Goal 1 vs. Goal 2

In the recent discussion about our iOS strategy, after a lot of exchanges, Asa and I finally found where we disagreed.

I said (lightly edited):

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

Goal 1: at the bottom, 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.

Goal 2: higher up the stack, 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.

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?

Asa replied:

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.

So, at Asa’s request:

Why Some Things Which Help Goal 2 Hurt Goal 1

Firefox Home on iOS (and perhaps other platforms soon?) is designed to help us with Goal 2 – giving people control of their online lives.

Marketing is all about persuading people that your product is the best thing since sliced bread. For a long time, marketing Firefox itself was relatively easy – we spread, mostly through word of mouth, to 400+ million desktops, because our product was the best thing since sliced bread. And we said so.

When we came to market Firefox Home, we’ve also been telling people that it’s similarly awesome. Check out that site – one could be forgiven for thinking that what you are getting with Firefox Home is pretty close to the full Firefox experience. And that, I suggest, is where we start hurting Goal 1.

If we tell people “use Firefox Home on iOS, you can’t have Firefox but this is nearly as good”, then we are effectively saying “use iOS or use Android, it doesn’t matter to us” – and I think it matters a great deal for Goal 1. Blurring the distinction between Firefox Home (no Gecko, no web platform leverage) and Firefox (Gecko, web platform leverage) hurts Goal 1. Obscuring the difference between iOS (closed platform) and Android (pretty open platform) hurts Goal 1.

Our marketing message needs to be more like: “Firefox Home is OK, I guess, but full Firefox would be much better”. Saying your product is not nearly as good as another possibility is really counter-cultural in marketing, but we aren’t about running with the crowd.

Of course, if that’s the message, we should provide a way of getting the better experience – which is why we should ship Firefox for iOS, apply to be in the Store, get rejected if that’s what Apple decide, upload to Cydia, and get on jailbroken iPhones. About 10% of iPhones are jailbroken, and Firefox could be the killer app for jailbreaking. And for those nervous about that, make it really clear who it is who is preventing them getting Firefox on their iPhone.

14 thoughts on “Goal 1 vs. Goal 2

  1. “[…]we should ship Firefox for iOS, apply to be in the Store, get rejected if that’s what Apple decide, upload to Cydia, and get on jailbroken iPhones. About 10% of iPhones are jailbroken, and Firefox could be the killer app for jailbreaking. And for those nervous about that, make it really clear who it is who is preventing them getting Firefox on their iPhone.”

    This excerpt illustrates exactly the approach I would dearly love to see Mozilla taking. There are many policies held by Apple which I think ought to be challenged. This one in particular could attract a good deal of scrutiny if Mozilla plays their cards right.

  2. Personally, I’d rather not point the finger directly at Apple, for the simple reason that I want the downfall of closed platforms, not Apple.

    “Get Firefox Home! Firefox Home is the best experience we can deliver on a closed platform.”

    “Get Firefox Home! It brings you those benefits of the Open Web that are still possible on a closed platform.”

    We don’t want to belittle the product. That is indeed marketing fail, and unnecessary besides. We do want to belittle the closed nature of the platform. Readers can draw the inference that the product is not as capable as another one on a different platform, but that’s not the fault of the product — you don’t blame a photo app for not working as well on a device lacking a camera. That is the message to convey, that the closed platform is fundamentally inferior to an open one, in a similar way that a device lacking some bit of hardware is inferior. “This device has a camera, a microphone, openness, a 34324×3830 pixel display, …”

    Heck, maybe we should concoct a bogus numerical rating for the “openness” of a platform, and mention it alongside the GHz of the processor.

    “I’m sorry, Firefox requires Software Freedom of at least 14.6, which is higher than the 12.1 that you currently have available. You may wish to consider installing Firefox Home, which requires only a Freedom of at least 9.5, or jailbreaking your device to upgrade it to 17.8. Please note that jailbreaking may void your warranty and/or elicit screams of rage from the vicinity of Cupertino, CA.”

  3. I think its worth noting that tablets can be seen to some degree as a substitute product for laptops and desktops. For cellphones there is a healthy competition, but for tablets it is very much iOS. Moreover, apps are a substitute product for websites.

    This is where the long term fight for gecko becomes relevant. If iOS becomes the defacto app/web device for private users, it is windows+ie all over again. Where is the guarantee that iOS websites will look good/work in other browsers? Or that the next great web experience will be available in the browser?

  4. Gerv — Have you used Firefox Home? It isn’t a browser and doesn’t pretend to be one. The current app is *not* our our solution to anything. We have to build something super compelling to be relevant. We’re working on what this looks like now…

  5. > which is why we should ship Firefox for iOS, apply to be in the Store, get rejected if that’s what Apple decide, upload to Cydia, and get on jailbroken iPhones

    I am all for that, but is it even legal? I believe the iOS SDK’s EULA has limitations that prevent that kind of thing.

    Not to mention other potential legal issues, for example, if we support jailbreaking and that ends up making users vulnerable to some exploit.

    Again, I support this idea in theory, but I suspect it is too dangerous from a legal standpoint. Which just proves your point, that iOS is too closed a platform for Mozilla to support.

  6. Stuart, I understand what Firefox Home is and why it is. What bothers me, though, is that when it’s offered for download, we don’t spend even one sentence to explain why, so people who don’t know about Apple’s policies are confused and may think Mozilla isn’t bothering to support their iPhone/iPad. I’d like Mozilla to have something like “Apple’s policies don’t allow us to deliver Firefox for iOS. However, we are allowed to offer Firefox Home to allow you to access your history and bookmarks from Firefox on your other devices.” on the Firefox Home download page.

    I guess I should file a bug on http://www.mozilla.com.

  7. Stuart said: Gerv — Have you used Firefox Home? It isn’t a browser and doesn’t pretend to be one. The current app is *not* our our solution to anything. We have to build something super compelling to be relevant. We’re working on what this looks like now…

    I understand Firefox Home is not a browser. My argument is with the way it’s marketed. Look at this photo, for example. “We have products for both Android and iPhone!” And the same with the website.

    So what are we building that’s “super compelling”? Where can I read about our requirements, goals, plans and ideas and get involved?

    However, if what we had was 10x as compelling as Firefox Home, that would just prove my point even more. Your team’s goal (Goal 2) requires it not to be important whether a user is using Android or iOS – you want to bring Firefox values to them either way. However, my point with which you need to engage is that the more you blur the difference between open and closed platforms, the more you hurt Goal 1.

  8. Mitchell on “Mozilla in the New Internet Era”

    Mitchell has written Mozilla in the New Internet Era, a post on the future direction of Mozilla, which I recommend to you. If I had to summarise it in one short sentence, it would be “Goal 2 is incredibly important”. And I absolutely agree with that. M…

  9. Gerv,

    this discussion reminds me of a very old (and luckily obsolete) debate we had several years ago in the Mozilla Community. Some people argued that Mozilla should not ship Firefox on Windows because that was actually helping Windows users and Microsoft, while keeping Firefox for GNU/Linux only would have been a boon for Software Freedom and would have urged Windows users to migrate to Linux.

    But Mozilla has decided to keep making a version of Firefox for Windows, and the world is a better place. I personally think that Mozilla has impact because it has user reach. And users can’t understand the notion of Software Freedom. Not because it’s not important, but because it does not hold compared with the joy of using a shiny exciting product which is marketed as a status symbol, even if that product is as closed as it gets.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating closed platforms, just explaining that between that something useful and exciting now is more attractive that something that is “right”, but whose benefit is going to appear on the long term.

    Some good read on this topic: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/18/090518fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=all

    I agree with your “Goal 1 vs. Goal 2” argument, but you seem to ignore something very important, which is human nature.

    If we want to keep having impact, as we do now, we have to keep providing the short term advantages of using Firefox and explain why it is good to use Firefox, to keep users on the longer term.

    –Tristan

  10. You want to know what the big problem is with ios. Something even Firefox on a jailbreaked phone won’t solve. Its the default browser setting: There is none. There will never be a default “open in Firefox” option button.

    Tackle that and you are in.