Mozilla in the New Internet Era — More Than the Browser

July 14th, 2011

Mozilla’s mission is to build user sovereignty into the fabric of the Internet. We work to ensure that the the Internet remains open, interoperable and accessible to all. To do this we build products, we build decentralized participation worldwide, and we build the ability for people to create their own experiences in addition to consuming commercial offerings.

Internet life is undergoing immense changes. The mobile revolution has huge implications, from new devices to operating systems to user expectations. The social experience means a lot of personal data about me becomes central. The increasingly ubiquitous nature of computing devices (phone to tablets to microwaves to lights and electric meters) means the amount and kinds of data being generated are changing dramatically.

Since the Internet experience is changing, that means Mozilla must change too. The products and tools we use to fulfill our mission need to expand and change. When we started the key roadblock to true user sovereignty was the sorry state of the browser. At the time the browser was the near-universal way people accessed web content. It was so universal people somewhat forgot about it and assumed that what the commercial world provided was enough. With Firefox, we won this first round of the fight for user sovereignty. We have a great browser, it helped spawn vast amounts of innovation and a new generation of capabilities. The browser remains incredibly important. Indeed, it’s so important that other organizations are building their own browsers to build the web they way they want it.

The browser is necessary but it is no longer sufficient. There are a number of reasons the Firefox experience needs to expand to fulfill the Mozilla mission.

For one thing, even if I use Firefox, I use it today to create information about myself that lives in multiple data silos (or “websites” or “apps” or “services”). These are often inter-operable, subject to different rules, and usually difficult or impossible to combine. Access to information I’ve created about myself is fragmented. The set of values that we have built into Firefox is not yet present in this information / data layer.

Secondly, the browser is no longer the only way people access the Internet. People also use more focused “apps” to do discrete tasks, and often feel a strong sense of attachment to the apps and the app model. This is an exciting addition. Mozilla should embrace some aspects of the current app model in addition to the browser model. I think of apps as a new “form-factor” for the web. Focused, with a sense of discovery and ownership. Today apps are also platform specific, sometimes device specific, and don’t provide many of the attributes we associate with the web.

Thirdly, mobile devices mean the entire hardware and software stacks are changing. As a result, the computers many of us use are more closed than they have been in our lifetimes. At the same time, the range of new possibilities and experiences is exploding. Mobile computing needs a strong infusion of Mozilla values. This means Firefox and other software on the new platforms, it means apps and it means bringing the Firefox experience to data and services as well.

Mozilla has a unique ability to put user sovereignty first in all of these areas. We’re organized as a non-profit precisely so that this is the only thing that matters. Our stakeholders care about the values we build into the Internet, not the economic value we create for ourselves. We’ve done this with Firefox. We had a vision of how the world could be, and we created a product to make that vision real. Now the vision seems obvious. It’s been widely adopted and has become a competitive aspect of the mainstream.

It’s time to expand the Firefox experience to encompass the changing face of the Internet.

We have a number of initiatives underway that can form a piece of this expansion. Discussion is underway on a Firefox vision document that points to some of these issues. We now consider Android as a first tier platform; and have begun explorations into providing parts of the Firefox experience on multiple platforms with Firefox Home. There is architecture, protocol and implementation work underway for the apps ideas and identity.

Your thoughts and comments welcome here.  Please stay tuned for more detailed discussions on all these topics.  And most importantly, please jump in, get involved, and build the Firefox experience throughout our online lives.

48 comments for “Mozilla in the New Internet Era — More Than the Browser”

  1. 1

    Frank said on July 14th, 2011 at 1:39 pm:

    Actions speak louder then words.
    Vision Statements… are from an era in the early 90’s… since then they are just some stuff people get paid a lot to do, to say it was done and to ignore later.

    When was the last time you walked into a business and saw a vision statement, and sat and thought about how it was actually affecting its employes and future goals?

    When things are product orientated, I would think that an actual roadmap, and following it… would be better for showing what your intentions are, and for marketing where you want to go.

  2. 2

    DL said on July 14th, 2011 at 1:57 pm:


  3. 3

    DL said on July 14th, 2011 at 1:59 pm:

    & as far as a mission statement goes. Most organizations are not like Mozilla. They do not work from the bottom up. Mozilla is more democracy than most businesses and needs that feel to actually succeed.

    Well, Democracies…need vision statements.

    imho. That is the difference.

  4. 4

    Regnard Raquedan said on July 14th, 2011 at 2:20 pm:

    Hi Mitchell!

    What struck the most in this post is the issue of the fragmented online identity. Being a user of so many websites and applications, I’ve lost track of them (and to certain degree, I’ve lost control of them).

    I have a better view of where Mozilla fits in in this new phase of the internet, but I can also see the challenges:
    – Privacy
    – Creating a new user experience
    – Openness in a space where controlled ecosystems are a competitive advantage
    – Financial viability for the open app builders

  5. 5

    mitchell said on July 14th, 2011 at 2:47 pm:

    Vison statement to roadmap to product. All phases required.

    Regnard, yes, there are many challenges. That’s why Mozilla is required. we’ll see how controlled environments are a competitive adantage. people said that was true of nearly everything before open source came along !

  6. 6

    karl said on July 14th, 2011 at 2:55 pm:

    Basically, the danger of the open Web death is in the burden of managing your independence.

    So much is done on the browser side, it is just the half part of the issue, most of our data are on servers. The browser is basically just a pipe in between me and a service. This pipe can definitely become a dashboard exposing me what I share and then who I am, aka being a mirror of my online presence… but that’s pretty much it.

    Without solving the issue of open protocols for some fundamentals communications layers. There are hundreds of APIs and often to do exactly the same thing. Example: Tumblr, WordPress, Google+, facebook, twitter, etc. All of them helping you to put your data in… silos.

    When will I be able to share what is in my browser with others through my own server and proxy ala Opera Unite. Why would I need to go through a central server. Why am I publishing this comment on your site more than in my client like I would for a mail, and this comment would be sent to your site 🙂

    See plenty of things to do 🙂

  7. 7

    Michael said on July 14th, 2011 at 3:09 pm:

    The multiple devices elements seem to assume that every user owns multiple computing devices. BrowserID and Sync might be good if you have an Android phone and/or carry your own laptop all the time, but they’re not much help if you use multiple devices that are not your own.

    Android doesn’t (yet) have encryption (neither the OS nor Fennec), so if you sync all your passwords to your Android device and then lose the device, you’ve lost all your passwords.

    Anyway, nice to know there’s still some broader thinking going on. From reading most Mozilla output these days, it’d be easy to think that increasing the pace of Firefox feature additions to try and keep up with Chrome was the only focus…

  8. 8

    Matthew said on July 14th, 2011 at 4:11 pm:


    Mozilla is a non-profit, which means more important than any “product” are the values Mozilla represents. A vision statement is entirely appropriate here.

    You use phrases like “business”, “product oriented”, and “marketing”, but I think those miss the difference between organizations like Mozilla and organizations like Oracle.

  9. 9

    Max Ogden said on July 14th, 2011 at 4:23 pm:

    I am hoping that Mozilla does more design out in the public going forward. I view this approach as a compromise between a “vision statement” and pure product. Mozilla has a lot of talented thought leaders that are capable of describing great solutions to problems but often times those solutions only see the light of day coupled with a specific technological implementation. Take Raindrop for instance. Great design, great vision, failed implementation.

    If Raindrop had published its design, theory and vision in a way that those outside of Mozilla could have just as easily implemented it and brought the product to life I believe that people would be using incarnations of Raindrop today. Sadly it died last year and nobody has touched it since because most of the ideas and designs are buried deep in Mozilla’s source control repository or on Andy Chung’s Flickr feed.

    Mozilla should also keep implementing technology and building products, but please make sure that those products are clearly defined as reference implementations of a vision, protocol or platform that anyone else can take a stab at implementing. This means more effort on documenting and publicizing the designs, mockups, concerns and considerations, etc that go into the process of building software.

    I think Mozilla has come a long way in the last year and the stuff coming out of labs lately is top notch. Hopefully we will see a lot more. I personally have high hopes for open web apps as being interoperable/competitive with their Chrome counterparts 🙂

  10. 10

    guanxi said on July 14th, 2011 at 9:51 pm:

    I have a radical vision: The browser war is over and Mozilla won. It’s time for Mozilla to let go and move on to a new challenge.

    Mozilla’s objective wasn’t marketshare but a competitive market that yielded an open, standards-based web. Beyond a doubt, it’s been wildly successful. It’s also miraculous considering the starting point (IE with >90% marketshare, and the world’s largest software controlling >90% of user desktops). Now there are 3-4 influential browsers, 2 FOSS and 3 using FOSS engines, all support open standards (including IE!), and they enable an incredible array of apps and technology from Facebook to Google Apps to HTML5 to a million others, big and small.

    The amazing fact is that Firefox’ success has made its marketshare almost irrelevant. How much do we change the world by competing with open, standards-based browsers? We help some, but as bittersweet as it is, the great accomplishments are behind us and that’s why, IMHO, Firefox seems to lack inspiration and vision.

    If Mozilla is about the open web and Firefox was a means to that end, that it’s time to focus energy on the next great challenge. There’s an area dominated by a monopolistic proprietary application, that suffers a severe lack of end user control, of open standards, and of user awareness: Social networking. An open-source social network app, based on open standards where users control their own data, is badly needed. Awareness among the public is badly needed.

    Mozilla is badly needed. Who else can build successful open source consumer software and educate the world? What other FOSS project would start with the trust of hundreds of millions of consumers? If it seems like an impossible task, remember Microsoft and IE.

  11. 11

    Jeff Hammel said on July 15th, 2011 at 12:18 pm:

    To me, the most important part of Mozilla’s mission is to keep the web — as the single greatest repository of information — open. Before the new generation of open devices and facebook, this seemed to be going well. Firefox was an exciting new browser, google seemed to champion open-web values, and open source had become part of the stack for even the largest tech companies. Now its much less about open source than information silos. I am scared and excited to see how Mozilla attacks these information silos and gives the web back to the people…again.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance

  12. 12

    Mitchell Baker said on July 15th, 2011 at 2:08 pm:


    Yes, we won round one. But the browser piece isn’t dead. Open source is *not enough.* An open source browser –or two– built to promote the business goals of one or two giant commercial enterprises is better than the Microsoft monopoly before, but it’s not the same as building product *solely* to support the values of the mozilla Manifesto. So keeping Firefox vibrant remains really important to building an open web platform. Chrome is open source, but Google and Mozilla are not the same.

    And yes, other pieces of the Internet experience now need the same kind of changes that we’ve brought to the browser layer. i agree with you comletley on that one

  13. 13

    skierpage said on July 16th, 2011 at 6:03 pm:

    Our computers are more than powerful enough to manage our social interactions, there’s no reason we have to share pictures via web sites and communicate with friends through Facebook. I’d like to see Firefox incorporate identity and a web server so you can push info directly to your friends’ browsers and *optionally* to Twitter/Facebook/whatever. Maybe Mozilla can cooperate with Diaspora and Freedom Box efforts. Likewise you should own your master contact list in Firefox/Thunderbird, and optionally sync a subset with Google or Yahoo. “Your personal data belongs to you” is a powerful story, especially if it acknowledges the reality that people will want to share some of it with web sites. Sync and Browser ID are important and welcome parts of this.

    Mozilla should take more of a stand on privacy. I don’t see why Firefox enables third-party cookies by default. Firefox should go beyond the Do Not Track header and provide an easy way to block sending information to third-party tracking companies. Why should I have to puzzle it out myself?

    I don’t understand why people prefer an “app” icon to a bookmark, but they do, so your app tabs and app store efforts are great.

    Sadly a lot of this is fighting a rear-guard action, trying to use Mozilla’s market share to hinder the shift to closed “apps” and social sites from companies that manage our information to their benefit. The sexy part lies in promoting awesome web pages that do useful things without requiring a login or social sharing, or even contacting a web site at all.

    Good luck, thanks for all you do.

  14. 14

    Ben said on July 16th, 2011 at 7:59 pm:

    > Mozilla should embrace some aspects of the current app model in addition to the browser model.

    An interesting idea. The “App” today is distinguished from the “Web App” by its construction from non-W3C technologies. Developers choose these technologies for many reasons … but I think the biggest one is ease of development. App development on each platform is catalyzed by authoring tools provided by the vendor that make development easy and comfortable.

    If you want to redirect some of the App space energy into Web technologies, I suggest you invest in authoring tools. More than anything else Mozilla can make, a Free authoring tool that’s as easy as Flash and as clean as XCode could tip the balance toward open technologies.

    Think of it this way: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Adobe, and Mozilla are all platform vendors … and all but Mozilla provide tasty authoring tools to lure in developers*. Sure, you could wait and hope that somebody else will write a compelling development environment for web apps … but so far no one has.

    *: I’m thinking of iOS (XCode + iOS SDK), .NET (Visual Studio), Android (Eclipse + Android SDK), Flash (Flash Professional), and HTML+JS (???).

  15. 15

    Robert O’Callahan said on July 17th, 2011 at 5:15 pm:

    Mitchell, I agree with almost all of this, and maybe all of it, but one thing is unclear. You say “This means Firefox and other software on the new platforms.” I’m not sure if that means we could release a browser called Firefox on those closed platforms like iOS where we would have to some some vendor’s Web rendering engine instead of Gecko. I hope it does not, because I don’t think we should do that. Our ability to influence Web stands and the development of the Web platform (not just CSS and HTML, but also newer features such as real-time communication) depends on control over the rendering engine we ship. Our control over security, privacy and so on also depends in part on being able to modify the engine. If we tell users they can get the full “Firefox experience” on such a closed platform then we’re doing our mission, our brand, and our users a disservice.

    I think it’s important for us to vigorously promote open platforms over closed ones, since closed platforms present an ongoing threat to the openness of the Internet. Explaining to users how our open-platform offerings deliver more value than our closed-platform offerings can be part of that.

  16. 16

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  17. 17

    Best Bargains for Mulberry Bags said on July 18th, 2011 at 12:44 am:

    Thank you very much. I am wonderring if i can share your article in the bookmarks of society,Then more friends can talk about this problem.

  18. 18

    Gervase Markham said on July 18th, 2011 at 9:25 am:

    My thoughts: .

  19. 19

    Mitchell said on July 18th, 2011 at 10:06 am:

    Roc: will continue discussion re platform and engine shortly. Agree we need to be able to push the platform toward our values. I’ve got a post in mind, will get it up in the next few days I hope.

    Ben: increased effort on tools underway now.

  20. 20

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  21. 21

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  22. 22

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  23. 23

    Insert Real Name said on July 20th, 2011 at 8:51 pm:

    Will Opera let Mozilla implement the “Opera Unite” protocols/software infrastructure? Seems like an obvious win for everyone… Opera, Mozilla, and their users.

  24. 24

    Eetu Huisman said on July 21st, 2011 at 12:41 am:

    So, Mozilla should be active in efforts which support a federated/open/free/autonomous social web. Is it?

  25. 25

    L.H. Bennett said on July 23rd, 2011 at 1:30 pm:

    I agree with Frank. I’ve been around long enough to watch Mozilla and Firefox grow. These manifesto statements and roadmaps are easy to create. But they mean nothing if they are not followed.

  26. 26

    Gérard Talbot said on July 25th, 2011 at 6:50 pm:

    > Mozilla’s mission is to build user sovereignty into the fabric of the Internet.

    Please, make your blog
    100% Easy-2-Read Standard compliant

    Gérard Talbot

  27. 27

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  33. 33

    Stephan Engberg said on August 1st, 2011 at 3:27 pm:

    Fact is that this is a fundamental contradiction in terms. It is not a Vision, but a Dystophy of an unfree world as the consequence of massive centraslization of power and control.

    “Mozilla’s mission is to build user sovereignty into the fabric of the Internet.”

    fundamentally clashes with

    “Internet life is undergoing immense changes. The mobile revolution has huge implications, from new devices to operating systems to user expectations. The social experience means a lot of personal data about me becomes central.”

    What has happened is that users have lost sovereignty and become transparant wictims of a massive concentration of commercial and bureaucratic power that represents a lethal threat to both democracy and free markets as we know it.

    There is many requirements for technology design in the digital age, but one primary over all. It must be impossible for all servers in collusion to distinuish between two non-related transactions with the same user/device and two transactions with two different users/devices.

    Untill this is achieved, users will continue to loose Sovereignty and the fundamental control which society critically depends upon.

    The challenge is very simple – even when you share, you dont loose control – eliminate the assumed trade-off between security and service.

  34. 34

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  36. 36

    Ilyas Sahi said on August 14th, 2011 at 1:25 am:

    The mission is though a large one but with dedication of Mozilla, it seems to be possible. We love Mozilla for its unencumbered innovation and hope for the best in future.

  37. 37

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  40. 40

    John said on September 24th, 2011 at 2:25 pm:

    >Secondly, the browser is no longer the only way people access the Internet. People also use more focused “apps” to do discrete tasks, and often feel a strong sense of attachment to the apps and the app model. This is an exciting addition. Mozilla should embrace some aspects of the current app model in addition to the browser model. I think of apps as a new “form-factor” for the web. Focused, with a sense of discovery and ownership. Today apps are also platform specific, sometimes device specific, and don’t provide many of the attributes we associate with the web.<

    Well, with your frequent version program, you are killing the current app model; the FF add-ons. The add-ons is the only reason I use FF. With frequent FF updates, you are loosing add-ons, and users are delaying updating FF awaiting add-on updates.

  41. 41

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  42. 42

    Nicolas Barbulesco said on December 9th, 2011 at 4:06 pm:

    I comment on blogs, or other sites, like forums. Like I am doing presently 🙂 .

    I don’t maintain a list — neither on paper nor in my mind — of all the Web addresses where I write a message. I don’t archive in my house every message I write. If someone replies to my present message tomorrow, I will probably come back soon and see the reply and perhaps continue the discussion. But if somebody replies to my present message in two years, I will probably never know it, and that’s too bad — a lot of old discussions, even 2000 years old, are very relevant today and still hotly debated.

    I have a dream.

    I post a comment on a blog, or a message in a forum : I write the message and I identify myself, with something. Identify with what ? The simplest answer : my e-mail address. Or something along the lines of my OpenID. Or a semantic Web URI. Do I authenticate myself, with a password ? No, or only optionnally. If I do, my message is signed, guaranteed authentic from me. If I don’t care about this guarantee, which is mostly the case, I don’t authenticate myself.

    And that’s it for me, the software handles the rest. Or maybe I tick a checkbox or I reply “Record” to a prompt, but nothing more.

    Fifteen days pass. And I want to return to that discussion I participated in, but I don’t remember exactly on which article of which site the discussion was.
    I open my Shoebox, and I find all my writings recorded, with their Web address, date and content. I can easily and quickly sort and search along these criteria. So I quickly find the discussion and I go to it.

    Two years pass. I remember that, “irgendwie, irgendwo, irgendwann”, I had written a very interesting message about some subject, a long message with details and references, I had done some research. And now I want or need to find it.
    I open my Shoebox, I type some keywords in the search field, and I find the Web address and I go to it.
    But this law forum has been revamped, or that personal blog has been closed, and so my message is not anymore at the Web address.
    No problemo : in my Shoebox, I have the content of the message I had written.

    In fact, the Shoebox is a simple idea : the fusion of the Web browser’s History and the mailbox’ “Sent mail” folder.

    My Shoebox is handy : it as a standalone application, deeply integrated with the Web browsers. But I don’t have my Shoebox application always at hand, so I can also open my Shoebox via the Web.

    And of course my Shoebox records the messages that I write with various pens : with Firefox on my Mac at home, with Safari on my Mac at home, with Firefox on my PC at work, with my iPad…

  43. 43

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