Mozilla official urges openness for the Web

Executive at OSCON cites upcoming OneWebDay in September as a rallying point

While hailing the emergence of an "Open Web," a high-ranking Mozilla official on Friday nonetheless stressed that steps still must be taken to preserve openness in the face of potential threats.

The official, Mark Surman, Mozilla executive director, urged participation in the "OneWeb Day" set for September 22.

[ The big news out of OSCON was Microsoft's release of code for Linux drivers via the GPL. ]

"The first point I want to make is that the people in this room create cool, world-changing technology," Surman said during a keynote speech at the O'Reilly OSCON (Open Source Convention) in San Jose, Calif. However, the Open Web needs to be protected and stewarded, he said. The Open Web leverages openly accessible technologies like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS and is hackable and participatory, according to Surman.

Open source software has been a big contributor to the Open Web, Surman stressed. But during his presentation and an interview afterward, he expressed concerns over threats to network openness in which the Internet could be subject to whims of a 100-year-old telecommunications industry dealing with bandwidth congestion issues. Other problems include a mobile Web that still resembles a phone and Web video that mostly looks like plain old television, said Surman.

"I'm increasingly not convinced that technology alone is enough to preserve the Web we've built and the culture we've built," Surman said.

Data being locked up in silos is another concern, he said. Also a problem is the threat of a failure in security and privacy resulting in Web lockdown, said Surman. "That actually is a threat to openness," he said. If people feel insecure and feel privacy is threatened, employers or governments might lock down the Internet, resulting in a much less free Web, he said.

"If you want the Web to be more secure, let's get rid of the 100 million copies of IE (Microsoft Internet Explorer) 6 that are still out there," said Surman, whose employer is best known as the maker of the Firefox browser that rivals IE.

He advised the audience to spread the word about openness and why it matters. Also, concrete solutions can be found to such Internet threats as identity issues and data portability. Determinations must be made on which products to build, said Surman.

OneWebDay provides an opportunity to push for openness, Surman said. Founded by Susan Crawford, a cyberlaw scholar and technology adviser to President Obama, OneWebDay gathers organizations and partners to broaden public awareness of Internet and Web issues while boosting participation in the Web. Last year, OneWebDay featured volunteer events in 34 cities worldwide.

"Basically, it's going to be Earth Day for the Web," Surman said.

An OSCON attendee lauded the OneWebDay idea but wondered about its effectiveness. "I think it's a great idea," said Cathy Mullican, general software engineer at Trusonic. But she questioned how much having just one day would contribute to the issue at hand.

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