Firefox is a Public Asset, part 2

August 9th, 2007

I understand what Matt over at AllPeers says about finding new ways to combine open source, public benefit and the economic incentives of commercial enterprises. I’m also quite interested in seeing this happen. But we still have a different point of view about Mozilla and Firefox.

Firefox is not the place to test the effects of the profit motive.

The difference might be in a view of the fundamental platform. Matt believes (as I understand his argument) that the Mozilla platform is the fundamental building block right now. An easy way to think of the Mozilla platform is as everything that an application needs to work that a human being doesn’t touch directly. This may not be 100% correct technically, but is close enough for this discussion. In other words, the Mozilla Platform is the giant chunk of code that understands networking, is able to get information from a web server, convert that info into something a human being can understand, present that information to people and allow interaction with that information. This is sometimes called “XULrunner.” Firefox is built on top of a version of XULrunner. Myriads of other applications, are built using this Mozilla technology. So it is possible to separate Firefox conceptually from the Mozilla platform.

But the browser is not just one of many applications that understand the Internet. It is the closest thing there is to a universal client. By that I meant that the browser is the mechanism for delivering an overwhelming majority of web content to people. As more and more web-based applications (from classic style applications like spreadsheets to newer applications like maps and social networking activities) develop, more types of activities flow through the browser.

So we think of Firefox as a part of the web platform. As the entry point for actual human beings to interact with the web. Browsers aren’t the only entry point, but they are closest thing to a universal entry point that exists today. They may not be the major entry way at some point in the future but that’s a way off. And there is certainly a debate to be had about when the “next big thing” will displace browsers vs. how what we call a browser will evolve over time.

For the foreseeable future, browsers are a fundamental part of Internet life. Firefox is a key component of keeping the web open, interoperable and participatory. Thus the importance of its public benefit nature.


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