Jay Sullivan recently posted a Vision Statement for Firefox. I want to comment on one paragraph in particular:
Firefox has always been available for major desktop operating systems, but for many devices, Firefox in its current form — client software with the Gecko Web rendering engine — will not be feasible. Yet the experiences it offers should be available everywhere. The future browser will therefore be delivered in many ways, sometimes as client software, sometimes as a Web-based service.
Or, to put it another way: “we want to do something on the iPhone, accepting (due to Apple App Store policies) that it’ll have to be on top of Webkit”.
That is confirmed at the very bottom of the page:
We will explore Web-based and other architectures to provide a Firefox experience to people on major OSs, including iOS.
In the discussion about the vision statement in mozilla.dev.planning, dbaron said:
Power over the full set of protocols and formats used for interchange of data on the Web is important to Firefox’s ability to advance Mozilla’s mission to promote “openness, innovation and participation on the Internet“: it’s a key piece of what gives Firefox leverage. We have the ability to reject changes to these protocols and formats that go against our mission, and while we don’t (and shouldn’t) have the ability to make any addition we want, we can strongly influence additions.
Imagine, as an extreme example, a world where all Web browsing is done on WebKit on iOS devices, but the Firefox brand remains as one of the leading bookmarks/history sync services. The statement quoted above makes that seem like a possible success condition, but it seems like a failure to me, since we’d lose our ability to influence the technology of the Web.
roc, bz and faaborg expressed support or similar sentiments. I also agree. If we end up delivering “the best experience that we can manage, consistent with our principles, but if necessary on someone else’s technology stack”, then as platform lockdown continues unopposed, what that “best” is will continue to degrade over time, until our situation is indistiguishable from failure.
“Presenting compelling and important value” or “enabling great user experiences” is not enough. Facebook Connect presents compelling and important value – that’s why a boatload of sites and users use it. But we are still kicking off a project to compete with it (and, ideally, eliminate it and all other vendor-lockin single-signon solutions). “People getting a great Firefox-branded user experience” is not a goal, it’s a means to an end – the preservation, protection and promotion of the web as an open platform, for the general good and freedom of humanity.
So what do we do about iOS?
Here’s one idea. It turns out that Firefox has been ported to the iPhone. Let’s polish it up, ship it, stick it on mozilla.org/firefox and offer people who want it either a way to jailbreak their iPhones (with appropriate warnings) or, if that idea worries them (and for many people, it will), the ability to download Firefox Home, with an honest appraisal of why it’s not nearly as good as full Firefox, and a form to ask Apple to change their policy, and a signup to a mailing list so we can keep them informed.
The community is our competitive advantage. Let’s pursue a community-based solution to the platform lockdown problem.