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Browser Wars, Extensions & Google

Gordon Kelly


TrustedReviews Interviews Mozilla President Tristan Nitot

It's impossible to avoid the term 'browser war' these days. After years of stagnation competition is red hot with the likes of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Opera all pushing out ever more fully featured yet ever faster versions. I took some time to speak with Tristan Nitot, President of Mozilla Europe, to get his particular take on the current landscape.

The first question on everyone's lips is going to be Firefox 3.5 Tristan, can you give us an update as to when it will be ready?

"We taking now weeks, not months - we do not speak of specific dates, it will be released when it's ready. It is not about being date ready but quality ready however the chances are it will be released in June depending on whether we're happy with what is achieved."

"Initially this update was to be a couple of improvements {originally labelled v3.1} then we got excited by the things we could include and so kept adding and adding and in the end we decided to call it 3.5 to reflect the amount of development which has gone into the product."

How do you see the browser landscape at present?

"It is extremely competitive now and it is exactly what we've wanted to see for a very long time. It has been reignited and we have seen great development in very short periods of time. Consider how many years it took for Internet Explorer 6 to reach Internet Explorer 7. IE6 came out in 2001, IE7 arrived in 2006 - that's five years. This will not happen anymore, competition is a reality again."

Mozilla recently announced Jetpack a new kind of extension for Firefox. Can you tell me the thinking behind trying to overhaul such a successful part of the browser?

"Extensions bring lot of value to Firefox, it is a great strength. The set of extensions you will use and find fundamental will be different to those chosen by others so it's all about customisation. They are very good for us in terms of innovation, it means we don't just have our labs working on Firefox but 1000s of bright minds and the best universal extensions often become a core part of the browser in later builds. Where the extension is niche it allows coders to scratch their own itches. The thinking behind Jetpack is simple, it will enable wider participation. To code extensions for Jetpack will simply require knowledge of Html, CSS and Javascript these are skills every web developer has."

Google and Mozilla have always had a very close relationship. How does its arrival in the browser space affect that relationship?

"It is always good to see another vendor in browser market. It is good for the consumer in particular but it doesn't make life easier. We are already competing with Microsoft and Apple and now Google. The challenge becomes even harder but it is worth it. The browser is the main window onto the Internet so it is a vital piece of software to get right."

You say the browser is a vital piece of software, some might say it is increasingly the most vital piece of software on a computer. Do you believe it can replace the OS?

"There are examples to suggest this is possible. If you look at Jolicloud (jolicloud.com) it is essentially a Linux kernel with Firefox. The Crunch Pad platform is also primarily just a web browser. Both show little need for an OS any more. I think consumers will care less and less about the platform {underneath}, it will be hidden. 15 years ago Marc Andreessen {one of the founders of Netscape} said 'one of these days the browser will reduce Windows to set of poorly debugged drivers.' "


June 4, 2009, 6:50 pm

Cool little interview Gordon. Couple of typos in the first para you might want to fix btw.

Nice that you asked him about Chrome. That must've been such a kick in the teeth for Firefox. When a company like Google go "you aren't good enough, we've built our own" it's about as big a damning statement as can be made. He answered the question like a good politician.

I don't think the browser can ever replace the OS, it'll always just be part of it, even tho it will become a larger and larger part. You'll always need to drop into the OS for things, file and media player management, editing photos/videos, IM, etc, etc. Think of the dangers of giving the browser full control of your computer file system. Anyway, if they tried to build everything into FF it'd be an even bigger bloated beastie than it is already and their problems would pale under the supposed monopoly issues MS has.

Talking of which I've never understood the furor over MS bundling IE with their OS. How else could people get onto the internet? MS has provided a valuable service and people complain? Why should they bundle ever other web broswer out there? For most people IE is fine, if you want choice then it's easy to download something else. If you're too stupid to realise there are other browsers out there, then I don't think you need them.

Anyway, roll on 3.5, I only use FF for debugging these days, it's IE or Chrome for everything else, FF has become too slow, hopefully this update will make it competitive again.


June 4, 2009, 7:03 pm

@HK thanks HK - they were spotted seconds after it went live but you must've started reading by then. Fixed :)

You make a lot of valid points. I think however MS could bundle each of the major browsers with Windows - after all it does bundle hundreds of third party drivers. So at the point of installation you could simply tick with one(s) you wanted to use...


June 4, 2009, 9:24 pm

Yeah quiet day, so first port of call TR and I caught it before you'd fixed it :-)

I suppose they could, but then why not also do the same for IM clients, mail clients, etc, etc. It'd quickly get out of hand and be bloated beyond even normal MS standards and require multiple disks. I think simply some "suggested download links" when you first open IE (like they do for other search engines) would be enough, though even that I don't think necessary. Anyway, I don't think they deserved to be sued for the millions (or is it billions?) that they did by the EU. It's political correctness gone mad as is so often the case these days. You're trying to put out the best program possible (and whether you meet that goal or not) you shouldn't have to worry about politics; it's counter-intuitive.


June 4, 2009, 10:47 pm

:¬( I was hoping for some Fennec talk... good interview, though.


June 5, 2009, 12:59 am

If you want the browsers to be bundled with Windows, then you will also have to be able to update the browsers through Microsoft Update. Simply because the browser you get with your installation will be pretty outdated when you install your OS and this can be prevented by using Microsoft Update. So if Opera and others want to be bundled with Windows then this can only be done with Windows 8 at the earliest, as such cooperation requires a bit of time to get going.

But to be honest, I'm with HK on this one. Too much politics can't be good for the development of good software.


June 5, 2009, 1:05 am

Hmm, but would I buy a used car from this man - niccce piccie ;)

Oh and sorry Tristan, I have moved to Opera these days. - But then I always have looked through the other end of the telescope to everyone else!


June 8, 2009, 1:39 am

@Helmore - I don't think updates would be a problem. Browsers themselves automatically look for updates when they start anyway and you'd be notified by FF or Opera about the newer version as they do now. In the case of Chrome it would just update you automatically - with Google resistance is futile ;)

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