Where does Mozilla go when the monopoly witch is dead?
After MS, after browsers - we talk to Mozilla head Mitchell Baker
My little house on the Internet
The Register suggested that her references to "the home of me on the Internet" positioned Mozilla as a potential trusted and trustworthy holder of identity credentials for users. We have Google pitching for this slot, and proposing to sell you personalised stuff while it's about it, and earlier at DLD we'd had Mike Schroepfer, president of engineering at Facebook, offering up Facebook as your one-stop Internet identity shop. Don't laugh - Schroepfer is a techie, ex-Sun and ex-Mozilla, and this is not your Zuckerberg's Facebook. Schroepfer, you could say, is the acceptable face of Facebook identity management.
But in a world where everybody's going to want to look after your stuff for you, Mozilla has certain advantages. Google and Facebook have bosses prone to disastrous privacy gaffes, and while Google says it isn't evil, Mozilla is by definition pretty much beatified.
"We'd like to show what an open solution can look like," says Baker. She says Mozilla is looking at Webfinger, a Google project intended to turn email addresses into identity credentials, and now enabled for Google and Gmail profiles, but "we'll look at it from the point of view, how do I have control?".
That said, she says "a lot of people will choose a Facebook identity", and she thinks Facebook is well positioned to succeed here.
"I think of Facebook as part application, part platform, but not a social browser." So it's "a social application where we interact with our friends, [but also] a building block for a bunch of services which might become web-wide. And then it's a platform which will disrupt other things, but not the browser in particular. I would say Facebook is a potential disruptor for how each one of us accesses the Internet, who am I, where's my identity, where's my entry point."
And here again, she seems to position Mozilla as an alternative/example of purity. "I want at least an option where all of those things are under my control, and cross-web. That's not at all an anti-Facebook play, I mean Facebook is a great thing and lots of people will use it for many things."
Browsers - just so Web 1.0?
But not for disrupting the browser, "in particular"? Whether Facebook as a web entry-point would or would not disrupt the browser is perhaps a moot point, given that Baker indicates that browsers might be getting past their sell-by date (Microsoft trying to make the browser go away - wasn't that where we came in?). "The browser, the way we access the Internet now, is ancient. It's a decade old, it needs to change. We had a little stagnation period due to the monopoly, and then partly we've cracked that now… but we need something different and the browser today is not all it should be… there should be something that disrupts what we're doing and soon, I hope, I just want to be close enough to it."
So yes, with the monopoly at least partially cracked, Mozilla is looking for the something different that might follow the browser. But if Baker has any detail about it other than it being something to do with "the home of me", she's not saying. And although it seems reasonable to speculate that there may come a time when someone other than Microsoft might become the biggest threat to openness, she's not pointing any fingers.
She bridles when The Register refers to Mozilla's "sweethearts" deal with Google: "Sweetheart makes it sound like a chummy relationship. Google and Yahoo! - I spent months with each of them, to understand each other well enough to make a deal successful." And yes, although the money Mozilla gets from Google search is vital for Mozilla, the traffic Google gets from Firefox is important to Google too. But the current Google contract expires next year, and Baker has previously talked about alternatives, and of broadening the revenue base.
What about Bing? Is that completely out of the question? Possibly not, at least in the mind of one Mozilla luminary, who responded to Eric Schmidt's 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' blooper by recommending in his personal blog that Firefox users switch to Bing. "We don't have a corporate policy that says only spokespeople can blog," says Baker, and "we find Google to be truly a company with net DNA. Their business is about making [the Internet] richer and better."
Which doesn't necessarily mean that Google mightn't, next year, decline to renew the contract. In which case Mozilla would have to look at alternatives, or at least threaten them in order to retain Google's attention. And there's a really bizarre ending to the browser wars somewhere among those alternatives… ®