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.

BrowserID aims to become the open alternative to Facebook Connect and the Google username on Google's far-reaching Web properties. With BrowserID, Mozilla has built a user-centric identity system that works in all modern browsers, and it will make the protocol available for other browser vendors to use. Ascher explains: "For Mozilla devs, this is a bit shocking, as we're not starting by putting a feature in Firefox first (although we sure hope that Firefox will implement BrowserID before the others!). While I love Firefox, this makes me happy, because in my mind, Mozilla is about making the Internet work better for everyone, not just Firefox users, and in this case being browser-neutral is the right strategic play."

The notion of making the Web better for everyone, not just Firefox users, is one I've not picked up on until now. But I completely agree with Ascher. Few can argue that even Internet Explorer users are benefiting from Firefox's efforts and Microsoft's response to it.

If Mozilla is successful with BrowserID, which is certainly possible as developers increasingly grow weary of their reliance on Facebook or Google, users will get back control over their identity and information without having to sacrifice a personalized Web experience.

 Initiative 3: Apps -- if you can't beat them, join them

Finally, Mozilla is addressing the "app-ifcation" of the Web, not by fighting the trend it as may seem reasonable for a browser vendor, but by guiding how these apps are built, found, paid for, and installed.

Mozilla's Apps initiative aims to make Web technologies the basis of building applications that can run across devices. Mozilla also wants to introduce a standard for application purchasing and installation that would allow users to consume applications from multiple app stores without restrictions. This initiative undoubtedly goes after the Apple App Store and Android Marketplace. It would be interesting if Mozilla were to partner with Microsoft on this initiative as Microsoft builds out its app store.

Success isn't guaranteed, but Mozilla knows about tough fights

Whether Mozilla can execute all three initiatives while maintaining its efforts in the still-important browser war is an open question. But even if just one of these three initiatives are successful, we'll all be better off.

Although Mozilla will face a lot of resistance on this front from the likes of Google, Facebook, and Apple, fighting an uphill battle isn't new territory for Mozilla. Let's cheer it on.

I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions.

This article, "Mozilla's 3 bold bets to keep the Web open," was originally published at Read more of Savio Rodrigues's Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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