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The Mozilla Platform, Firefox, and SeaMonkey

The recent discussion of the Mozilla platform is really interesting to read. The arguments go from "we need to be more of a platform" to "needing platform tools is bad", and interestingly, I tend to agree with a real lot of those - as I guess will most active SeaMonkey and general Mozilla contributors.

Sounds strange? Actually, it's easy to explain:

For one thing, there's the Mozilla Manifesto, which, even though only taken into words this year, describes what we in the Mozilla development community have already been working for in recent years and we will continue to go with those principles. In a certain way, it's nothing more than the base Mozilla mission of "preserving choice and innovation on the Internet" which always had been there and will still guide us to the future. Because of those common principles, we have similar visions for the future of the Mozilla project, the browser and the web - those those vision vary in their details, of course. But still, there are strong similarities, so no wonder if we agree in principle in lot of topics on "the platform".

And then, "the platform" is multiple different things, actually. There is the Mozilla application architecture, or XULRunner as a platform to build internet software, usually based on XUL and cross-platform (though Camino doesn't follow that exact path and is still based on that platform). As the platform is "only" the backend for application, it probably receives equal or more work but less publicity than the applications built on top of it. Those applications, most notably Firefox, but also Thunderbird, SeaMonkey or Sunbird, due to the rich extension architecture built into them, are another platform though - it's awesome what interesting work gets done based on that extension platform. And then, the web itself is a platform nowadays, and it gets richer and richer. After all, that's what "Web 2.0" is all about. And our browsers are supporting that web platform through a lot of open standards we implement.

So, if we're talking about "the platform", we're probably taking about different levels of that tiered platform stack all at once. And surely we can improve all those - Gecko 1.9 and upcoming Mozilla2 work is directed at improving all those platforms and lots of work on them is happening as I'm writing this and you are reading this. So, Mozilla will be a better platform and we're all working on that, as we know we want that: a better application platform, a better extension platform, and a better entry door to the open web's platform (no, not a platform for the web, but a client for the web platform - the web will never be tied to us, it's much more the other way round). And yes, as shaver points out, you don't need tools to work with those platforms (I'm doing my work on all those platform levels with a simple text editor) - but of course, there can be tools to ease working with them. Still, using a tool means that you give some control of your work to that tool instead of having every single character of the document in your own hands. And you can keep that full control yourself when building on our platform(s).

The difference in those platforms is that we control both the application and extension platforms in the Mozilla community, we can keep them as open as we want/need to fulfill the Mozilla Manifesto we all believe in, and to preserve choice and innovation on the Internet.
The web as a platform is nothing we have direct control of - after all it's way bigger than our own community, it's actually what we build upon (without the web there would probably be no Mozilla project at all), we are only a part of the ecosystem. And there are other forces at work there, which don't follow the Mozilla Manifesto, some because they want to earn their money in other ways than us, some because they want to create web sites and apps that look cool and work for some group only without caring for a wider audience or free choice of clients. I'm sometimes shivering when I see how many "Web 2.0" services depend on the closed Adobe Flash system, for example - which needs specially crafted, potentially expensive, tools for creating content, and a viewer that is still not available for 64-bit systems or minority platforms such as BeOS, from what I know. There are also lots of sites out there that do browser detection and close out any browsers their creators didn't know, even if they'd work perfectly with their content, and so they are effectively closing out users and, yes, customers.

As Tristan points out, Firefox has helped a lot in making the web better, as a standards-compliant browser with 15% market share gives better reasons for people to create standards-compliant web content. And I'm with him that this market share still needs to increase (not by heavily competing with other standards-compliant browsers though, users of non-compliant clients need to be targeted primarily - and Firefox has the right concepts to serve as vastly improved replacement for IE). Unfortunately, web content creators haven't grown more intelligent with Firefox' rising market share though, and so they're still heavily using browser detection, often wrongly looking for "Firefox" in the UA string instead of realizing that Gecko is Gecko and so SeaMonkey, Minefield and other non-Firefox-branded Gecko browser users are often closed out unnecessarily.

And where does SeaMonkey fit into all that "platform" talk? Naturally, we fully support growth of all those platforms. Of course, as a consumer of the application platform, we want to see a good toolkit - and we're seeing our product as a good example and testcase for a non-browser-only app built on this platform, often raising problems there that wouldn't be seen by having only Firefox as a consumer. We are also trying to be a good extension platform, vastly improving this by moving to the new extension management infrastructure of toolkit with our next major release. And, of course, with a heavier orientation on power users, experts and web developers, we're standing united with Firefox in supporting an open web platform, hoping to fill a market niche that our trimmed-down browser-only brother may not reach that well with providing our integrated solution and providing more options directly in the default UI.

I think, in the big picture, that we are all big supporters of all those tiers of "the platform", even though I guess, most of us want their respective part of it to get the most attention. In the end, we all want all parts of it to thrive, and I also see that happen as we work on them together - now and in the future.

Entry written by KaiRo and posted on May 11th, 2007 13:57 | Tags: Firefox, Mozilla, Mozpad, platform, SeaMonkey, XULRunner | 1 comment


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  • Comments



    Flex 2/3 SDK
    Just clarifying the claim: "Adobe Flash system, for example - which needs specially crafted, potentially expensive, tools for creating content,"

    I did see the "potentially" term in there, however, there is a difference between content creation and application development.

    If you are creating media rich, or animated content and want it to just work, and you decide to use Flash, then chances are you will need to purchase an authoring tool like Flash CS3.

    If you are developing an application targeting the Flash Player 9 or Apollo, then you don't need to purchase anything. The Flex 2 SDK is free, which is all you need. And the next version of that SDK wlll be open-sourced under the MPL this summer.
    2007-05-11 15:29

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