Archive for August 4th, 2011

Extending our Reach: Many Layers of User Sovereignty

August 4th, 2011

Today we access the Internet in many ways, with phones and tablets and new devices becoming more prevalent.  These devices have new operating systems, new business models, and new opportunities.  They also bring new challenges to interoperability and user-sovereignty.  How should Mozilla respond?  Should Firefox and Gecko be our only tools?  Or should we develop other tools?

I believe it is imperative we develop additional offerings.   We need open, open-source, interoperable, public-benefit, standards-based platforms for multiple layers of Internet life.

Where is the open source, standards-based platform for universally accessible, decentralized, customized identity on the web?  Today there isn’t one.  There should be.   Mozilla should build it.  When we do, it will complement the commercial offerings.  If it’s widely adopted then it will help drive the overall state of this part of life towards a more open, interoperable, user-controlled version.

Where is the open source, standards-based engine for universally accessible, decentralized, customized, user-controlled management of personal information I create about myself?  Today there isn’t one.  There should be.   Mozilla should build it.

Today many Mozilla contributors don’t think of these things as “engines” or “platforms” of Internet life.  These areas don’t necessarily handle javascript or CSS or the DOM.  We don’t even have standards or even an obvious web standards body for them yet.   They may be built primarily as server software or as applications separate from the browser.  But each of these — and others we’ll identify over time —  has the potential to be an “engine” or “platform” with power and scope analogous to that of Gecko and Firefox today.  They have the potential to move the Mozilla mission forward as a complement to the browser.   If people choose to use a device or operating system where Gecko and Firefox can’t reach, we can still offer one or more platforms for standards- based interoperability and user sovereignty.   And when used in combination with Firefox these engines will have the potential to create “defense in depth”  for user sovereignty.

Will additional offerings reduce our impact?  I think not, for several reasons.

  1. Firefox will cause a number of people to pick a cell phone / tablet that runs Firefox well and we will work hard to make this an easy choice.   But it won’t cause everyone to do this.  We know this from the iOS.   iOS users tell us regularly that they would like Firefox on their device.  But they are still using those Apple devices, and Apple sales are strong.   If we can solve problems for people with Gecko-based offerings, that’s a tremendous win.  If we provide platforms in addition to Gecko for different layers of Internet life, that’s also a tremendous tool for our mission.
  2. Requiring all innovation to fit inside a specified container — even an immensely powerful one like Gecko — puts immense strains on that container.  Instead, we should figure out what are the most important things for the Gecko platform and equip the platform team to pursue those tasks whole-heartedly.
  3. People who love a new Mozilla offering may well be drawn to try Firefox and Gecko.

The discussion about iOS and systems like it remind me of discussions we used to have about Linux vs. Windows.  Windows is a locked down operating system compared to Linux.  One is proprietary, one is free software.  In the early days some Mozilla contributors urged that we should care only about Linux.  They felt our mission would be better served by limiting our offering to platforms that align well with  the Mozilla mission.  We choose a different path.  We chose to take our values to where people live.  People were living on Windows, so we went there.  We made it easy for people to switch from Windows to Linux by providing key functionality across platforms.  If we hadn’t, the web would be a very sorry place today.

We should bring Mozilla values to where people are living today.  We should do so at multiple layers of Internet life. Some of these will be Gecko and Firefox based.  Others may be available across browsers.  This gives us multiple engines of interoperability and user sovereignty.  It provides multiple ways for people to choose Mozilla.

This future has immense challenges.  It offers huge potential rewards for Internet life.

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