May 26, 2008


Mozilla fires first salvo in next wave of browsers (Brad Stone, May 26, 2008, IHT)

America Online, which acquired Netscape, spun off the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation in 2003. Its Firefox browser soon inspired an open-source movement backed by computer enthusiasts. Early versions of Firefox introduced features like a built-in pop-up blocker to kill ads, and tabbed browsing, which lets users toggle between Web windows.

Firefox now has 170 million users around the world and an 18 percent share of the browser market, according to Net Applications. That is especially impressive given that most of its users have made the active choice to download the software, while Internet Explorer is installed on most PCs at the factory.

In addition to giving Microsoft a kick in its competitive pants, Firefox has also reinforced for the high-tech industry the financial and strategic value of the browser. In 2004, Google struck a deal with Mozilla to include a Google search box tucked into a corner of the Firefox browser. According to Mozilla's most recent tax documents, in 2006 Google paid Mozilla $65 million for the resulting traffic to its search listings.

With tasks like e-mail and word processing now migrating from the PC to the Internet, analysts and industry players think the browser will soon become even more valuable and strategically important.

"People in the industry foresee a time in which for many people, the only thing they'll need on a computer is a browser," said Mitch Kapor, the software pioneer who now sits on the board of the Mozilla Foundation and has created a start-up, FoxMarks, that is developing a tool to synchronize bookmarks between computers. "The browser is just extraordinarily strategic."

That notion has helped to rekindle the browser wars and has resulted in the latest wave of innovation. Firefox 3.0, for example, runs more than twice as fast as the previous version while using less memory, Mozilla says.

The browser is also smarter and maintains three months of a user's browsing history to try to predict what site he or she may want to visit. Typing the word "football" into the browser, for example, quickly generates a list of all the sites visited with "football" in the name or description.

Firefox has named this new tool the "awesome bar" and says it could replace the need for people to maintain long and messy lists of bookmarks. It will also personalize the browser for an individual user.

It's nice that the average user can now access and run all these programs via the Internet, but won't the next big thing be migrating your data--music, movies, games, etc.--off of your own drives and onto an Internet accessible location with unlimited storage? And won't the economics of the Internet make that storage capacity free too?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 26, 2008 8:35 AM

Yeah, right.

...until your cable/dsl modem goes on the fritz.

...until you (or they!) experience a Denial-Of-Service attack. long as your off-line storage service company stays in business. long as they don't decide to cease providing the service.

...or double the fee, now that you've put your life in their hands.

...or they decide (or get a court order to) scan your files and delete or destroy any that are deemed to be "stolen" or otherwise verbotten.

Posted by: ray at May 26, 2008 9:26 AM

While waiting in line to pay for some CD-R's, I spotted a 320 GB hard drive on the Clearance table at Office Max last year. I purchased it for $60. While not free, it's damn close. And I avoid any/all of the problems cited by Ray. Pretty soon, you can purchase all the real estate you want for a few bucks-- a GB will soon cost about a dime. Terrabytes in every living room! (Sure, they inevitably fail, but at such prices, backups are affordable... in fact, at this moment, I've got a Maxtor 320GB and a Western Digital 80 GB hooked up to my Gateway, which has a 250 GB HD onboard. And, when the new WD and Maxtor models come out, keep an eye on those markdown tables, there'll be memory for a ten cent per GB!)

Posted by: Brian McKim at May 26, 2008 10:03 AM

I just bought a 750 GB Maxtor for $116 at Best Buy because their 1TBs are out. But you shouldn't need to store it at home at all.

Posted by: oj at May 26, 2008 12:05 PM

I share Ray's concerns, and note that about 10 years ago we were told that the "network computer" would soon replace the standard PC. Today's talk of "cloud computing" sounds similar. No doubt it will happen to some degree eventually, but most people would rather store their stuff at home, even if they had access to a free storage locker across town. Plus, bandwidth is a limiting factor.

Posted by: PapayaSF at May 26, 2008 12:26 PM

This kind of misses the point.

The browser is an adapter - it is a collection of enabling technologies wrapped in a somewhat awkward shell.

What will happen (is happening) is that the technologies provided by the browser will be pushed down to become part of the operating system (or perhaps even the hardware given enough time).

At the same time the browser is providing increasingly powerful means to manipulate its appearance and UI.

The end result is that the browser, as a destination unto itself, will simply disappear. See e.g. the BBC iPlayer, the New York Times Reader application, iTunes, RSS feed readers, etc.

Posted by: Dutch at May 26, 2008 2:40 PM

Except that there's no reason to maintain the OS and hardware on site.

Posted by: oj at May 26, 2008 5:41 PM

You can keep his computer as a dumb terminal with all of its data offsite (it would be just like the Envizex II terminals you used to use at work). I'll keep my stuff on local hard drives, thanks. It may be the wrong way but it's just the way I'm more comfortable with. The good thing is that there is room for both viewpoints.

Posted by: Bryan at May 27, 2008 7:59 AM

More often than not, these days, I think going away from dumb terminals was an understandable error - and that we ought to cut to the chase and turn webbrowers into terminals, a task they're ill-suited for but for which everybody uses them anyway. In a decade or two on-site computers will be for hobbyists or paranoids, with rare exceptions where latency is paramount (home automation, self driving cars?).

Of course, I also thought Palm and General Magic were world-beaters, so...

Posted by: Mike Earl at May 27, 2008 11:53 AM

Until the market gets involved and then you do the cheaper option.

Posted by: oj at May 27, 2008 12:38 PM