Mozilla

Extending our Reach — Let’s Talk Gecko

August 2nd, 2011

To fulfill the Mozilla mission, Mozilla  needs offerings on new operating systems we find on phones, tablets and elsewhere.   These new operating systems and their ecosystems are quite different from the desktop operating systems we’ve been accustomed to.  They bring new challenges and new opportunities.  To meet these, Mozilla needs to do adapt our current product offerings and to do some new things as well.

As a starter, we need to make Firefox available for a host of  new devices.   We may make products based on the Mozilla platform that underlies Firefox, known as “Gecko,” that may not have the “look and feel” of a traditional browser.   I believe we should also develop new offerings in addition to Gecko-based products.   I’ll talk about the last in the next post; here I want to focus on the importance of Gecko-based products.

There are very, very, very real reasons for wanting Gecko to remain strong.  Reasons that have nothing to do with Mozilla, and everything to do with the future development of the Internet.  The prevalence of Gecko on the Internet is a big part of what allows Mozilla to make the Internet better.  This isn’t necessarily intuitive or immediately clear to the majority of people who use Firefox, so I’ll spend a minute on this.

As I noted in a previous post, the “browser” has a few different layers of software.  The engine or platform –”Gecko” for Mozilla, (Trident for Microsoft, differing versions of “webkit” for Apple and Google) is the part of the browser that interacts with web servers and translates the response to our PCs, phone and other devices.  It’s the part of the browser that negotiates the exchange of information in a machine-to-machine conversation.   (The “application” layer is the part that allows a human to interact with the content.  The “user-sovereignty core is the part of the browser that allows you to control what’s happening.)   Because so many people use Firefox and thus Gecko, the number of servers on the web that want to be able to talk to Gecko is very high.  And because of this Mozilla has been able to do two very important things:

  1. Increase interoperability dramatically.  Before Firefox, web applications wrote their code to work in Internet Explorer only.  Firefox is the reason web applications began to return to the use of identified, open-standards, created by a legitimate standards body and implementable by all browsers.   This is why you can use a number of browsers today and see most sites render correctly.  Firefox, and in particular the Gecko platform layer, has caused the web to be much more interoperable, and thus much more open to competition and innovation.
  2. Bring new capabilities to the web.  Again because Firefox / Gecko is so prevalent, we can make new things like video on the web realistic.  When we implement a new standard in Gecko, it reaches huge number of people through Firefox.   Application developers don’t want to implant new features until enough of their audience has software that can respond to it.  (In the past other browser vendors have periodically not implemented new standards, preferring that their own proprietary technologies outpace the web.)   These features include innovations such as video, our new initiative to develop web APIs for the capabilities (such as phone access) of new devices, and user sovereignty innovations such as Do Not Track.

No one, no one is focused on interoperability among all the giant ecosystems of the web the way Mozilla is.  Gecko is a very powerful tool for making the web both interoperable and capable.   The more places we can offer Gecko the more interoperability and user sovereignty we will be able to offer.

This means being creative.    It means thinking about what Firefox can do on these new devices.  It means looking at Firefox in a “chromeless” mode, where the entire Firefox application is on the device with a different user interface.  It means looking at new ways Gecko can be effective on these devices, such as the very early stage “Boot To Gecko” initiative.

Gecko is a powerful tool that we must continue to invest in.

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