Mozilla’s missed opportunities

In the past couple of months Mozilla Corporation has sought to narrow its scope. First there was the announcement that at least for the next year and a half or so the focus of platform development will be on developing the Firefox browser as the platform. This primarily means no standalone XULRunner. And since being standalone was kind of the whole point. Now there’s the announcement that they’re dropping Thunderbird because they think it’s a distraction from building their web browser.

When I look at this graph from Janco Associates I see Firefox’s market share’s growth slowing:
(firefox market share chart)

After all, how many people are going to download and install a new web browser. How many people really care enough? How many distribution channels can you find with just a web browser? Mozilla Corporation’s closed minded attitude to XULRunner as a platform and non-browser application might limit the spread of Free Software internet client software.

If we had set of application that could all run against a shared XULRunner runtime it would be easy and cheap to piggy-back them on each other. If a user downloaded Songbird so that they could listen to MP3 blogs on their phone it would be easy to offer them Firefox as a browser alternative, even if they hadn’t been interested in downloading and installing a replacement for Safari or Internet Explorer. If an ISP wanted to bundle Thunderbird to make it easier for their users to access email it would be cheap and easy for them to also offer Firefox because on top of any other XULRunner application Firefox is a small download.

This kind of bundling is often done by the bad guys. If you install Apple’s Quicktime codecs on Windows every update will trigger an iTunes install, even if you haven’t installed iTunes. I’m sure they’ll do the same thing for Safari on Windows. I’m not sure what iTunes’ 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.

We’re not trying to lock users into proprietary software and proprietary services. We’re trying to show them the potential of free software and open standards to make their lives better. We have the opportunity to do this better by embracing our platform and our ecosystem of applications, but the people holding the purse strings in the community are taking an overly conservative approach. I hope it doesn’t cost us victory and our users freedom.

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