Mozilla's 3 bold bets to keep the Web open

Google's latest agreement with Mozilla will ironically fund three new areas of competition between Google and Mozilla

Although a renewed search deal between Google and Mozilla is welcome news to millions of Firefox users, Mozilla has three big ideas for 2012 and beyond that will see it competing much more aggressively with Google, Facebook, and Apple. Here's why you should be cheering on Mozilla.

Biting the hand that feeds it?

As InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard notes, it was in Google's best interests to prevent Microsoft's Bing from becoming the default search provider in Firefox. As much as Mozilla relies on Google for more than 80 percent of its revenue, so too does Google rely on the search traffic from millions of Firefox users. Although Mozilla's blog post about the recently signed deal espouses a mutually beneficial agreement, it's difficult to believe that the relationship is anything but strained between Google and Mozilla.

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However, that relationship is going to get a lot more tenuous if Mozilla can make progress on three key areas laid out by Mozilla's David Ascher.

Mozilla and Firefox became household names through the browser wars, particularly against Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but mainly as a proponent of open standards and user rights on the Web. Ascher writes: "In the case of the browser wars, the outcome has been pretty good for society, if slower than we'd have liked: Standards have evolved, browsers got better and faster, and websites got more interesting."

But now, Mozilla believes it's time to look beyond the browser as the main front in its mission to safeguard the future of Web for the people. Mozilla is also investing in an open stack for hardware makers, user-centric identity on the Web, and tools for building and running apps. These initiatives add to the value of Firefox from a user standpoint, but are being developed in parallel. The last two initiatives are applicable to other browsers as well.

Initiative 1: A truly open alternative to Android

The first initiative, named Boot to Gecko, aims to use open Web technologies to deliver a runtime and underlying operating system for desktop and mobile applications. If this sounds like Android or Chrome OS, it should. Boot to Gecko uses some of the same lower-level building blocks as Android, such as the Linux kernel and libusb. The team says this choice was made to reduce the burden on device makers that will be faced with certifying Boot to Gecko on new hardware. Although some building blocks are shared, Boot to Gecko is not based on Android and will not run Android applications.

If Mozilla can successfully execute on the third initiative below, Boot to Gecko will be difficult for OEMs to ignore. There is a lot more work for Mozilla to do before Boot to Gecko can attract the attention of Android device manufacturers. However, OEMs and users will benefit from serious open source competition to Android.

Initiative 2: User-controlled identity

The second initiative, currently known as BrowserID, although Mozilla is looking for a different name, addresses the need for users to regain control over their identity and sharing of personal information on the Web.

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