Mozillians of Europe, Unite
Published 10:10, 05 October 09
Mozilla Europe was kind enough to invite me to give a talk at its EU MozCamp 2009 on Saturday. It was an inspiring experience – not my talk, of course, but being among 180 of the top free software coders in Europe, along with other key people from the Mozilla project.
Aside from the almost palpable energy that you would expect from having so many bright – and generally young – people brought together in this way, the other thing that struck me is just how incredibly successful Mozilla is today.
One statistic mentioned was that by some measure (details necessarily vague), there have been one billion Firefox downloads. Firefox is also on course to reach 25% global market share, and has already attained over 50% market share in several European countries such as Germany and Finland.
These are incredible figures for any product, but truly trail-blazing for free software, which finds itself well on the way to dominating an end-user market for the first time (Apache, of course, has dominated the Web server sector for nearly a decade).
Moreover, the team has no intention of resting on its laurels. Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's Director of Firefox, spoke of his wish to keep Firefox development on a steady six-month release cycle. This, combined with a slightly different development approach, will allow new features to be brought in much faster.
Interestingly, he did not see the main competition coming from Internet Explorer or Google Chrome – although he acknowledged that both of these would be working hard to gain market share. Instead, he made an good point about how these – and other software companies like Adobe – take a standards-compliant browser foundation for granted, and then add proprietary lock-in on top (through Silverlight, Flash etc.).
I think that's true, and confirms the gradual commoditisation of the browser stack from the bottom up, just as the enterprise software stack has been commoditised by GNU/Linux from the bottom.
One of the important ways of fighting things like Flash and Silverlight is by making Firefox's support for open video through HTML 5 excel. Beltzner showed a few quick demos that highlighted the power of this approach, and I was glad to see Mozilla throwing its considerable weight behind HTML 5 and associated open standards like Ogg Theora: I really think it's crucial for the project to become even more evangelical here.
Indeed, this formed a major thread in the talk from Mozilla Foundation's Executive Director, Mark Surman (you can watch an earlier version online), which worried about the various threats to the Web's currently vibrant and open ecosystem. Unfortunately, he insisted on using Jonathan Zittrain's word “generativity” to describe that power, a word that brings me out in a rash – can't we come up with something better?
Surman's thoughts echoed mine – although as the conference's all-licensed fool, I went considerably further, suggesting that Mozilla needs to broaden its range of concerns to include openness in general, and not just the Open Web, or even the Open Internet (whatever these might mean – discuss).
Mozilla is now so successful, and has such considerable clout even with non-technical users, that it has a certain responsibility to use that to maximum effect. It is also in its own interests: the more it can work with like-minded organisations pushing for openness in other fields, the stronger all will become (you know, collaboration's crazy idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.)
The only discordant note in an otherwise splendidly harmonious conference was struck by the serried ranks of Mac laptops: I was one of the few people there using a GNU/Linux system. Hey, people, it's about free software, remember? Mozillians of Europe, unite: you have nothing to lose but your chains....