Mozilla headquarters. Among others at the organization, I spoke to Chris Beard - Mozilla's Chief Innovation Officer and the person overseeing its efforts to bring new concepts to the browser, a.k.a. Mozilla Labs. We discussed where Firefox is heading and how it compares to Google Chrome in particular. We also talked about Mozilla's new mobile browser Fennec, the add-on platform, and how recent innovations by Mozilla - such as Weave and Ubiquity - fit into the big picture. In this post we'll focus on the near future of Firefox.In my recent visit to Silicon Valley, I got the chance to visit the
Firefox vs Chrome
Chris Beard and I first discussed what Mozilla is doing to keep Firefox, its flagship product, competitive in the latest generation of the 'browser wars'. Google, whose headquarters are just up the road from Mozilla and who I also visited on the same day, upped the ante in the browser industry in September last year when it launched a brand new browser called Chrome. Not only that, but Google went out of its way to claim that Chrome represents the next generation of browsers, because (according to Google) it is much better than existing browsers at managing the increasingly sophisticated web apps we see on the Web nowadays.
Beard noticeably bristled at the suggestion that Chrome performs better with heavy duty web apps. He noted that Firefox is also working hard to make highly interactive web apps run smoothly. Regarding Google's claim that Chrome's isolated tab processes mean a more stable browser, Beard replied that Firefox too is very stable and that it doesn't crash much these days. And to be fair, in this author's experience the latest production versions of Firefox have indeed performed much better than they used to. I still get the odd browser crash though.
What's the Vision for Firefox?
But arguments about browser stability aren't going to differentiate the two browsers, Firefox and Chrome, in the eyes of the general public. So I asked Chris Beard to explain Mozilla's vision for the future of Firefox. Beard replied that the vision for Firefox is to help users navigate and manage an increasingly complex world. Beard likened this concept to intelligent agents; and he also used the term 'trusted assistant'. Beard told me that the browser will be "tied to services" - he mentioned the current activity happening in the Linked Data and Semantic Web communities.
Add-ons are a huge part of the current Firefox experience and Chris Beard said that some of those add-ons will become more integrated into the core browser. While that isn't a new trend, I noted that it sounds similar to what Flock has done. Flock is a browser built on the Mozilla platform that integrated many social web elements into the browsing experience (Flickr, YouTube, etc). I suggested that Firefox may want to offer bundles of add-ons, so that users don't have to go hunting around for various individual add-ons. Beard said that yes, this is in the works. He said that users will be able to create add-on "lists" and offer them as a single click to other users - much like Amazon's wish lists. However he noted that there are usability issues to overcome, because some add-ons aren't necessarily compatible with others. He said that currently Firefox has around 8000 add-ons and that we can expect this bundling feature to come out in the next couple of months.
As for other upcoming changes to Firefox, Beard told me that many aspects of the current Firefox experience could be in the cloud - for example bookmarks and the "Awesome Bar" (Mozilla's term for its adaptive learning URL bar). Beard said that portability of the user experience is important in this era of the Web and so they'll be looking to offer certain functionality and data in the cloud.
Another part of Mozilla's strategy for Firefox going forward is to integrate aspects from some of its associated products, such as Ubiquity (an experimental Firefox add-on that gives your browser a context sensitive command-line - see ReadWriteWeb's most recent write-up) and its sync product Weave (our write-up). Beard told me that all Mozilla products are designed to be extended, but this may include making them part of the core Firefox browser. Ubiquity, for example, may end up being baked into Firefox in the future.
In my next post, we'll explore Mozilla's strategy for Fennec (its new mobile browser) and we'll look at recent developments in other Mozilla products such as Ubiquity and Weave.