Open Source Cloud Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Zakia Bouachraoui

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What Firefox should do

A picture named pupInPot.jpgIt's likely that this post will provoke another flame from Mozilla-land, so in anticipation, let me explain that my ideas aren't special.

I started writing publicly about ideas I can't implement myself a very long time ago, starting with a piece I wrote for an Apple newsletter in the mid-80s wondering what a computer that was built into a car might look like. Later, I put these ideas on products, like UserLand IAC Toolkit, where I thought it would be great if databases, graphics programs, comm apps, etc all had programming interfaces so we could create scripts that used them as toolkits. I wanted to see the combination of the command line and the GUI, and thought the Macintosh was the place to do it.

I remember very clearly where I was when I realized that I could publish these things on my own, not as part of someone else's newsletter, or waiting for a product to ship, that with just a website, I could share ideas that I couldn't implement, in the hope that they could help move things forward faster. That's where the archive starts, and the first such piece was an outline of how Apple and IBM could cooperate on Mac OS, in 1994. Since then I've done it many times.

This has earned me a lot of ire in the tech world, I never understood why -- my missives are usually ignored, proving that no one has to listen. But I've heard from friendly people inside the BigCos who explain that this is the reason I don't get invited to their conferences or press events. Apparently they're scared of something. Too bad, cause I really am harmless. smile

Anyway, the pushback I got from Mozilla (and I say it was from Mozilla because no one else from the company said anything publicly to contradict what Mr Dotzler said) was: "We don't want to hear from you." He said it with more vigor and more detail. That's okay Mr. Dotzler but you don't get a say in whether I speak or not, because there are other users, and other browser-makers, and I like to leave milestones so in case I was right I get to gloat (and if I'm wrong others get proof that I'm stupid). I find the discussion itself useful, often when people disagree they show me things I hadn't considered, and that kind of learning is precious. But of course no one has to listen.

Anyway, enough preamble.

Here's the problem not just with Firefox but with browsers in general.

Their evolution was deformed by Microsoft's "strategy tax."

That is, browsers are not allowed to compete with two Microsoft cash cows: Office and Windows.

Who said this was so? Well, Microsoft did. And since they had a monopoly in browsers for a very important period in the growth of the web, this became an unwritten rule, an assumption that no one challenges. People roll their eyes when you say that the web should evolve to become a spreadsheet, email program, graphics app, or whatever. But that doesn't mean it's wrong. I've seen plenty of people roll their eyes at ideas that eventually became booms. Like PCs, and blogs, and on and on.

But in fact, even though that's the unwritten rule -- the web has evolved in those directions. The problem is, in doing so, the web which was wonderful for its View-Source simplicity, became a Tower of Babel that you need a degree in rocket science to program for. This both wrong and unnecessary.

For an example of how ridiculous it has become, why is it that we have to install a plug-in to view a video on YouTube? Why can't the browser do that on its own?

Another example. I have a two-level expand-collapse display on my blog. I'm one of very few blogs that has this. Why? It was a pain in the ass to program. And it's only two levels. Why isn't this something the browser can do with no programming. Let me mark up my text to indicate a hierarchy and give me (the author) or the user the option to browse it in an outline.

I think you get the idea. We're stuck -- on the one hand simple stuff is still simple, I can produce a 1995-era web page exactly the same way I did in 1995 and it still works. Thank gods for that. But if I want to use the latest UI techniques I either have to master the art, and it's not easy to master, or hire someone to do it and then the idea suffers in translation, and is only open to people who can afford to hire programming help.

Firefox, or any other browser, could blast right through this.

And it is especially important that Firefox hear this, because in my gut -- I have to believe that Google understands this, because they have people whose job it is to make spreadsheets, word processing, mail, maps, calendars, etc work better in the browser. When they meet with people on the Chrome team, I'd bet anything they ask for special features in the browser. And why shouldn't the Chrome guys give them what they want? It would make their apps more efficient and potentially more beautiful and easier to use. This is something every user would love.

So that's my rant for the day.

Asa, have a great time telling everyone that I'm an unappreciative fuck. smile

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