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Mozilla to Apple: we don't care about iOS

Let us run Gecko or we'll go home

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Firefox won't land on Apple's iOS until the fruity company relaxes its rules about third party browsers, according to Jay Sullivan, vice president of product at Mozilla.

Sullivan spoke on a panel at the SXSW music-and-tech-fest in Austin, Texas, over the weekend, and told the crowd Apple's refusal to allow the installation of Mozilla's preferred Gecko rendering engine is an immovable obstacle to development of an iOS version of Firefox.

Apple's own Safari browser runs WebKit, an open source rendering engine with deep roots at Cupertino. Apple proclaims, in typically modest fashion, that WebKit “is the most advanced browser engine.”

Just how advanced? We're glad you asked, because WebKit is so advanced even Google's market-leading Chrome uses it. With Chrome currently the world's most-used browser, and Safari claiming decent market share, WebKit is therefore the most-used browser core in the world.

Chrome is available for iOS devices, but cannot usurp Safari as the default browser on iPhones and iPads unless users are willing to jailbreak the devices. Any link in email or another app therefore opens in Safari, even when Chrome is present.

Mozilla's decision not to develop for iOS is not hard to fathom as the foundation's raison d'être is promoting a more open web. Using a rendering engine it does not feel is optimally open is not a decision it is therefore willing to entertain.

The organisation's status as a not-for-profit also helps it to ignore iOS. Browser-makers all crave market share and make a little coin, if they are so inclined, by getting device-makers to bundle their products with their devices. Mozilla's exempt from the sales side of things, and while it is currently advertising a Sales Engineer's role that job is focussed on enthusing partners rather than bringing cash through the door.

Being absent from iOS is therefore a downer for the organisation, as going missing on a platform with a big audience hardly advances Mozilla's aims of making the web a more open place.

The foundation is, however, happily producing an Android version of Firefox, so isn't missing out on the surge towards mobile entirely.

Yet with the foundation still largely dependent on Google for revenue and other browser-makers going hard to win market share in emerging classes of devices like smart televisions, it's not hard to see that Mozilla's influence could wane if many more platforms make it hard for Firefox to get a foothold.

CNET moderated and reported on the panel. ®

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