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."
Taking a look at the plumbing
Underpinning Mozilla's Marketplace is the Web Platform and Apps/WebRT.
Apps/WebRT itself is Mozilla's chrome-free and browser-independent installation and runtime environment for apps and served from the Marketplace.
Mozilla isn't tying Apps/WebRT into its trademark Firefox browser because – it said – it doesn't want to have to force a new browser on potential Marketplace consumers.
Also, research shows mobile users don't want apps to run inside a browser.
According to Mozilla's Apps/WebRT 2012 roadmap, here, Apps/WebRT will straddle devices using existing rendering engines such as Mozilla's Gecko and WebKit used by Chrome and Safari on iOS, and Android and Amazon's Kindle Fire browser.
Native features would be added on top to install, launch and manage the applications and to give them the look and feel of the specific platform. Additional capabilities such as integration with identity, synchronisation and notifications will also be added.
Apps/WebRT for Android will appear with the beta of Fennec 14 in June and with Firefox 13 for the desktop – also in June. There are no dates for Apps/WebRT for Apple or Kindle yet.
As technology manifestos read, the logic is simple and undeniable. The problem to Mozilla's open crusade, however, might well come in the fine print. Should Apple, Microsoft, Google and others add or uphold clauses to their marketplace or device developer or end-user licence agreements that stop you downloading apps to anything other than their own devices or operating systems. Already, Microsoft and Apple don't permit apps or ads in their stores that promote marketplaces from the competition.
Firefox fired up
Mozilla's browser will also see big change in 2012, as Mozilla hugs platforms from the very companies whose marketplaces it is competing against. Firefox will move to Microsoft-powered Windows 8 tablets, while there'll be a shot across the bows of Chrome from Mozilla's chief financier.
Firefox for the Windows 8 Metro UI is planned, with alpha and beta code due in the second half of 2012. That will put Firefox on Windows 8 alongside Internet Explorer 10.
This quarter, Mozilla will introduce features to help customers migrate data from Chrome to Firefox. Mozilla has a mixed relationship with Google and Chrome: Google and Mozilla recently extended a deal that gives Mozilla a share of ads revenue generated via Firefox - at last count Google's cash provided Mozilla with 86 per cent of its funding. Yet Google's Chrome is increasing its market share while Firefox is flat, with some number-crunchers saying Chrome is now the web's second most popular browser – ahead of Firefox.
Google's Android, fastest growing in smartphones, will also get renewed focus. A "major" performance update for Android phones and tables is planned to boost start-up and overall responsiveness. Work will enable web APIs in Gecko for HTML5 apps for touch, local storage app cache and access to the camera from a web page.
Overall, the march on Firefox is towards faster, greater stability and more security.
Performance is a consistent theme. A new garbage collector and cycle collector are planned to make Firefox pauses and hangs "a thing of the past", the Firefox network cache is being "overhauled to improve page load performance, [and] an indicator will be added that lets users determine whether or not to load problem add-ons".