Firefox, Vision And iOS

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.

37 thoughts on “Firefox, Vision And iOS

  1. Agreed. As I stated elsewhere, ‘vision statements’ are liable to conflict with the core mission. If they have value to add to achieving the mission then so be it – but it’s important they remain strictly within the confines of Mozilla’s core objectives rather than going in directions that might oppose them.

  2. Gerv, what do we do when Mac OS N or Windows N ships with a locked down store or with built in rendering stacks that cannot be easily replaced? Just not play on those platforms? Only offer our software values to people willing to violate the TOS of their OS? Are we advancing our mission by reducing our global footprint to Linux and a few jailbreakers?

    – A

  3. Asa: our job is to stop it coming to that. And the way we do that is not to give in right now, when the battle’s just starting.

    Do you really think that, after what’s happened during the last decade, Microsoft would ever get away with shipping desktop Windows with a locked-down store which excluded other browsers?

    Also, shipping any desktop operating system this way would be a mammoth thing, given the amount of 3rd party software there is out there. Are corporations really going to put their corporate apps into Microsoft’s App Store? I’m not seeing this happen any time soon.

    On mobile, we have a good-and-getting-better story on Android. Why not make Firefox and Sync one big reason to choose an Android phone over an iOS one? I think we did our mission an enormous disservice shipping Firefox Home. If for the past two years we’d been making a lot of noise about the unreasonableness of Apple’s policy, and the innovation we’d like to bring to iOS with Firefox but couldn’t, where would we be now? As it is, one of our key differentiators is available to iOS users (making our argument a lot weaker) without us gaining anything in return.

    We need to do less capitulating and more resisting.

  4. > what do we do when Mac OS N or Windows N ships with a locked down store or
    > with built in rendering stacks that cannot be easily replaced? Just not play
    > on those platforms?

    Yes. If we’re delivering a compelling product, then by delivering it on open platforms and not locked-down ones, we enhance the value of those open platforms and give them a better chance of survival.

    > Only offer our software values to people willing to violate the TOS of their
    > OS? Are we advancing our mission by reducing our global footprint to Linux and
    > a few jailbreakers?

    If *all* mass-market platforms become locked down to the point where we can’t deliver our own browser engine, then most of our current influence over the Internet, which is based on what we do or don’t do in our engine, will disappear. The situation would be very dangerous and sad industry-wide, for many reasons, with lots of collateral damage beyond Mozilla. I am totally convinced that building on top of some platform Web rendering engine would be futile in terms of furthering Mozilla’s mission, at least compared to the leverage we have now, especially when the owner of that platform Web engine takes exception to something we do and simply cuts us off.

    I don’t think that future is inevitable. If we accept it as inevitable and don’t resist it, that would be an inexcusable failure. If we fight against it and it happens anyway, we’ll have failed, but at least we’ll have tried.

  5. I would totally support this. I want Firefox on my iPod. Let’s bring our collective voice to Apple.

  6. Can’t we ship Firefox on iOS, just without JITs? Interpreters are now allowed on the app store AFAIK, it’s just self-modifying code that they disallow.

    Without JITs we’d be slow, though, so maybe that’s a bad idea.

  7. I would even say that if Fx ships on jailbroken iOS, it could provide a whole new ecosystem of apps on that platform… Imagine that Fx allows to install “standalone” xul-based (or W3C Widget-compliant) add-ons/widgets into the iOS dock/screen… IMHO, that is exactly in the spirit of the Manifesto. Open up the world.

  8. “Asa: our job is to stop it coming to that. And the way we do that is not to give in right now, when the battle’s just starting.”

    You’ve said how we don’t stop it coming to that. How do you propose we do stop it coming to that? One way to help would be to make it really easy to move from closed systems to not closed systems. One really good way to do that is to have your product in both places so transitions are really easy.

    “Do you really think that, after what’s happened during the last decade, Microsoft would ever get away with shipping desktop Windows with a locked-down store which excluded other browsers? ”

    Yes. I very much believe they will. It will be gradual, like Mac OS X’s slow iOS-ification, but I do believe it’s coming. It’s the future, and it hasn’t happened yet, so we can debate it if you like.

    “Are corporations really going to put their corporate apps into Microsoft’s App Store?”

    In the future I imagine (trying to think like a smart Microsoft here) corporations will be able to set up their own Sharepoint store or something like so they don’t have to turn over their apps or data to Microsoft. Also, (again, trying to think like microsoft here) many will transition to “Native HTML5” and .Net apps that will run natively on Windows without a browser getting in the way.

    “On mobile, we have a good-and-getting-better story on Android. Why not make Firefox and Sync one big reason to choose an Android phone over an iOS one?”

    I do not believe that even with the best browser in the World that we could cause any significant movement from iOS to Android. Nor am I convinced that Android will always be as open as it is today.

    “If for the past two years we’d been making a lot of noise about the unreasonableness of Apple’s policy, and the innovation we’d like to bring to iOS with Firefox but couldn’t, where would we be now?”

    Right where we are minus the hours spent “making a lot of noise.” Mozilla moves its mission through products that people love, not by “making noise”. We are not a political organization. We are a software organization and we win when we build our values into software that wins in the marketplace.

    “We need to do less capitulating and more resisting.”

    Not playing is not the same as resisting. Resisting requires engagement. Unless by resisting you mean not caving in to the tens of millions of users who would benefit by having some, though not all, of Mozilla’s values-enriched software on their systems.

    “If we’re delivering a compelling product, then by delivering it on open platforms and not locked-down ones, we enhance the value of those open platforms and give them a better chance of survival.”

    We delivered a compelling product for Linux quite a while ago. And yes, it did enhance Linux’s chance of survival. But it did not have any influence on how Apple or Microsoft of Google evolved their platforms.

    And I don’t think our putting Firefox on Windows and Mac back in the day had any negative effects on Linux either. Just the opposite, in fact. I think the because some Windows users who moved to Linux had a comfortable transition moving from Firefox on Windows to Firefox on Linux that it actually enhanced Linux’s chances of survival.

    So, yes, I’m all for putting our best efforts into Firefox and Gecko on open platforms, but I don’t think that work has any influence on the closed platforms, nor do I think that working on improving Web life for everyone on closed platforms has any negative impact on the open platforms and it could have positive impact easing transitions across platforms.

    – A

  9. What I don’t understand is why Apple’s policy isn’t in violation of anti-trust legislation. Certainly if Microsoft did such a thing, they would be in serious trouble.

  10. Building a browser isn’t the only thing we can do to further the mission. Stay tuned…

  11. @fantasai

    Apple does not have a monopoly in the phone market so anti-trust legislation does not apply.

  12. fantasai, US anti-trust law applies to companies that acquired or maintained monopolies through specific prohibited conduct. Apple is not about to develop a monopoly on mobile operating systems nor does it have a monopoly to maintain so the laws don’t really apply.

    Microsoft was found to have a monopoly in “Intel-compatible PC operating systems” back in the late 90s and they were found to have engaged in prohibited activities in defense of that monopoly.

    (As an aside, I don’t think that today the same product category as defined back in 1998 by the terms “Intel-compatible” “personal computer” and “operating system” would be the basis for anti-trust legislation. Too much has changed about computing since then.)

    – A

  13. Two points for thought:

    * As more consumers get mobile devices, the value of shared data and sessions between desktop and mobile devices increases. In that sense, shipping Firefox for iOS atop WebKit — if it provides a compelling user experience and, most importantly, syncs with desktop Firefox — is a way to promote and enable use of Firefox on the desktop. Arguably, not shipping Firefox on iOS provides a strong reason for some consumers to abandon desktop Firefox as well, thus reducing rather than increasing Mozilla’s leverage.

    * Even for consumers who aren’t currently desktop Firefox users, shipping an iOS product provides a mechanism for discovery of the product and the brand, if Firefox on iOS is compelling.

    Your blog post directly notes that providing a compelling experience is “a means to an end”. Shipping on iOS may similarly be a means to a desirable end. I strongly doubt that providing a Firefox “app” that cannot be installed without jailbreaking the phone is much of a means to do anything.

  14. “But we are still kicking off a project to compete with [Facebook Connect] (and, ideally, eliminate it and all other vendor-lockin single-signon solutions).”

    Gerv, I don’t think we’re trying to eliminate Facebook Connect or any other vendor-lockin single-signon solutions any more than we’re trying to eliminate closed source browsers or proprietary sync solutions.

    We’re trying to provide a compelling alternative that puts users in control. That’s what we’re doing with Firefox, with Sync, and with any potential Mozilla identity system.

    Mozilla has never been about elimination. It’s about choice, innovation, and empowerment. Our success absolutely does not require elimination of anything and I think that kind of language is pretty unhelpful. (Did you consider that we might want to work with Facebook on interoperability and your asserting that we want to eliminate Facebook Connect might hurt that effort?)

    – A

  15. Sure, we’re not trying to eliminate Facebook Connect, in the sense that Facebook are going to just keep doing their thing and we can’t stop them :-). But just as I would consider it a good thing if open source, open web browsers became so dominant that no-one wanted a closed-source one, I think it would be fine if open identity solutions became so compelling that no-one used closed ones.

    I guess I would modify my wording slightly; a good analogy perhaps is that we didn’t promote the open web to eliminate walled gardens like CompuServe – but I certainly didn’t shed a tear at their passing.

    I think Facebook is made up of mature enough people (hi, Schrep! :-) that they can see that a) if Mozilla’s ID solution succeeds, it will compete with theirs, and b) that’s no reason to go off in a huff. We compete with Google, but I have good working relationships with a number of Google engineers (hi, Peter :-).

  16. “Just as I would consider it a good thing if open source, open web browsers became so dominant that no-one wanted a closed-source one, I think it would be fine if open identity solutions became so compelling that no-one used closed ones.”

    I disagree. I think it takes all kinds to spur innovation, and eliminating competition, open or closed, should not be a part of our goals. Microsoft, for example, is doing awesome things with its browser lately. The browser landscape, and even Mozilla specifically, would be worse off without them.

    Not everyone has to play by our rules for there to be progress. Different models deliver different things. Just as I value competition in the products we build, so do I value competition in the methods of product building.

    There’s a certain arrogance in the suggestion that the only or even the best way forward for the Web is via FLOSS. I don’t hold those beliefs and I don’t think that Mozilla as a whole does either. I think the best way forward for Mozilla is through open source, but the Web should be about more than just Mozilla and I think companies which do not embrace open source absolutely should not be eliminated from the playing field because they chose a different development model.

  17. Darn, I missed the opportunity to salute my favorite proprietary browser vendor, Opera :). I think we have Opera to thank for huge advancements in the Web (including features as fundamental as CSS) and they’ve never been open source and probably never will be. I cannot agree that it would be a good thing or that the Web would be a better place if Opera was “eliminated”.

  18. I would love a copy of Firefox for my iPod/iPad (Unbranded, Jailbroken, etc. I don’t mind), I can’t run Firefox on my Android phone (ARMv6), and having to deal with the default browsers is very annoying.

    And having it available, but restricted from the vast majority by Apple would be a great way to shine light onto the issue, the tech media wouldn’t ignore it.

  19. I fully agree with Gerv and Roc. Let’s not give in now while we don’t have to. Giving away a bit of freedom for a bit of marker share is the worst thing mozilla can do for itself and the all web. Asa’s words are very worrying, and it’s scary he’s the new product manager or whatever.

  20. @asa: (Stunned silence.)

    I’m not sure what to make of your comments. It’s certainly critical that Mozilla provide pathways from closed systems to open ones, and part of that strategy involves providing products for closed systems. But it looks like your confusing the means with the end.

    “Mozilla moves its mission through products that people love, not by “making noise”. We are not a political organization.”

    Actually, a political organisation is exactly what Mozilla is. I endured an incredibly poor browser product for 6-ish years at the start of this century because I believed in the mission not because I “loved” the product. I recommended Mozilla and Firefox to countless numbers of people on the grounds that it was more hackable, more grassroots and put the user in control. I argued Mozilla’s approach was better, not that its products were better — but it will get better, I told them. And I was proven right. Mozilla’s products came good because of its process, not because it was lucky enough to start with a good product or idea. Any other company/group would have folded long, long ago. But the immense good will of open-spirited, anti-centralised, anti-control communities saw them lift Mozilla up on their shoulders. They helped, by word of mouth, by contributing time, in some cases by contributing money and skills and ultimately just by caring that Mozilla was something more than a factory churning out bratwurste for the masses. You have those communities to thank for where Mozilla is today. I hope you regularly consider this when formulating whatever your own plans are within and for Mozilla.

    If Mozilla is about anything at all, then Mozilla is about openness. (And if it isn’t, I’ve been following the wrong project for 13 years.) It’s about giving every user as much power as possible while making sure that no-one gets left behind. It’s about ensuring no divide ever opens between those who produce and those who consume. It’s about making sure that the small, self-employed worker has the same tools at their disposal as the company with a $100 billion market cap. It’s about promoting ideas based on community-assessed merit, rather than knee-jerk market popularity. At heart, Mozilla is closer in spirit to a scientific body than it is to a corporate body.

    Assuming this point settled, the question is then how best to promote Mozilla’s mission of openness? The method being debated here is resistance. Resistance comes at a cost. You have to be smart enough to recognise when that cost is too high, and many open source projects have failed to see when that’s the case. (Most Linux distros’ position on ABIs and drivers being the main example.) But Mozilla has always struck a good balance and resistance can produce good outcomes. Mozilla stuck to its guns on ActiveX, and it paid off spectacularly well in the end — and not just for Mozilla (looks at Mac, Linux, iOS, Android). Mozilla resisted implementing the SVG behemoth (on political grounds) and with hindsight we can clearly see that was the right thing to do. Mozilla is now holding out on H.264, and (now with Chrome’s help) it looks like that may pay benefits in a couple of years time too. The developer community is used to resisting all sorts of things (XML, XHTML, SOAP, RDF, w3c DOM API) that ivory tower spec creators try to foist on them; they used to be the only way to do the things they did — developers could just have given in, but they didn’t. And now we have significantly better technologies in their stead. Short-term, resistance is difficult. But ultimately, resistance can do good.

    Had Mozilla been vocal about Apple’s move to close the doors on its world, it might have countered the ridiculous flood of uncritical hype that greeted Apple’s products that introduced these closed worlds. It might have made Apple think twice about what it could get away with and scale back. Because what it did get away with was scandalous. (I say ‘was’, because Apple set the precedent, and now closed worlds are considered apple pie.) It wouldn’t even have cost Mozilla much in terms of popular reputation, particularly if Mozilla got its narrative straight. (Something like: “We will pursue every opportunity to provide freedom to users on this new closed platform, but we object to Apple’s anti-community spirit to the strongest degree.”) It may even have prevented developers from advocating iOS development if they knew ‘the bad word’ was out there about this closed system, endorsed by the biggest organisation fighting the good fight for users of the web.

    I’m going to stop now even though I have more to say because this has gotten too long and these words are unlikely to have the positive effect upon you that I’d hope. So I’ll leave you with one last comment: The ripples of consequences from your choices at Mozilla spread wider than you realise.

  21. @voracity

    Great stuff, just a small correction: Chrome is still shipping the H.264 decoder (they even recently made improvements to it) so it’s just Mozilla and Opera holding their ground against the codec.

  22. Indeed. Gecko is by far the most important aspect of Firefox.

    Would you have been happy shipping a Mozilla product for Windows XP that was just a UI wrapper around (the rendering component of) IE6?

    Okay, so Webkit is a lot better than the rendering component of IE6. That’s not the point. The point is, if you just wrap a custom UI around somebody else’s rendering engine, you aren’t really enriching the diversity of available browsers, certainly not in a way that will matter in terms of how information can be produced, distributed, retrieved, and experienced — which is what web browsers are *for*.

  23. Asa said:

    You’ve said how we don’t stop it coming to that. How do you propose we do stop it coming to that? One way to help would be to make it really easy to move from closed systems to not closed systems. One really good way to do that is to have your product in both places so transitions are really easy.

    That’s a sword which cuts both ways.

    How did we stop H.264 becoming the de facto video standard on the web? We refused to ship it. For a while, it was just us and Opera. Then WebM appeared, Chrome dropped H.264, and there are solutions out there for playing WebM in both Safari and IE. Things are moving in the right direction – because we didn’t give up even when lots of people said we should. The stage is now set for a video hosting site to produce an awesome HTML5-backed experience and drive adoption of WebM and installation of the necessary codecs.

    You say that all the proprietary platforms are going to end up locked-down. I guess that’s one possible future, but there’s a long road between here and there.

    Here’s a straight question: is providing an awesome user experience through a shell around WebKit/Trident (as far as we can given platform limitations we can’t fix) on a set of otherwise-locked-down platforms a win condition for Mozilla? I say it looks pretty much like a loss for the “open web” mission to me. What do you say?

    Mozilla moves its mission through products that people love, not by “making noise”. We are not a political organization. We are a software organization and we win when we build our values into software that wins in the marketplace.

    “Hey, Mitchell? Cancel that trip to Davos this year. And Harvey: stop that lobbying rubbish. Drumbeat? Can it all.”

    I’ve read you talking about this subject in several fora now, and I would implore you to ease up on the false dichotomies! We can both make noise and make software. You keep talking about limited resources – but do you really think roc, dbaron and bz are the only candidates to be our lobbyists, bloggers and press contacts? This is divisible work.

    Erunno: Unless something has changed, Chrome no longer ships H.264.

  24. > what do we do when Mac OS N or Windows N ships
    > with a locked down store or with built in
    > rendering stacks that cannot be easily replaced?

    No vendor will ever turn a profit on a desktop computer OS with those kinds of limitations. Even Apple, with its fanatically loyal userbase, has only been able to make it work on the iPod and iPhone because user expectations for handheld devices (so far) have never been at all the same as the expectations people have of a computer. Handheld devices are accessories: people who own them fully expect to still need to use a “real computer” for some things.

    People expect their computers to be able to run popular applications. This has traditionally worked *against* the open-source community, because Linux can’t run PhotoShop and Quicken and PrintShop and so on and so forth. (To a lesser extent it also works against Apple, for similar reasons.) Microsoft is not immune to this phenomenon. If anything, it is what has kept them on top. It’s built into their business model. They *rely* on it. They cannot abandon it, fight it, and hope to remain in their dominant market position.

    Today, Firefox is more popular than PhotoShop and Quicken and PrintShop combined, but individual apps aren’t even the point: the point is that people expect their computer to run whatever software they want to run on it. That’s the nature of what a “computer” is — we don’t any longer use the word “computer” for any device that computers. We use it for *general purpose* computing devices, ones that can do whatever we want them to do. If Microsoft were to lock Windows down so that it could only run “app store” apps, they would be voluntarily giving up their primary market advantage over Linux. That’s not going to happen — certainly not while Windows still has overwhelming market share that it does. That’s not a boat Microsoft wants to rock, believe me. Their shareholders would skin every last officer and board member alive.

    The mobile versions of Windows and OS X for handheld devices might be another matter, for the same reason it works on iPhone: because people have never come to expect handheld devices to function as a full-fledged computer. It’s an accessory, and it does what it does, and for stuff it doesn’t do you use a real computer. If that expectation ever changes, the iPhone will have to open up (if it wants to stay competitive).

    The fact that the iPhone can’t run Firefox is a symptom of the fact that it’s not a “real” (general-purpose) computer. It’s a handheld accessory, and as long as it’s locked down that’s all it’ll ever be. People who own one will still need a real computer for things that the iPhone can’t (or won’t) do.

    I should note that Apple certainly doesn’t mind that the iPhone is “just” an accessory. They want people to buy a full-fledged computer (a Mac by preference) *and* an iPhone, plus an iPod touch, and maybe an iPad too, and an iTunes membership, and iLife, and … Whether the iPhone will be able to continue to succeed in the market on those terms will depend on whether user expectations for handheld devices continue to be different from their expectations for computers. For the time being, it seems that will continue to obtain, but in the future, who knows?

  25. @Asa

    Unfortunately Google hasn’t followed through with their promise to drop H.264 yet. With Chrome 12 you can still use Vimeo’s H.264-based HTML5 video player as they don’t support WebM and you can still open local H.264/MP4 files in Chrome.

  26. Microsoft would ever get away with shipping desktop Windows with a locked-down store which excluded other browsers

    Apple does not have a monopoly in the phone market so anti-trust legislation does not apply.

    Here’s the problem: if Apple / Microsoft / Google all have reasonable sized chunks of market share on desktop and mobile, then all three are free to create vertically integrated and locked down systems. Markets seem to eventually gravitate towards a few big players, and at that final state there is only intervention if the big players start to collude with each other. Otherwise, there isn’t really any oversight as the market is by definition very competitive (just not very horizontally open). As far as I can tell our best chance of success is to leverage our existing platform to try to become one of the big players ourselves, so there are 4 instead of 3. This means talking to OEMs and building our own environment. We’ve already seen that happen once with the Atrix.

    But until then I’m concerned about the amount of mind share we have lost by not having a brand presence on iOS. I believe we should be perusing a phonegap style strategy there either way, and regardless of which rendering engine we end up building it on (assuming we can get all the functionality we need on top of Webkit).

  27. > You say that all the proprietary platforms are going
    > to end up locked-down. I guess that’s one possible
    > future, but there’s a long road between here and there.

    If that happens, you win: everyone who needs a general-purpose computer system would necessarily use an open-source one (eventually, once time kills off all of the old systems people used to use, by introducing new hardware they won’t run on and useful new software features that the old systems never supported).

  28. Gerv, I’m curious about how you perceive the idea of building on WebKit as opposed to building on Trident.

    I say this because like Gecko, WebKit is an open-source rendering engine that is built by a large contributor community, and the community and the engine both seem focused on driving the web forward and supporting HTML5 and other standards (existing and future). Trident, OTOH, is basically a binary blob you get from Microsoft.

    It seems to me that a future in which Firefox shipped atop WebKit would not so much be bad in the sense of openness as in the sense of monoculture. Or is it critical to achieving Mozilla’s vision that the rendering engine be something which doesn’t have major non-Mozilla-related interests contributing?

  29. Peter, WebKit on the iOS is just as much a binary blob. Besides the iOS, the question is not so much who’s contributing to WebKit but who’s driving it. Mozilla could fork it or maintain a set of customizations when it disagrees with other shareholders, of course. But again, this wouldn’t solve the problem of not being allowed to ship your own engine on certain platforms.

  30. “Here’s a straight question: is providing an awesome user experience through a shell around WebKit/Trident (as far as we can given platform limitations we can’t fix) on a set of otherwise-locked-down platforms a win condition for Mozilla? I say it looks pretty much like a loss for the “open web” mission to me. What do you say?”

    It is not simply about an awesome user experience. It is about putting users in control. Is not clear yet? I can repeat it using some other language if that’s helpful. How about from the Mozilla Manifesto “Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet. I’ve read that a few times now and I’m not seeing the “except if they pick the wrong OS” caveat anywhere.

    I believe that we are more than a rendering engine organization. I believe that a critical component of our mission is to put users in control of their online lives and there is nothing that says we must do that only through Gecko

    And yes, I absolutely would consider putting users in control of their experiences of the Web, even when that is not with Gecko, a very real win for Mozilla.

    Your intimation that we cannot do both, make Gecko as good as it can be and Firefox based on Gecko the best possible Mozilla experience, while also helping users on platforms where we cannot take Gecko doesn’t make sense to me and it seems to me also that your vision of what Mozilla is allowed to do to further its mission of giving users the ability to shape their experiences of the Internet is rather narrow.

    – A

  31. Faaborg said: (assuming we can get all the functionality we need on top of Webkit)

    But that’s the big assumption, isn’t it? If we could always get all the functionality we wanted on top of Webkit on iOS, then it wouldn’t be nearly so bad. But is Apple really going to give us the facilities and APIs to execute our web app strategy on top of Webkit?

    Peter: I agree there is a difference, in that we could hire engineers to make improvements to Webkit (or coordinate with Google to get them made, or just watch Google make them because our interests are aligned on the issue :-). However, that doesn’t help if Apple chooses not to ship those improvements. It might make it more obvious they they are trying to avoid releasing the full power of the open web when and if there are features in Webkit and therefore in Chrome that are disabled in Safari or Mobile Safari, but they can still do it.

    Or is it critical to achieving Mozilla’s vision that the rendering engine be something which doesn’t have major non-Mozilla-related interests contributing?

    Not so; we would love to have major non-Mozilla-related interests contributing to Gecko – because it would mean more people are contributing to Gecko! The issue is when the project is driven by organizations which aren’t aligned with our goals and values, and the degree of that misalignment. Apple are not at all aligned; you guys are much more aligned, and I’m grateful for your influence on Webkit. But the less control we, or organizations which share our values, have over the platform, the less power we have to influence the web for good.

  32. Asa: can users be meaningfully in control on a locked-down platform? We can give users as much control as the platform allows, but if that amount of control decreases year-on-year as the platform changes under us, and there’s nothing we can do about it, that doesn’t seem like a long-term win either.

    I think what is emerging here is a tension between two parts of the Mozilla mission.

    At the bottom, goal 1: we want the web to be an open platform, built on open standards, where anyone can innovate, where apps are portable. Manifesto points 2, 6 and 7. Locked-down OSes work directly against this in the long term, and we should do everything we can to minimise their impact and appeal.

    Higher up the stack, goal 2: we want to give users control of their online lives – identity, privacy etc. Manifesto point 5, as you note. Making that happen requires having a presence on as many platforms as possible, and on making the experience as uniformly good as possible.

    It seems that we have decided our iOS strategy by looking at goal 2. But what’s been missed is that you can’t achieve goal 2 in the long term if you decide to concede on goal 1 – which your words suggest you are. We are adopting a strategy which assumes we will not achieve goal 1 in the long term.

    Your intimation that we cannot do both, make Gecko as good as it can be and Firefox based on Gecko the best possible Mozilla experience, while also helping users on platforms where we cannot take Gecko doesn’t make sense to me

    That’s because that’s not what I’m saying – or rather, your summary of it is missing some crucial aspects.

    I think it’s entirely possible to make Firefox based on Gecko the best possible Mozilla experience while still bringing some aspects of that experience to other platforms where we can’t ship Gecko. After all, we are doing that now with Firefox Home. No-one doubts whether it’s possible. The question is whether it’s wise.

    Bringing aspects of the Firefox experience to iOS benefits goal 2, but – I assert – works against goal 1. Whenever I make this point, you keep telling me “but it benefits goal 2!”. I know that – that’s not the point. Are you also saying that it has no effect at all on goal 1? And are you saying that if we win on goal 2, whether we win on goal 1 actually doesn’t matter? How do you see the relationship between the goals?

  33. “you can’t achieve goal 2 in the long term if you decide to concede on goal 1”

    I am not conceding goal 1. I am actually proposing (in various other places) doubling and tripling down on goal 1 one, and not just on goal 1 but specifically on Gecko’s role in goal 1. (I’m sure we can all imagine other potentially successful but non-Gecko approaches to goal 1). I am absolutely not conceding on goal 1.

    Am I worried about it, and a little scared about the iOS-ification of the operating system ecosystem? Yeah. I am. Am I giving up? Conceding? Hell no.

    “Bringing aspects of the Firefox experience to iOS benefits goal 2, but – I assert – works against goal 1…. Are you also saying that it has no effect at all on goal 1? And are you saying that if we win on goal 2, whether we win on goal 1 actually doesn’t matter? How do you see the relationship between the goals?”

    Ahhh. I think see where we disagree now.

    I do not accept that working on goal 2 necessarily harms goal 1. If you think it does, I’d like to hear more about why.

    (Also I absolutely do not think a “victory” on goal 2 negates the critical value of goal 1. I think both are very important and together make up the bulk of why Mozilla exists.)

    Gecko is huge leverage in a lot of ways. The Firefox product, including Sync, an Open Web App marketplace, a great identity system for the Web, people and sharing in the browser, etc. — all of these not-Gecko features also offer huge leverage and have the ability to dramatically move our mission forward.

    I want us to do both. Where we can take Gecko, we can do an amazing-awesome job. Where we cannot take Gecko, I think we can still do a solid job delivering the kinds of features and tools that users desperately need and which clearly move our mission forward.

    We must do both. We have been ignoring a rapidly growing segment of users when it comes to goal 2 and I think that is simply unacceptable to continue doing that.

    – A

  34. One of the things I like about gerv’s proposal for iOS is that it actually provides a way to educate users about the benefits of generative platforms, and explain to them why they can’t get Firefox on iOS–and offer a concrete solution for actually getting Firefox on iOS, if they really want it.

    Right now nobody I’ve ever talked to understands *why* we don’t ship Firefox on iOS. Whenever I try telling them, they’re either confused, angry at Apple, or they point out Opera Mini, at which point they get confused depending on whether they understand the technical underpinnings or not.

    It would be really cool if we could get a few million people angry at Apple for not letting our kind of software into our app store, and one way to do that is by actually making it and submitting it to their app store. If Apple rejects it, then we can still make it available to people willing to jailbreak their phones (or the devices of their friends and family, which is how Firefox got on most people’s PCs).

    Part of the reason I’ve never jailbroken my iPhone is because it has an air of illegitimacy about it and there isn’t a “killer app” for me that’s only available on unlocked iPhones. Mozilla shipping Firefox for iOS–assuming it was rejected from the app store–could both legitimize jailbreaking *and* put a killer app in that space, which IMO would be a pretty awesome win for generativity.

    I’m conflicted about whether that is actually the best thing for us to focus our resources on, though, and it’s certainly risky. But of all the options I’ve heard, it’s the most exciting.