Mozilla throws 'freedom' at Microsoft, Google, Apple tanks
All the web's a platform, and the lock-down merchants merely players
The Mozilla Foundation is coming to the rescue of Tim Berners-Lee's sanity.
The Firefox shop is this year throwing itself at walled gardens from Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft: armed with a device-neutral and API-neutral app store and a "web platform".
Mozilla's building a Marketplace for Apps that will open in June and serve web-ified apps to smartphones, tables and desktops regardless of hardware, operating system or maker.
That's the promise at least.
Announcing its 2012 roadmap, here, Mozilla said: "Through this Marketplace, developers will be able to distribute and monetize their apps. Users will be able to find, install and use their Apps across all of their devices, regardless of the underlying device/OS platforms."
Android, Windows, Mac, Linux and Apple's iOS are all being targeted, although the grand Mozilla vision for how the web is being siloed can be seen here and below.
Mozilla's always subscribed to the idea of the "free" web, both from a technological and cultural perspective, and sees itself on a mission to keep things open.
Mozilla's view of hardware-app-store web lock-in
When you don't own an operating system, search engine or enjoy a hardware hegemony, freedom is an easy cause to follow.
Mozilla's philosophy runs counter to the current push among tech companies, begun by Apple and amplified by Facebook, to lock people's data in to proprietary formats, behind closed walls or using proprietary links. Apple links data – both media and apps – to its own hardware, an idea monster online retailer Amazon is now following with the Kindle and which Microsoft is running to embrace with marketplaces for Windows 8 and Windows phones.
It's all so different to the 1990s view of how we thought the web should – and would – be, when all you needed was a browser and a website... and it's enough to make Tim Berners-Lee weep. Berners-Lee wrote the world's first WWW server, Httpd, and client, WorldWideWeb, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) hypertext browser/editor that ran in the NeXTStep environment.
Mozilla seems to buy into this. Announcing its 2012 plans this week, Mozilla said: "Mozilla believes that the web is the platform and the entire web should be your marketplace. To this end, we are building products and services across three different threads."
Next page: Taking a look at the plumbing
Quality is a good choice
@AC: "Your pledge for walled gardens as a mean of quality control... can you please point to us how do you feel when somebody makes all the choices for you ?"
Once again, it's the "all or nothing" attitude - the world isn't black and white like that. Do I want others to make decisions for me? There isn't a yes/no answer. Sometimes, the answer is "yes". If I buy an appliance, I don't want the freedom to electrocute myself during normal use. I don't want the freedom to accidentally select options that will cause the appliance to melt down and set the house on fire. I expect the appliance to conform to regulations that protect life/health/property etc.
When we're talking about a "walled garden", the discussion is almost invariably about the iPhone.It's a *phone* - an *appliance*. If I tap on an app to check the weather, I don't expect it to rack up expensive call charges by making secret calls. I don't want to worry that this might even be possible. So Apple checks that apps are up to scratch - they do what they say, don't fall apart, don't do anything underhanded. Big deal. I don't want the option to buy malware, or to trawl through screeds of apps that don't work, or to have to work out which apps are wasting power/bandwidth/memory.
And what are these fabulous choices I'm missing out on by using an iPhone? It's a phone, for crying out loud! It's a basic communication/entertainment/media device. If I want a general-purpose computer, I turn to my MacBook Pro. No walled garden there, and I expect to have to be more careful in my use too. There's a place for apps. There's a place for general-purpose computers. There's a place for the web. These things are all great, and they're all used in a different context. Why should we shoehorn everyone and everything into one category?
Time and place for everything
Why are the Web and platform-dependent apps pitched as being mutually exclusive? Surely there is a place for both to co-exist? I use either, depending on circumstances. The idea that the existence or growth of one necessitates the death of the other sounds like FUD.
The issue is clouded by hackneyed phrases like "walled garden" and "open web". The former was previously called "quality control", which seems infinitely more meaningful to me. The web has no quality control - anything and everything is chucked onto it, which can be variously fascinating, irritating, or dangerous (think malware, not content). I particularly like apps on phones - I want my phone to behave like an appliance that gives quick, safe responses. I don't want to invest time or effort guarding it, wading through URLs, or trying to understand the author's quirky version of a user-interface.
The web is also (currently) a difficult medium for creatives who try to make a living from their works. Most people equate "open" with "free", i.e. if it's on the web, it should be free. The only workable model involves advertising (or paywalls, in which case your "open web" goes down the drain anyway). Apps and specific platforms bring back a relationship between seller and purchaser. I know others are perfectly happy with embedded advertising as a means of payment, but I much to simply pay for something and enjoy it without the extra clutter and interruption that marketers foist on us.
sanity at last
@Ralph 5. Thank you for saving me the effort of having to say that myself.