Launch your application, oh look, an update! Clicking “Update” takes you to the Mac App Store web site.
Click “View in Mac App Store” since apparently I’m not doing that yet, but wait!
Tell my browser that it’s okay to do what I just told it to do.
We’re launched into the Mac App Store app, so we need to click the grey on grey “Updates” button / tab / thing…
And click “Update all” or just “Update”.
Sign into my Apple account for some reason.
Oh we need to quit the app. Command-Tab…
Quit the app.
Back to the Mac App Store app again.
It’s updated and I can launch it again.
Ten only marginally confusing steps!
At least they got the gradients, drop shadows, rounded corners and noisy backgrounds right.
Since the Chrome OS announcement the other day I’ve been thinking more about what a world with rich enough web APIs to support all general purpose applications might look like. I’m not sure that it’ll happen, but it sounds like Google is putting their weight behind it and they’ve been successful in the past at moving our industry in new directions (remember the world before GMail and Google Maps?).
A richer set of standard web APIs might form the basis for a cross-manufacturer mobile platform. The Palm WebOS stack already kind of looks like Chrome OS (though with local HTML+JS apps rather than remote ones) and the original iPhone application model was exactly what Chrome OS proposes. The limitations that forced Apple to create a native developer platform are exactly the ones that Chrome OS plans to address.
Of course Google’s own mobile platform is decidedly non-web and Apple’s much larger volume of applications discourage it from supporting standard APIs. The handset manufacturers, OS developers and carriers are all making a ton of money selling applications in a model that’s reminiscent of pre-web software models. The only real winners from a move to a web model for mobile applications would be the users.
This post began as a comment on Matthew Gertner’s blog post The Browser Platform Wars. It’s a rant not an article, don’t take it personally.
In my experience (8 years building Mozilla based products and playing with WebKit since it was first released as WebCore in 2003) there are a few clear technical and social differences that can make WebKit a more attractive platform for developers than Mozilla. There are plenty of reasons that Firefox is a better product than Safari (I definitely prefer Firefox over Safari on my Mac), but that’s a different story.
The scale and complexity of the Mozilla codebase is daunting. Mozilla advocates will say that that’s because Mozilla provides more functionality, but the reality is that even if you don’t want all that functionality you still have to dig through and around it to get your work done. Much of the Mozilla platform is poorly documented, poorly understood and incomplete (the C++/JS binding security stuff was the most recent example I’ve looked at) while WebKit is smaller, simpler and newer. They use common c++ idioms instead of proprietary systems like XPCOM.
The scale of the Mozilla organization is also daunting. Mozilla’s web presence is vast and is filled with inaccurate, outdated content. Their goals are vague and mostly irrelevant to developers. By contrast WebKit’s web site is simple and straight-forward. Its audience is developers, it sets out goals that matter and make sense to developers, it explains clearly the process for participating and contributing in the project.
WebKit is designed for embedding. Within Apple there are several customers for the WebKit library – Desktop Safari, iPhone Safari, Dashboard, AppKit and more. Since WebKit already serves a variety of purposes it’s likely to work for other applications which third party developers will want to build. By comparison the Mozilla platform really only has one first-class customer – Firefox.
The WebKit community has welcomed non-employee contributors. They’ve even welcomed contributors who work for Apple’s competitors. There are WebKit reviewers from Google, Nokia and the open source community. By comparison, Songbird and Flock don’t have any Mozilla committers or reviewers who weren’t previously Mozilla Corporation employees even though they are two of the largest non-MoCo platform customers.
Perhaps I’m short-sighted, but I don’t see a clear path forward for Mozilla in competing with WebKit as a platform for web content display. The long history of Mozilla have left them with a large, complicated codebase that’s not getting smaller. The rapid growth and defensive attitude of the organization (probably brought on by the Netscape / IE wars) has left it without a culture that welcomes friendly competition. I think that Mozilla’s focus on the product above the platform is the right decision for them. I’m just glad we have an alternative web content platform.
Six months ago I predicted:
This kind of bundling is often done by the bad guys. If you install Appleâ€™s Quicktime codecs on Windows every update will trigger an iTunes install, even if you havenâ€™t installed iTunes. Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™ll do the same thing for Safari on Windows. Iâ€™m not sure what iTunesâ€™ market share on Windows is but it seems to be significant. If all those users suddenly have Safari installed that could potentially cause a big shake-up in browser market share.
On Friday there was a minor shitstorm on planet.mozilla.org about Apple pushing down Safari to all Windows iTunes and Quicktime users.
If only we had a reusable system-wide XULRunner it would be really easy to do similar but less evil promotion of our growing XUL-based free software suite. Songbird could suggest to users that they might like Firefox – and it would take just a single click and a tiny XPI download to have users running Firefox. We could even get intelligent and suggest Thunderbird to heavy email users or Flock to heavy social networking users.
iTunes’ US market share is around 27% (according to the best numbers I can find). If Apple flips the switch and makes Safari the default browser for all those users Firefox will start looking irrelevant fast.
There were two interesting announcements today. First the Sidekick ID which had been previously leaked was formally announced and reviews have started to show up. Secondly Apple announced that the OS X Leopard will ship three months late – more than two years after the previous release of OS X. This slip is being seen as evidence that Apple is having trouble building as many products at once as it wants to.
In the four years I was at Danger we were building exactly one product at a time. We failed to separate the development of the hardware, the OS and the applications. Separating the client and server schedules was a slow and painful process. In the two years since I’ve left things seem to have improved. The fact that they’re able to ship two products (even if they are quite similar) is really exciting. That Danger is succeeding where Apple, with their 30 years of experience, is beginning to stumble is cause for congratulations.