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Once upon a time…. Firefox

A couple of months ago, my son was struggling with the old laptop from his elder sister. Old laptop, running the same original Vista since 4 years…. you know what I am talking about, right? Bad, very bad perfomances. The kind of performances where you cannot event enjoy surfing the web….

The teen-ager was not so hot on the fact that his old IT daddy would try to fix something…
…but, once he asked me an opinion on something he was doing and I saw something unexpected on his laptop: “Hey, are you running Chrome?“.

Yes, dad, it is the only way I can use this old PC“.

My son, for my great disillusion, is not at all a “tech guy”. He just uses the PC, without asking too many questions about how it really works. Internet, MSN, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia….. He just “has an hotmail mail account” (despite I have a domain name and an hosted IMAP server… in my naivety I thought he would have found cool to have an email address containing his family name after the “@”….).

As a person with a minimum of “computer culture”, I would have thought to Firefox first…. Why? because …
…Because…
…Because….
ah yes, because it is cool and it has a lot of handy exstensions (could I leave without Foxear, Scribefire, Tmmy and Session Manager ?)

Indeed, I have Chrome as well (and I wrote a long article on it and some other posts). But I do not use as my daily gateway to the Internet world.

I just use Chrome via the “Chrome Applications”. For instance I created one for BluePages so that, when I need to find the BP record for a collegue, I quickly fire the Chrome BluePages icon… et voilà, I quickly get to where I need.

So, I have Chrome and I seldomly use it. I would have never thought to get Chrome as THE ALTERNATIVE to IE !

But my son, who “just uses” the PC… well he installed Chrome and uses it everyday (by the way, at Christmas he got a brand new laptop and, guess what, he still uses Chrome even if the PC is very very fast…)

Why ?
Well, at the end because of the same reason I created my Chrome Bluepages application: speed!

I (the father, the “pseudo-geek” or the “once-the-geek”) use Firefox because I like the extensions and because I got used to it. Actually it was “cool” in 2003 when I started using it and, in reality, the only extension I could not avoid is Foxear. But, sort of “I choose Firefox because I like the container in which I play“.

I think my son does not care about the container. He cares about the content. And the quickest way to get to the content is Chrome. Full stop.

I thought to this post when I read this article : “Why Firefox is doomed“. I do not know if firefox is really “doomed”…

…but I think Firefox lost the train (or, at least, one train). It lost the possibility to establish a new pattern for accessing the web. I am not that good to validate the merit of a given technology, but I think that XUL could have become something closer to RIA and Firefox the tool that would have helped transforming the web of pages into the web of applications. Concentrating on the content more than on the container.

On the browers again

An article on ZDNet UK reports the following:

…Silverlight 4 will also host HTML content using a control that supports media plug-ins — so Flash will run inside Silverlight applications.
Business applications written in Silverlight will become more like ordinary applications, Guthrie said, and will now be able to print, access the Windows clipboard, and use more mouse actions, including context menus.
Access is also extended to low-level Windows features such as the Windows Communication Foundation, and Silverlight 4’s development tools
will work with the upcoming Visual Studio 2010.

Out-of-browser applications can now be installed as trusted apps that run outside the Silverlight sandbox on both Windows and Macintosh, Guthrie said, with trusted applications getting access to the local file system and external devices…

I wrote a post almost exactly one year ago, The Struggle for the Soul of the Web.

The browser is universal, but people do not only interact with web sites. People use applications!
The road paved by the iPhone of having dedicated applications delivered just to the point, remembers us that the new technologies for the web need to exploit the power of the devices on which they run.

Perhaps this is what Firefox is indeed planning, according to this article:

“The browsers that are on the horizon aren’t just incremental changes — they represent the pieces to build the next-generation Web — rich with standards-based graphics, new JavaScript libraries and full blown applications,” wrote Christopher Blizzard, an open source evangelist with Mozilla, on Mozilla’s Hacks blog.

Let’s hope it !

Speculations on Google Browser (GBrowser) ?

I have read this morning an article speculating on the arrival of a new Browser on the market, a Browser labelled “Google” (or Gbrowser).
The few readers of my blog can immediately imagine that this is not the kind of news that I would have liked to hear. I personally do not like this invasion of things from Google which, under the cover of being “free for everybody”, tie us to a new monopoly (see my previous post “Internet Search should be property of no one“).
I state this even if I have no problem admitting that most of the technologies that Google, in its immense altruism, offers us are very cool and really innovative and really pushing for significant progress in the Web space.
The problem is not around how cool the presents from Google are… it is about the concept of “present” itself !

Anyway, in this specific case (GBrowser… yes, you can see that the domain name has already been registered by Google!) I think that, if the speculation actually reflects a reality, it may become something very significant, and perhaps not completely bad.

If really Google will put on the market its own branded Browser, I think that :

  1. Google will finally admit that some “footprint” is required in order to properly run today’s internet applications (this will have consequences on AJAX as we see it today, I think)
  2. Google will automatically transform what they published as “contribution” into a de-facto standard (because it will be working naturally with the new browser….)
  3. Google will create a platform onto which developers will build RIA applications

Yes, in the last bullet I wrote “RIA applications“. Because, if the Browser from Google will become true, it will obviously promote the use of Google Gears and of all the other G* things that invaded the web. A couple of months ago, I wrote my first reaction to Google Gears:

[with Google Gears] Google starts to install something else than the browser in order to keep the browser relevant”

The advent of Apollo AIR (paved by Flex) and the approaching of Vista (via Silverlight) may create serious alternatives for running applications delivered over the internet (see here and here and here for a summary of my opinion on this topic); the default mean to access to applications delivered over the net, will no more be the browser, at least when some significant experience and richness of functionality will be required.

Will Google redefine what we know today as “the browser”? Will Google remove the impedance that somehow forced the two main actors in this space (IE and Firefox) to comply (at least formally) to standards?

Again, if Google will indeed go into the Browser business, all what it gave away so far could be interpreted as a way to create “addiction, so that people will find it normal that Google will also revolutionize the browser space. After all, Google is not perceived as the “bad boys in the block“, so it is likely that this move will find only few opposers.

Despite these considerations, though, I initially wrote that this may not be a bad outcome for the web. My readers know that I consider that the browser needs a big evolution in order to support the new challenges and the execution of applications delivered over the internet. So, this move may represent a shock that will benefit the whole community.

I wished Firefox and XUL could have become this shock!!!! Perhaps they will anyway (why wouldn’t the GBrowser be based on Firefox after all?)

Of course, this is all speculation at this moment….

Firefox as a Phoenix

I am starting to digest and sediment a series of articles that recently popped out on Mozilla. The one who hit me most was Chris Messina’s Thoughts on Mozilla, but also Alex Faaborg’s Web2.0 Expo presentation. I will certainly add more comments in the next few days.
For the moment I would like to comment on the Innovation aspect.

Imho, Firefox should not bet its future on “being the best browser”. In this way it will simply set its path, in one way or the other, “on respect to something else” (notably IE).
What the user interface of Linux already did (KDE or Gnome for that matter) in trying to, first “catch” and, then, “be better than” Windows… did not produce any significant result in terms of innovation (in fact if the price wouldn’t play a role, most of the people would choose a Mac because of its interface, certainly not Linux).

So, if from the phoenix (of Firefox as we know it) could raise something new, a platform where applications delivered through the web could be executed, then, I think, it will be great. Yes, certainly, this is the domain in which Adobe and Microsoft are also directing their efforts (I tend to agree with Scoble that JavaFX is more for the mobile-phones) .
But Mozilla could consolidate the effort from the Open Source community and this would be really a great advantage.

Let’s dream about XUL+SVG ….

Will browsers ever deliver applications instead of documents?

Finally I found it spelled the way I thought. Great article, Beyond HTTP; something that made me thinking again.

Just yesterday evening, I received a mail from a colleague asking me what did I think about Windows Presentation Foundation and if I have seen the New York Times Reader application.
I replied to him pointing to a series of internal posts I wrote on this subject, especially one in which I was quoting “The browser has a terminal illness and is dying” and another one in whihc I quoted “Death to the Browser“.

What is needed is the Post Browser, the Next Browser, whatever name you want to give to it. Sure, it can still run HTML (the old stuff), in a container that is essentially the same as today’s browser. However it should be capable of complete look-and-feel customization via a standard markup language. It should provide a rich set of custom controls and be able to access the desktop (with appropriate security, of course). It should have a native, secure, bidirectional mechanism, and one that supports multiple connections so that we can access services from multiple sources in a composite application. It should also have extensible controls so that we can extend and improve the behavior of controls and applications as needed.

Ajax is certainly great, but its reality is very much what the author of “Beyond HTTP” says:

I find myself in a bizarre position. The fact that I’m an expert in this kind of thing and have the technical know-how and aptitude to design and pull off such a complex beast on time and as designed means that I got paid quite well for the six months it took to develop, and I’ll continue to get paid as and when upgrades are needed. If any old John Doe could have opened up Visual Studio and slapped it together then I probably wouldn’t find myself getting paid quite so much for my services….
….Compare the Visual Studio .NET Windows Datagrid with its Web-based counterpart. There’s no comparison: a confident user of the former wouldn’t immediately be able to even recognize the latter.

But, even beyond the intricacies of AJAX programming, the real issue is the REST architecture laying behind “the Web as we use it today“:

Finally we get to the rub: The document-based Web as we know it is not a platform for developing complex applications; sure it’s possible and there are plenty of bright people working at places like Google who are doing it as we speak and creating frameworks to make it easier. But is this really the way forward? A tree-based object model accessed by an interpreted scripting engine tacked onto a specification designed for static read-only documents?

So we need to avoid any dogmatism. Again, the author of the article asserts:

Now would be a really good time in history to stop, step back, and look at what we have and what could be done better. What we need is a Web browser that doesn’t just server up documents, but serves up applications: full screen native GUI, network-transparent and, most important, fast, lightweight, real-time applications. Ideally we’d want to start over, build a whole new spec running on an entirely new platform and set of protocols….

it should have state, and that state should begin by initializing the application’s main source file on the server when the client first connects. The application would maintain state between calls, allowing the use of global variables and custom classes that persist…..a move away from the top-heavy and stateless HTTP protocol to a true lightweight binary client/server relationship between the user and the application…

…All it takes is the will to step away from the Web browser and start something new.

I subscribe! 🙂

  • I subscribe because I am not against the browser, do not get me wrong! I am in favor of the browser for when it needs to support what it was born for: supporting the delivery of documents and supporting the REST (stateless) model.
  • I subscribe because an evolution of the browser is the only possibility to save it (or to save its central position in the Internet).
    Windows Presentation Foundation” (WPF) seems to be the way that MSFT is taking to make the browser irrelevant. WPF Applications can be delivered as Web Browser Applications : “…from the user’s point of view, no installation occurred, but rather an application was “ephemerally” loaded into the user’s browser in much the same way an HTML page is loaded. In a sense, it feels as though the user simply “visited” the application…

  • I subscribe even if I find that “AJAX is a cool thing“.
    But, somehow, AJAX (with which I got in love a couple of years ago), seems to me today the swan song of the “browser as it is today“.

  • I subscribe because I start suffering from the limitations of an AJAX model which forces me to open a new browser tab to cope with anything I need.
    Web2.0 and AJAX are different things!
    AJAX may not be always the best technology to support Web2.0

  • I subcribe because, as the New York Times reader example shows, the risk is that we will not compete on the AJAX battleground in the future:
    • Microsoft with Windows Presentation Foundation is pushing for a convergence between standard applications and internet applications
    • and Adobe with Project Apollo is freeing Flex from the constraints of the Browser

    The battleground is already shifting!

  • I subscribe because of the laws of evolution.
    I think that the only reason to keep the “browser as it is today” alive is that it took so much effort to arrive to an agreement! All that effort sorts of prevents people to recognize that the laws of evolution apply in this domain also… and that the glorious browser has made its time.

Certainly, the “Browser as it is today” will stay, probably forever (after all, the reason for not driving all on the right side of the road is because of too much legacy 😉 ). A “cheap”, “ubiquitous” layer to access the information everywhere will always be required:

  • certainly to support the access to static, REST, stateless content.
  • Perhaps to support many of the pervasive Web2.0 things…

But real-world application development leveraging the Internet that goes unnoticed by the photo-sharing, music-downloading, blogging masses” may really benefit from a quantum-leap in this area.

Why not starting from XUL? It is declarative, it can be hosted in browsers….

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