Google Chrome and the future of browsers

Chrome LogoNews came today confirming Google’s plans for Chrome, its own open source browser based on Webkit.

This is big news. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get much bigger than this, at least in my little shed on the internet.

I’ve been struggling to come to grips with my thoughts on this since I first heard about this this morning over Twitter (thanks @rww @Carnage4Life and @furrier). Once I found out that it was based on Webkit, the pieces all fell into place (or perhaps the puzzle that’s been under construction for the past year or so became clearer).

Chrome is powered by Webkit

Last May I ranted for a good 45 minutes or so about the state of Mozilla and Firefox and my concerns for its future. It’s curious to look back and consider my fears about Adobe Air and Silverlight; it’s more curious to think about what Google Chrome might mean now that it’s been confirmed and that those frameworks have little to offer in the way of standards for the open web.

I read announcement as the kid gloves coming off. I just can’t read this any other way than to think that Google’s finally fed up waiting around for Firefox to get their act together, fix their performance issues in serious ways, provide tangible and near-term vision and make good on their ultimate promise and value-proposition.

Sure, Google re-upped their deal with Firefox, but why wouldn’t they? If this really is a battle against Microsoft, Google can continue to use Firefox as its proxy against the entrenched behemoth. Why not? Mozilla’s lack of concern worries me greatly; if they knew about it, what did they do about it? Although Weave has potential, Google has had Google Browser Sync for ages (announced, to wit, by Chrome’s product manager Brian Rakowski). Aza Raskin might be doing very curious and esoteric experiments on Labs, but how does this demonstrate a wider, clearer, focused vision? Or is that the point?

Therein lies the tragedy: Google is a well-oiled, well-heeled machine. Mozilla, in contrast, is not (and probably never will be). The Webkit team, as a rhizomatic offshoot from Apple, has a similar development pedigree and has consistently produced a high quality — now cross-platform — open source project, nary engaging in polemics or politics. They let the results speak for themselves. They keep their eyes on the ball.

Ultimately this has everything to do with people; with leadership, execution and vision.

When Mozilla lost Ben Goodger I think the damage went deeper than was known or understood. Then Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt went over to Facebook, where they’re probably in the bowels of the organization, doing stuff with FBML and the like, bringing Parakeet into existence (they’ve recently been joined by Mike Schroepfer, previously VP of Engineering at Mozilla). Brad Neuberg joined Google to take Dojo Offline forward in the Gears project (along with efforts from Dylan Schiemann and Alex Russell). And the list goes on.

Start poking around the names in the Google Chrome comic book and the names are there. Scott McCloud’s drawings aren’t just a useful pictorial explanation of what to expect in Chrome; it’s practically a declaration of independence from the yesteryear traditions of browser design of the past 10 years, going all the way back to Netscape’s heyday when the notion of the web was a vast collection of interlinked documents. With Chrome, the web starts to look more like a nodal grid of documents, with cloud applications running on momentary instances, being run directly and indirectly by people and their agents. This is the browser caught up.

We get Gears baked in (note the lack of “Google” prefix — it’s now simply “of the web”) and if you’ve read the fine-print closely, you already know that this means that Chrome will be a self-updating, self-healing browser. This means that the web will rev at the speed of the frameworks and the specifications, and will no longer be tied to the monopoly player’s broken rendering engine.

And on top of Gears, we’re starting to see the light of the site-specific browser revolution and the maturing of the web as an application platform, something Todd Ditchendorf, with his Fluid project, knows something about (also based on Webkit — all your base, etc):

Google Chrome + Gears

In spite of its lofty rhetoric in support of a free Internet, Chrome isn’t Mozilla’s pièce de résistance. Turns out that it’s going to be Apple and Google who will usher in the future of browsers, and who will get to determine just what that future of browsers are going to look like:

Google Chrome, starting from scratch

To put it mildly, things just got a whole lot more exciting.

So Mozilla wants to go mobile, eh?

As with baseball, on the web we have our home teams and our underdogs and our all-stars; we have our upsets, our defeats, and our glorious wins in the bottom of the ninth. And though I’m actually not much of a baseball fan anymore (though growing up in New England, I was exposed to plenty of Red Sox fever), I do relate my feelings for Mozilla to the way a lot of folks felt about the Red Sox before they finally won the World Series and broke the Curse of the Bambino: that is, I identify with Mozilla as my team, but dammit if they don’t frustrate me on occasion.

Tara wonders why I spend so much time on Mozilla when clearly I’m a perennial critic of the direction they’re headed in and the decisions that they make. But then Tara also didn’t grow up around vocal critics of the Red Sox who expressed their dedication and patronage to the team through their constant criticism and anger. It might not make sense, and it might not seem worth my time, but whatever the case, you really can’t be neutral about Mozilla and still consider yourself a fan. Even if you disagree with everything decision that they make, they’re still the home team of the Open Web and heck, even as you bitch and whine about this or about that, you really just want to see them do well, oftentimes in spite of themselves.

So, with that said, let me give you a superficial summary of what I think about Mozilla’s recent announcement about their mobile strategy:

If you want to stop reading now, you can, but the details and background of my reasoning might be somewhat interesting to you. I make no promises though.

Continue reading “So Mozilla wants to go mobile, eh?”

Thoughts on Mozilla

You can now directly download the video or the audio.

Spurred by a conversation I had today, I thought I’d post some wide-ranging and very rough thoughts on Mozilla. They’re pretty raw and uncensored, and I go for about 50 minutes, but it might be somewhat thought-provoking. At the least, I’d love to hear your thoughts — in agreement or vehement disagreement. Educate me!

And, here are the basic notes I was working from:

  1. the future of the web: silverlight, apollo, JavaFX — where are you?? where’s mozilla’s platform for the future?
  2. build tools. xul tools are in the crapper. look at webkit and xcode.
  3. dump spreadfirefox; get your focus back. power to the people — not more centralization. where’s the college teams? run it like a presidential but stop asking for donations. events, mash pits… MozCamps… whatever… I know something is happening in Japan with Joi Ito… but that’s about all I know about.
  4. out reach… mitchell is out there… but i feel like, with all due respect, she’s too coy… i think segolene royale — who recently lost the french election set a very good example.
  5. and, the press have no idea what mozilla is up to… where the money’s going… there’s work and a roadmap for FF3… but it’s all about FF3.
  6. joe six pack is not your audience. look at africa, non-profits, international audiences. green audiences. MozillaWifi… work with Meraki networks! Firefox + Wifi in a box. Bring the web to everyone stop being a browser company.
  7. Mozilla the platform… stop thinking of yourself as a browser company. stop competing with flock. start promoting platform uses of mozilla and treat these folks like GOLD! think of joost and songbird. as Microsoft has done, build an ecosystem of Firefox browsers…! And build the platform of support to nurture them. Make it possible for people to build sustainable businesses on top of Mozilla… provide all that infrastructure and support!
  8. CivicForge… like an ethical Cambrian House… the new sourceforge that works for non-developers… where’s the mozilla social network? sure they’re on Facebook, but it feels like a chore.
  9. leadership opportunities… Boxely… microformats… openid…. start prepping web designers for HTML5 if that’s the future.
  10. IE has caught up in the basics. They have tabs. They fixed popups and spyware. Firefox as an idea can sell; as a browser, not so much.
  11. Browsers are dead. They’re not interesting. Back to Joe Six Pack… he doesn’t care about browsers. He’ll use whatever is pre-installed. Need to get Firefox on Dells.. on Ubuntu… on the Mac. Songbird too. OEM for Joe Six Pack.
  12. Browsers are a commodity. People are happy with Safari, Firefox 2 and IE7. What comes next goes beyond the browser — again, Adobe, Microsoft and Sun are all betting on this.
  13. mobile. minimo is used by whom?
  14. Firefox as a flag — as a sports team… rah… rah! where’s the rebel yell? where’s the risk? where’s the backbone? Why can’t Firefox stand for more than web standards and safety? I don’t think Mozilla can afford to be reluctant or to pull any punches. They need to come out swinging every time. And be New York’s Babe Ruth to IE’s Boston Red Sox.
  15. open source is immortal; it’s time that mozilla starting acting open source. at this point what DON’T they have to lose? the world is not the world of 2005. i want to know what the mozilla of 2010 looks like. we’re blake ross? where’s parakey? where’s joe hewitt? where’s dave barron? there’s so much talent at mozilla… are things really happening? thank god kaply is in charge of microformats now. (but, firefox is NOT an information broker!)
  16. lastly… great hope for the future of firefox, despite what sounds like negative commentary.

Camino 1.1 Alpha 2 sucks in Firefox 2 features

From the release notes:

Camino 1.1 Alpha 2 is a heavily-updated version of the only native Mac OS X browser using’s Gecko HTML rendering engine. Notable improvements include enhanced tabbed browsing (“single window mode”), integration with the Mac OS X spell-checking system, detection of RSS/Atom feeds, an improved design for the “blocked pop-up” notification, enhanced options for cookies and downloads, and a resizable search field in the toolbar. This release also includes enhancements in speed, security, and rendering accuracy brought by version 1.8.1 of the Gecko rendering engine.

Note that Camino 1.1 Alpha 2 is in the “alpha” stage, which means it is still under active development. We feel that it is usable on a day-to-day basis and is a large improvement over Camino 1.0, but you may still experience bugs and some functionality may not work entirely as intended. The goal of this early release is to demonstrate the team’s progress and to allow users to report problems early in the development cycle.

Camino 1.1 Alpha 2 shares the same code base as Firefox 2.0, both being based on version 1.8.1 of Gecko, and thus shares many of the security fixes and Gecko improvements that are in that version of Firefox.

Finally we’ll see real session saving, better tab behavior, feed detection and integration with Keychain for password saving. This is in addition to the integration that Camino already supports for the Apple Address Book.

There’s still no support for Firefox Add-ons and it’s unlikely that we’ll see any in the future, but the Camino 1.1 release, built on top of Firefox 2, is starting to shape up nicely.

Opera 9.10 adds antiphishing

Opera Fraud Protection

Opera 9.10 is out today with the the addition of what they’re wisely calling “Fraud Protection” (Firefox calls phished or spoofed sites “suspected forgeries“).

Similar to Firefox’s hybrid approach, wherein you can either download a list of sites to your computer or instead run checks against a Google service, Opera downloads a list of URLs from Phishtank and then runs a query against GeoTrust to see if the domain you’re visiting is legit.

It’s interesting to see that the heaviest area of browser “innovation” in the past couple years seems to be in anti-phishing, anti-spam, anti-popups, anti-forgeries, anti-fraud and generally fighting other things that make the Internet suck.

Now, at least, most of the major browsers are caught up with technology that will submit your surfing habits to third party sites in the interest of protecting you from the baddies, though it’s of course curious the choice of partners in each case and how this benefits each, enabling them to learn from this data… For example, in the case of Firefox or Microsoft, who partnered with Google and… Microsoft… respectively, will they also be able to use this information to improve their search results and advertising tactics? They say no, but hey now, if they’re the only choice on the block, that puts them in a pretty powerful position to determine who’s on the up and up and who’s… not.

Gang warfare, Web 2.0 style

Golden Tamarin, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA -- (cc) by Michael Hanscom

Summary: Adobe + Mozilla + Google are ganging up to take down Microsoft to become the definitive future web platform.

I’ve been reading with great interest and intrigue about Adobe’s substantial contribution to Firefox’s codebase in the form of open sourcing Flash Player 9’s virtual machine.

On the one hand, I’m tempted to go and congratulate Adobe for their good will and desire to support “sustaining innovations“.

On the other, more cynical, hand, I know enough to read between the lines and see this for what it really is: business as usual, with the good grace of open source being used as a context for making this appear “nicer” than it really is.

But don’t get me wrong — this is a good thing for the web, for web denizens, for web developers, open source and for innovation. So that’s not what I’d like to point out here.

Instead, I’d like to offer a theory that this is a calculated move by at least Adobe (if not Mozilla and Google collectively) to go at Microsoft’s jugular just when it’s starting to regain its some of momentum as the dominant web platform after releasing IE7. (Note that my intimations are purely conjectural and not based on known fact. Whether intentional or not, this announcement spells out an alternative future, and it’s worth teasing out what it might look like, even as the story is developing.)

So let’s state some baseline assumptions and assertions:

  1. Adobe PDF is Adobe’s crown jewel. Their virtual monopoly on this rich format provides them a huge amount of business through their Acrobat product (now in version 8) — and they’ve moved to protect it before.
  2. Adobe Flash Players are installed in well over 90% of client browsers, making it the most widely deployed browser plugin anywhere (note the tie-in to Flash video — and who’s the biggest consumer here? YouTube much?)
  3. JavaScript and ActionScript (Flash’s programming language) are very close cousins — pushing EMCAScript and ActionScript closer through a faster virtual machine inches Flash ever-closer to subsuming the browser.
  4. Apollo offers to wed the best of Flash, Flex, HTML, Ajax and PDF — hell, you can even build a browser with this stuff

Contrary to Liz Gannes’ take, I think Adobe might, somehow, be positioning itself very wisely to help shape the future of online publishing, data interchange and rich web experiences. In fact, by nuzzling up to Mozilla and offering more and more open betas (though still with obnoxiously unruly EULAs), Adobe is starting to have the sheen of an open source player.

So let’s think about this: Microsoft is set to release Vista soon — and just as the delineation between web and desktop is finally evaporating — Adobe and Mozilla strike out with a bold partnership that firmly implants Adobe’s engineering technologies into the core equation between browser and desktop. And, given the large number of XHTML and Flash gurus in the wild, this seems like the death nell for before the shrink wrap has even been removed. This isn’t about Flash becoming the web OS; this is about Adobe protecting and promoting it own delivery platforms and formats as it tag teams with Google to suck the “Live” out of Microsoft before it even has a chance to counter.

Adobe wants to be front and center in every browser; it’s smart enough to recognize however, that, like Google, the core threat to their position in the market is Microsoft’s Live platform technologies. An Adobe browser couldn’t dent Microsoft’s platform share, but two open source browsers can by creating the de facto web publishing environment and tools for the future of the web-centric desktop.

An interesting development indeed.

Apple embraces microformats in new .Mac webmail

Apple .Mac webmail supports hcard

If you’ve been playing with the new .Mac webmail application, something under the surface very significant is present, but you’d probably never realize it. In fact, if it weren’t good works like Jon Hicks’ expose-mf.css browser stylesheet (view the above image without the stylesheet), you’d probably have no idea that beneath the surface, Apple was quietly giving a nod to an upstart open source community.

Given the source code that I’ve been provided, I can confirm that Apple has indeed added support for in .Mac webmail, though not without a few errors (notably the ‘n’ optmization).

The significance of this can certainly be understated at this point, as few applications are built to take advantage of microformats browser-side (adding address cards that are already in your address book to your address book doesn’t make much sense) however, with Greasemonkey and other ideas like making the rounds (okay, so I came up with GreaseKits), we can count this as yet another feather in our cap as more and more large vendors make their web properties more semantically rich, opening up possibilities previously inaccessible given the sheer cost of maintaining one-off scrAPI techniques.

Now when you write a script to parse, augment, enhance or “user-interface-ize” microformatted content, it will work everywhere that microformats show up — not just one site at a time. With Firefox 3 looking to add support for microformats, it’s positive support by folks like Apple that will provide fertile ground for what the next generation of mashable web services looks like.

Songbird: One small step for bird, one giant leap for birdkind

Songbird 0.2

SpacebirdRaising the banner of the Mozilla Lizard is Songbird, coming out with their 0.2 developer release, available now for download (and don’t forget to prep first).

I’ve been watching their work with some interest, and I do, on the one hand, like Ross Karchner‘s quote that It’s like taking iTunes, ripping out the music store, and replacing it with the rest of the internet.

Any competition for iTunes and the DRMafia is a good thing™.

But at the same time, it’s kind of like… why? I mean, okay, love the idea of alternative vendors hawking their wares in my media experience. After all, competition is a good thing, economically speaking, for me.

But I really don’t necessary always care who I’m doing business with, as long as I’m getting good service and a good product. So, couldn’t Songbird help out in that regard?

And it would also be nice if Songbird helped to change the way I experience music, like VolumeLogic, SoundFlavor or Tangerine attempts to do. Otherwise — well, you’re kind of like iTunes but open source and not quite as… refined. Yet. (But oh how I love your cartoons!)

So anyway, congrats on the 0.2 release. I think your release schedule is a lot more in line with reality than certain other Mozilla-based projects (natch!), so kudos to you for taking your time. But I guess — okay, looking to the future and the nebulous 1.0 — where do you sit next to Democracy (a feed media/BitTorrent viewer) and how do you stack up against iTunes? I mean, even I can admit that open source isn’t everything… so, what’s the deal? What’s the long term future of Songbird?