing), and, in other weeks at least, of fun.

 


 

Mrs Finch is home now, recovering, worst-case scenarios (I won’t elaborate here) dismissed. She’s fine.

The night we met, a mutual friend took me to one side and told me, “forget about her Patrick, she’s out of your league”.  I’m just hoping she never realises.  What is inevitable, however, is that we will face a more serious situation one day.  Every couple will.  And when they do, I believe that they should be able to do it together, as their partner’s wife or husband.

 

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Saluting Mozilla Macedonia

If I had to say, “what makes Mozilla special?”, I’d probably point to someone like Gorjan, a remarkable guy.

In this blog post, he could brag about the astonishing things he has done n the community at a very tender age.  He could.  Instead, he writes with honesty and humility about volunteering for Free Software projects in his country.

 

 

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“The Internet”

This is (supposedly) self-referential humour about how people waste so much of their attention on the Internet.  But there’s something in it that bothers me still.

“The Internet: A Warning From History”

We can consider two dystopian views of the future: Orwell’s and Huxley’s.  Orwell’s vision of an authoritarian, surveillance state is one that is all too familiar to us, one we guard against.  Huxley, on the other hand, spoke of of the cult of consumption, and of stupefying ourselves with meaningless, mindless entertainment, and is one that we appear to embrace.

If I consider Mozilla: we’re very concerned with the former, with a user’s privacy, with the limits of what statutory power exists over the individual’s data.  But we pay little attention to the effects of the Internet on the individual.  Is this because we believe they are well served by the individual’s own choices and the free market?  That it is not our role?  That we have no competence here?  We might describe this as a philosophical divide between the libertarian and the paternalist.

I’m not advocating that Mozilla should aim to make this central to our mission.  I don’t see how we could.  But I do wish that there was more quantified data and a public discourse on our mental health.  Looking at the Internet, I’d have to conclude that the only health issue that matters is a preoccupation with the swift and effortless acquisition of well-defined abdominal muscles.  At least, that’s what the invisible hand shows me.

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Heroes needed! Firefox OS brand survey

If you’re reading this in your second language, there’s every chance that you could be a big help to us in launching Firefox OS.  Firefox OS is, of course, one of the most exciting developments in the history of the Mozilla project and squarely addresses this biggest threat to the Web today: the rise of proprietary mobile stacks.  Firefox OS is all about breathing new life and, yes, openness, into the mobile Web.

We’ve named Firefox OS “Firefox OS” for a number of reasons.  It wasn’t obvious to me that we should name it after the browser, but there are some important factors that inform this decision.  Ultimately, “Firefox OS” has the best chance of attracting users, and attracting the investments of important partners, to the platform.  Without rehashing that debate too much, it goes like this:

We need to consolidate our investment, and that of our partners, on a particular brand.   Mozilla is a house of brands, rather than a branded house.  We’re now taking Firefox and making it a house of brands for a mobile ecosystem.  The alternatives are to create a new sub-brand, and continue with the house-of-brands arrangement of today, while incurring the expense and risk of trying to create a new consumer-facing brand, and giving us a confusing product (multiple brands on one phone) in a market (mobile phone operating systems) that is characterised by great simplicity.  If you’re glazing over, don’t worry.  The point is this: we need to know how strong the Firefox brand is in many parts of the world.

If you are able to translate English into one of these locales:

China (zh-CN)
India (hi-IN)
Indonesia(id)
Malaysia(ms)
Philippines
Thailand (th)
Vietnam (vi)
Belgium (fr)
Bulgaria (bg)
Croatia (hr)
Finland (fi)
France (fr)
Greece (el)
Italy (it)
Netherlands (nl)
Slovakia (sk)
Sweden (sv-SE)
Turkey (tr)
Ukraine (uk)
Ecuador (es-EC)
Morocco (ar, fr)
Nigeria (en)
Tunisia (ar)
Japan (ja)
Singapore (en, ms)
Portugal (pt-PT)
Romania (ro)
Serbia (sr)

you can help!  The bug to jump on is Translation of Firefox OS market research study for additional locales and the file to translate is hereMilos and I are here to help too.

And lastly – a big thank you to Dwayne, Fernando, Inma, Anas, Pavel, Peter, Coce and Alexander for your help with this already.

updated Swedish and Greek locales

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I’m mobile

Dawn was a long way from cracking when I set off on Monday to make the 2,000 mile round trip to attend the Guardian Mobile Business Summit in London.   So, when Richard Holdsworth of Wapple put forward the notion that we should consider the user as mobile, rather than their device, I had to feel the man had a point.
As I wrote I’m increasingly interested in how content owners perceive the Web and mobile.  I’d hoped to hear more from media companies, although with hindsight, I was probably at the wrong place to hear a balanced perspective on old business models versus emerging ones.  We were firmly in the land of the new.   No matter: I did hear a number of interesting and new (to me) thoughts.  Those that especially stuck with me.  My interpretations:

Ilicco Elia refreshing regrets about mobile advertising: that it can appear a race to the bottom on a number of micro-measurements that speak to conversion rates and (presumably) awareness, but little engagement beyond that.  What new experiences was mobile enabling, beyond a quarter-page sized ad?   A good (perhaps rare?) counter-example might be something like Gameloft’s branded games.  There was little doubt in the Finch household, after all, that we would be seeing Ice Age 4 when it arrived in our local cinema.  Ilicco went on to indicate that mobile was supposed to promise many of the things the Web was to: more predictability, relevance, measurability, but that the corpus of work in the offline world is huge and does not yet exist in mobile (or Web).

I especially enjoyed Jan Chipchase’s ramble through users finding new use cases for functionality, and then his (unsettling?  dystopian?) imagining of a world where facial recognition is instant (although there seemed to be some question about how “real” Google’s Project Glass is), I do at least know that Steve Lau is real.   We all know (even if we don’t understand) that our cognitive processes are profoundly influenced by technology.  Jan put forward the notion that soon our social vocabulary, even our ego, will be influenced by such things as facial recognition, and that this is coming sooner than we might realise.  How do we deal with that?

William Perrin, founder of Talk About Local was amongst the bulls about augmented reality.  It was perhaps strange timing to be discussing Aurasma given that news broke later in the day of HP’s write down of Automony’s valuation. But I liked Talk About Local.  I’ve had reservations in the past about things like Faces of the Fallen, which serve partly to highlight the digital divide in the most grimly stark manner (after all, the civilian casualties of Operating Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom remain literally countless).  Such projects contribute to a sense that the Internet is only teaching us more about things we might otherwise know about.  Talk About Local seems somewhat more community-serving, however.

Of course, I was keen to see the level of interest in Firefox OS.  I think that the audience was entirely engaged and there seemed a palpable sense of disappointment that Andreas wasn’t talking about a UK launch.  Perhaps my bias is showing.

…or perhaps not.
Either way, there’s impatience and palpable desire for HTML5.  Speaking of which: there was an app for the event.  All in all, it was pretty useful, but not terribly stable on a Galaxy SII running ICS.  I saw nothing in the app that an HTML5 app couldn’t do today, probably with more stability on a wider variety of screen sizes…

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“A great time to be a Mozillian”

The estimable Glyn Moody wrote in very positive terms about the Mozilla Festival that took place in London last week.  As well as pointing out Firefox’s recent bouncebackability, he correctly points out that there’s much more to Mozilla than releasing Firefox.

Reading through Glyn’s list of projects he encountered at the festival (he lists 7, but I suspect he could have identified several more), you might conclude that Mozilla lacks a certain focus.  That is in fact far from the truth: I don’t believe that I’ve known Mozilla to be more focused in all my time with the project.  We have opportunities to influence the direction of the Internet, and keep the Web at its centre, but we simply need to make sure we pick the appropriate targets.  Let’s not deny it: the Web appears to be under constant threat, from the Balkanisation of the Internet to proprietary stacks, to clumsy legislative measures  (SOPA, ACTA), to Wired magazine’s ill-advised sensationalism.

The way I think of this is that Mozilla has to grow stakeholders in the open Web.  (What does that even mean?)  When we read about content owners going out of business, or doing things that seem irrational or short-sighted, the response shouldn’t be to shrug and assume that their business model is outdated.  Their business model may be outdated, but if the Web isn’t enabling a new one for them, then the Web is failing them.  Not every profit margin is a market failure: content has value, and simply because the marginal cost of production approaches zero, it doesn’t mean that content owners should be beholden to other interests to make money.

Similarly, if we read that a network operator has a stated opposition to net neutrality, our reaction shouldn’t be solely one of indignant repudiation, however cathartic that might be.  We should understand what would need to change for network operators to value the open Web as the driver of their business.

And if we think that the health of the Web is dependent upon a narrow coalition of powerful private economic interests, we should be concerned.   As a wise colleague of mine says, one should be wary of elites.

The disruptive power of the Internet has been fascinating to observe.  And long may it continue.  However, if disruption only serves to consolidate economic power with a few interests, something is wrong.  There should be (and I use the word advisedly) cannibalistic opportunities for the disruptees too.

These are things that we need to enable. This takes a focused strategy. And this is exciting work.

We’re already seeing the interest in the industry for Firefox OS, and amongst web developers for the new APIs being created to make Web development as rich as native development on mobile platforms.  That’s just a start.

But there is a downside , or if you prefer, a corollary to this, and one I want to explore: focused strategic execution is not necessarily conducive to community participation.  If Mozilla is working to (for example), release a smartphone with a network operator partner in (for example) Latin America, then how do you get excited as a contributor in (for example) Bulgaria?    How do we marry the commercial “heft” of a major partner with the broad spectrum of interests and abilities that the Mozilla community at scale represents?  I don’t have a good answer for that yet.

Glyn’s article was especially welcome as I regard him as both a friend of Mozilla (he keynoted at MozCamp 2009) and a truth teller.  The piece he published in August this year, about the importance of participatory structures in open source communities, should be provocative and somewhat uncomfortable reading for anyone at Mozilla.

And this is my paradox.  To be true to our mission, we have to think broadly.  And to be successful, we have to be strategic and focused.  And to be us, we have to be participatory.

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Missing the Obvious

I thought this was a rather good piece, How browser make money, or why Google needs Firefox.  People often seem to forget this rather fundamental reality of the browser and search market – especially when they talk about Mozilla being “funded”.

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Season 2011-2012

I read in May that the proportion of households in the US with television sets is now in decline.  Some speculated that this was still an after-effect of the 2008 crash, but I suspect more likely is that people are substituting TV for online video services.

Personally, I don’t watch much television apart from football, (which actually means I watch rather a lot of television).  And with a new season, comes a heightened appetite for footy-ogling restricted only partially by family obligations, my family’s generous but observably finite patience, and the fact that still most games are played concurrently.

But  hope beats loud in the heart of this Fantasy League manager, and so I therefore enjoy services like the Guardian’s minute-by-minute and clock-watch, which enable me to keep abreast of all games at once.

But this season, those services are no longer auto-updating; as Jacob Steinberg explained in Saturday’s season-opening clock-watch:

3.32pm: A lot of you are asking about the absence of the auto-refresh tool. Basically we’re not allowed to use it due to the media’s disagreement with the leagues. You’ll have to press F5 instead. STOP FOOTBALL, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Got that?  No more hands-free browsing of live football scores.

While this conjures up a rather fanciful image of today’s custodians of the sport, in some bizarre echo of the game’s founding purpose, being motivated still by a concern to preserve the eyesight of the nation’s youth, you might almost forget that these are live text updates of football scores we’re talking about.

So, yes, live text updates pushed to the browser now fall under some definition of broadcasting rights.  And yes, we’re reminded yet again that a powerful and flexible browser remains a bulwark against some fairly crazy legality – in this case, the definition of what “broadcasting” a game means.  But still, Firefox users can install an extension such as Reload Every and get on with enjoying automatic text updates.

It’s 2011.  And by the time this season ends, it’s 2012.  And yet, I’m reminded of something Asa wrote back in 2005:

the user is no longer just a spectator, he’s a participant.

…and that’s true even when he’s a spectator.

p.s. not all open web doom and gloom around the Guardian’s start to the season.  I loved this css-powered kit guide.

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Bad good journalists and conservative rock stars

I’m jet-lagged, having just got back from a week in California, where I was also jet-lagged.  When in the States, I tend to watch (amongst other things) Fox News on telly.   This appalled some friends that I mentioned it too, but I have my reasons.  Fox News adds piquancy to any visit.  It’s genuinely weird to me, but it’s also mainstream.  I would probably find it upsetting if I lived in the US.  But as someone who just passes through from time-to-time, it adds a keenness to the experience.  I don’t say all this to sneer: but rather, when visiting somewhere that seems so easy to relate to in so many ways, it’s perhaps more interesting to see that which you don’t understand, like say, Mr Ted Nugent’s views on US foreign policy as expressed to Governor Mike Huckabee.

On my way home, I read about Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble, an investigation of the notion that various Web phenomena (in particular, Google’s personalised search and the goldfish bowls of social networks) mean that we will increasingly only hear our own views reflected back at us.

It’s an interesting thought.  And one that it’s hard to latch on to a counter argument for – presumably any source I could lay my hands on is part of my own echo-chamber.   But still, I was delighted that  This Week in Google addressed the topic.  As Gina Trapani pointed out, seeking out contrary viewpoints is simply part of being a developed person: and of course, your online habits will reflect the extent to which you exhibit this behaviour.   For example, my favourite newspaper columnist is Howard Jacobson, which is not to say that I agree with him all the time, but rather, I frequently find myself instinctively disagreeing even as I am swayed by the man’s clever and humane prose.  I am probably far more closely aligned with the unreadable Johann Hari whose only mode of expression seems to be the self-righteous indignation of the politics undergraduate and whose column I would only read out of condescension.

But then, I suppose there is still rather a lot to be indignant about.  And perhaps there are few books to be sold in writing about as well diagnosed a problem as the global digital divide, but it’s that, rather than people’s natural inclination to associate with those with whom they agree, that’s more worrying.  To take a rather gloomy example: the Faces of the Fallen website places an exact figure on American service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2002: it’s 5,885 at time of writing.  But meanwhile, there seems to be no general consensus even to the nearest half million how many Iraqis have died since the invasion of 2003.  Estimates range from under 100,000 to over 1 million.  Obviously, there is no equivalent online epitaph to these people.

We aren’t in a filter bubble to my mind, or at least, if we are, it’s a trivial problem.  The issue is how much digital naval-gazing we’re able to do at the expense of our consideration of that part of the world that still remains predominantly analogue.  Only Ted Nugent would disagree.

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repost: Why I think Firefox is the best for users

After a discussion on the Mozilla marketing list, I received several requests to repost to my blog my thoughts about why I feel Firefox is still the best browser for users.  I have mixed feelings about doing this, but only because of course, of course, I am somewhat biased and secondly, this is hardly an authoritative account, both in terms of breadth and depth.

But I do profoundly believe that Firefox is the best browser for a user for a number of reasons, even in 2011 when we see some very large organisations making some very large investments in browser development.  Anyway, if you’re looking for some talking points, here’s my pitch on why I, hand-on-heart, prefer Firefox.  Thanks to Danishka for posing the question.  Mozilla.com is of course, much more authoritative on the topic.

Security & Privacy

It’s hard to speak to the security topic on IE9 given that you often tend to see problems retrospectively in closed browsers.  IE’s track record certainly doesn’t seem so stellar.   And personally, I do not find their independent research on “socially engineered malware” all that credible (nor do Opera and Google, from what I read) .

Firefox and Chrome use a lot of the same back-end for anti-malware and anti-phishing, but Mozilla has clearly offered a vision on privacy and Firefox has a very impressive selection of customisations for enhanced privacy and security today.

Chrome’s privacy approach is reliant upon customisation at the moment,  and IE’s “tracking protection lists” appear somewhat vulnerable to gaming.

Performance

This topic has partially defined the browser market for a long time: but right now, all modern browsers seem very, very fast.  They all win on some benchmark, and in the “real world”, which browser is fastest appears to depend on which website you use.  I’d argue no browser is currently outstanding in this area, although I would acknowledge that Firefox is not that fastest on the one-off activity of starting up.  It’s still very fast though…

User Interface

The user interface in Firefox 4 is “minimalist” in the same way IE9′s is, Chrome is,  etc. but what’s important to me is that we haven’t just chopped menus off and hidden them (which seems like a fair description
of what happened in IE9).  Rather, the UI is still very intuitive and contains features such as switch-to-tab, pinned tabs (which does have an equivalent in Chrome and IE) and tab groups that help the user manage
their workflow.

One obvious gap that’s often cited is the lack of a “new tab” page in Firefox: but the blank screen is intentional as the browser gets of the way of the user and doesn’t distract them in their workflow.  It’s hard to quantify the impact of that, but I’m aware of how distracting technology can be.   It possibly takes a browser without an agenda beyond that of the user to really and truly get out of the way.

Firefox 4′s interface is in fact still very customisable (Alex Limi’s blog on the Fx 4 UI is a great reference ) in a
way that IE and Chrome simply are not.

Customisation

I’d argue that Firefox still leads customisation broadly – although Chrome may quote a higher number of extensions, it’s worth bearing in mind :

  • questionable levels of curation in the Chrome add-on collection, some of the add-ons I’ve used are very disappointing (e.g. they open a pop-up window for a page on an expired domain…)
  •  Chrome add-ons are similar to Jet-Pack add-ons in terms of functionality supported.  Firefox offers that plus much richer, deeper customisation options
  • Firefox has a very strong tradition of user-generated customisation, including the Personas gallery.

And Firefox 4 has a new add-on manager which makes customisation of Firefox also much easier and restartless add-ons.

Sync

Lastly, Firefox Sync is both more secure and more useful that the equivalent in Chrome (and there is no “native” solution for IE, as Microsoft would say).  Firefox Sync is fully encrypted on the client side and allows you to
open tabs up across instances of Firefox.  If you use more than one instance of Firefox, this is incredibly useful!

Clearly, the market is much more competitive than it was 1, 2 or 6 years ago – and clearly there are many topics (especially platform support) that I didn’t go into here.  But I feel that the quality and philosophy behind Firefox still make it the best choice for users.  And if you’re a Windows XP user (and most people on the Web are), there are much, much better options available to you than Internet Explorer.

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Party like it’s 2003

Something wonderful happened today – the OpenOffice.org community announced the creation of the Document Foundation, an independent, community-driven foundation.  They will maintain a version of OpenOffice.org, called LibreOffice, which will over time address some of the criticisms so commonly aimed at OpenOffice.org today.

OpenOffice.org seems surprisingly controversial to me.  Having been a StarSuite/StarOffice/OpenOffice.org user for over 10 years, I have almost certainly developed some form of immunity to its undoubted shortcomings, but I know many people involved in Free software who refuse to use it on the grounds of general user experience cruftiness.  Yes, it has bugs, many of which one is surprised to find in software as mature as OpenOffice.org is.  And what’s more, I gather that the codebase is also a bit of an Indian ocean (boosting Sun’s ranking in terms of lines of code contributed as Free software).  I’ve also heard criticisms about slow release management and the difficulty of getting fixes integrated – I recall Michael Meeks pointing out to me that many of the fixes he and his team had landed were only available in the Linux build.  The contributor agreement has also come under attack (also by Michael) even though it was there for fairly sane reasons (and it was certainly nowhere near as painful a read as the Canonical one).  But in spite of all of these things, OpenOffice.org has attracted a real community which has -let’s say it- changed the world.

When people complain to me about the OpenOffice.org user experience, I like to laughingly tell them how much better it is than in 1998.  While that might not convince many users, it is the literal truth, that OpenOffice.org has made massive strides in UX, and I am sure that LibreOffice will only push this harder and faster.  OpenOffice.org has become a viable alternative for governments and businesses around the world: it meets the needs of the vast, vast majority of users.  I consider myself a heavy document user and I consider that OpenOffice.org meets my needs.  OpenOffice.org’s market share is also a great deal higher than many people suppose (although I suspect that this figure is inflated by Sun and Oracle’s bizarre habit of distributing OpenOffice.org through Java platform upgrades).

Above all, OpenOffice.org and OASIS drove Microsoft to the standards table.  The Open Document Format was passed as an ISO standard in 2006, truly threatening on of Microsoft’s cash cows.  I (and may others) think that Microsoft’s response to this – incentivising Microsoft partner companies to go  rampaging through ISO member organisation, was a low point in Microsoft’s history.  But now we have two ISO document standards, ODF and OOXML, one of which, ODF, has been implemented in multiple programmes and web services, and is playing the role of a standard (the OOXML spec is around 12 times longer than the ODF one and has yet to be implemented to my knowledge).

To be clear, this post isn’t about bashing Microsoft, although their behaviour has lead people to question if ISO is indeed a suitable organisation for any software standard.  No, this is about something much more important than any organisation, business or foundation, that exists today.

Web standards are well understood as being important to the development of the web itself.  But if we care about the Internet, we should also care about the rights of individuals with respect to documents.  One of the strangest features of Microsoft’s enormous market share over the past 20 years has been the effect of creating a set of effectively proprietary standards: Word, Excel and Powerpoint are synonyms for text, spreadsheet and presentation.  But the creation and sharing of such basic artifacts of modern communication as these should be something that can be done by anyone, without being beholden to someone else, and innovation in this field should not be controlled by a single entity.

OpenOffice.org and OASIS have achieved this today for a brave or needy or innovative few.  The creation of an independent foundation and a new development direction to create a much more usable office suite seem like excellent next steps.  Indeed, it’s a delight to read in the FAQ that the Mozilla Foundation provides some of the inspiration for these developments.  My favourite perspective (one that I shared upon hearing the news), comes from Guy Lunardi of OpenSuse

Ultimately, we envision LibreOffice doing for the office productivity market what Mozilla Firefox has done for browsers.

…and the Document Foundation doing for document standards what the Mozilla Foundation has achieved with web standards.

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New List: Market Insights

I had the great fortune to work with a remarkable community manager for a few years, Jim Grisanzio currently of Tokyo.  Jim has a knack of maintaining a constructive attitude, giving credibility to a project and bringing people together.  If you’ve attended a Linux or OpenSolaris User Group in Tokyo in the last 4 years, I think there’s every chance you’ve met Jim.  One of the things I learned from him was that you should not be afraid to invent and reinvent different community structures.  Communities change in size, interest and focus all the time.  If the bonds are meaningful, they will withstand the friction of a new mailing list, a new bookmark, a new IRC channel.

So, starting today, I’d like to announce the Mozilla Market Insights community list.  This list is for anyone with an interest in tracing market developments in Internet software, and especially the web browser market, for sharing of both  qualitative and quantitative data, and for getting access to the expertise of others in those activities.  In scope for discussion: demographics, market shares, product comparisons, methodologies for all of the above, and how they relate to Mozilla and open web projects.  Not in scope: marketing campaigns and events, changes to Mozilla (and especially Firefox) product road-map.

Why another list?

18 months ago, we dusted off the Marketing List which I think has become quite vibrant. At the same time, “marketing” is a rather broad term, from campaigns to product information to newsletters to events.  And while I think there is some level of interest in discuss market insights within the marketing list, I think we are at a a volume of traffic now where not all threads are getting followed up on.

A couple of folks, Bob Chao and Majken Connor both expressed concerns about creating a new list, concerns which I want to acknowledge. Bob’s point (at least, my paraphrasing, which Bob can correct if needed) was that my motivations of creating a “quieter” place for this kind of work might reduce participation and that we should, essentially, be loud and proud in everything we do.  He has an excellent point, but I still maintain that a specific list will increase participation amongst a few interested parties.  I think that Majken’s shared some of these concerns and was also bothered about potential fragmentation.  So, I think that sets the bar quite well – I’d like to get this list up and assess it by the end of the year.  If we feel that participation has declined or that we feel fragmented as a community, then I’ll happily kill the list and revert to the old state.  Of course, I will do whatever I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

So, if you enjoy numbers that have been crunched, or have some of your own to crunch, if you have a view on just how many web-capable devices there are per person (and what it was 2 years ago and what it will be in 2 years’ time), or if you have an idea just how many browsers there are for Android right now, please join the list.  Right now, I’m putting together a forecast for adoption of Firefox 4, and I’ll be delighted to share and hear other perspectives.  So, if this is appealing to you, please sign up here Mozilla Market Insights community list or market-insights-subscribe@mozilla.org.

See you on the Internet…

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Still thinking about the Open Web

Earlier this week, Dria wrote about some ideas for articulating the Open Web.  It’s important because

  1. it’s important, and
  2. we (meaning the Mozilla project) need to articulate what sets us apart from other browser producers.

Let’s first assume one hurdle: the difference between the Internet and the Web.  I wonder how many people outside the industry understand that?   (I even wonder how many people in the tech sector do not.)  But let’s put that problem aside, and assume for a moment that net neutrality is a given, and not in grave danger.

We want rather to be able to articulate the importance of technology choices such as a preference for webm and Ogg Theora over the H.264 codec.  Mozilla (and, let’s remember, others) make these choices for a very clear set of reasons.  At least, they are clear to us.

While I like the commentator Tiago Sá’s comment about Firefox being fundamentally participatory, and that a small number of users who have internalised the proposition of the open web is preferable to a large number of users who haven’t, for me, whether or not an individual Firefox user cares is moot.  I think part of Firefox’s success and impact in the market was that you didn’t have to care about what it stood for to love it.  But of course, the more people who do understand, the better.

But what concerns me more is that within the industry, in my perception, the level of understanding of Mozilla could be better.   We need to be loud and unambiguous about why an Open Web matters.  We have to articulate why the ability for anyone to pick up a set of tools and go and build on the web without being beholden to anybody else is important,  what that means for both the capabilities of the tools the have, but even more importantly, the terms (yes, the licensing) by which they can do that.  And then, we need to articulate what the societal impact is – and there are in fact several: economic, social, cultural and so forth.  And that, in the parlance of our times, is a non-trivial task.

It’s already genuinely difficult to remember life before the Web.  I say Web, and not Internet, because Web is how almost all of us first experienced the incredible power of the Internet to connect people and ideas in ways we had not envisaged before.  Sure, I used email first, and yes, it was amazing, but it did not open up the world, it merely made it more efficient.

The Web’s virtue isn’t contingent upon the specific technologies that make it, another set of technologies with the same properties and freedoms would do the job, but if we didn’t have the Web, we’d have to invent it.

Dria sets out of set of possible and useful analogies for explaining the web as a public resource.  Some of them are very good, some might suffer slightly from some culture-specificity (e.g. volunteering in a public library), and she starts to address the point of the web as a public good.  One analogy I especially like is considering the public road network.  The road network is something that is almost entirely subject to public provision and regulation (let’s not shy away from it), and the cars that drive on it – although subject to stringent regulation – are privately provided and serve primarily private objectives.    Now, imagine for a moment a road network which was run on a commercial basis, where the main interests represented were the car manufacturers.  Unless you’re an Ayn Rand acolyte (and maybe even then) it’s a much bleaker picture.

But let’s also try another tack – I am not in all cases a fan of argument by analogy (to refute argument by analogy with an analogy, one often ends up comparing apples and pairs), so I first want to think a little harder about what’s important – what this public good is, how it manifests itself, and how it exists at all.

Software is both machine and information.  It’s a tool composed of intricately expressed ideas.  In this way it is quite similar to mathematics, language or a theoretical science.  Private ownership, or perhaps better expressed, any form of public exclusion, is clearly negative outcome for the world, to say absurd in many cases (although the distinction between applied science and invention is a blurry one).

So, as I say, I’m still thinking, and maybe you are too.  But my definition of the Open Web would comprise two parts:

  1. what is important about the web: not the intrinsic qualities of the technology, but the incidental ones, i.e. the behaviour it facilitates
  2. what are the specific qualities of the technology that engender this (both capabilities and licensing, in combination with the previously-assumed net neutrality)

With these, I think our analogies will butter a few more parsnips.

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The coming “browser battle” ?

First Look: Google Increases Graphics Performance With Chrome 7 | ConceivablyTech

IE9 and Firefox are significantly faster in these tests than Chrome and it may be ironic that Firefox already creams IE9 in its own tests. Mozilla’s hardware acceleration isn’t finished yet and if the current performance is any indication, Firefox may clearly outrun IE in HTML5 performance.

Indeed it might.  And while there is little differentiation in Javascript performance and page rendering, the IE Test Drive suite shows what a divergence there currently is in complex graphics rendering.   One thing is for sure, it looks like 2011 will be a vintage year for browsers.

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    Englightenment in Dixons

    I once read that Bill Gates considered his greatest achievement to be the separation of hardware and software. He must have said it pre-2002 or so, as Google evidently has no record of it, so you’ll have to take my word for it (or ask him yourself).  Then a couple of weeks ago, in the run up to Google’s the-end-of-the-Internet announcement, Eric Schmidt snapped at reporters who suggested that the success of Android made the ChromeOS strategy questionable.  Mr Schmidt offered that ChromeOS is for a different category of devices.

    This is why I was impressed by Android and baffled by ChromeOS.  Android seems to me to be a huge step forwards for a sector that was fraught with fragmentation.  ChromeOS, meanwhile, appears to be a backwards step – sure, it will be cheap (at least unless hardware OEMs succumb to patent claims on some of the underlying technology, which makes the Oracle-Google spat over Java all the more interesting), but still, as far as I can tell, a netbook running ChromeOS is a netbook that does less than the same device with Ubuntu, or, let’s say it – good old Windows XP.

    And then, I saw this sign in Dixons in Birmingham Airport.  They had a rack of the-computer-formerly-known-as-netbooks, only now, they’re apparently, “Web Browsers”.

    Dixons, Birmingham Airport

    Woah.  This is probably about the first thing that makes me think Google’s efforts to blur the OS / browser distinction might bear fruit.  If the whole category of device is classified as a web browser, users might not feel that an OS that is only a web browser isn’t such a lemon after all.

    Worth noting that this was Dixons: DSG International, one of the biggest players in retail electronics in Europe (El Giganten, PC World, Dixons, Currys).  Wonder if this name will catch on?  And if so…what will us browser makes call our software?

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