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Browser Wars, Extensions & Google

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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.' "

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