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Posted on October 25th, 2010 by Stuart Turton

Why Mozilla needs to pick a new fight

Firefox logo

One of my very first gigs when I started at PC Pro in 2007 was to interview Tristan Nitot, the president of Mozilla Europe. He was an affable chap, full of engaging answers to questions he’d no doubt heard a hundred times before. The interview practically wrote itself – though for the sake of appearances I held the pen.

Safari for Windows had just been released and I asked Tristan what he thought of it. “I want Safari to have a significant market share. We want choice, we want innovation, as a company that’s what we stand for,” he told me.

I’ll be honest, at that moment Tristan was the software world’s Tom Jones and my knickers were mid-flight. Three years later and things are a little different. These days, standing for choice and innovation in the browser market is a bit like saying you stand for air and the colour blue. We have the browser ballot – Opera’s work, but Mozilla celebrated loudest – bookmark syncing across multiple machines, private browsing, hardware acceleration. The list goes on.

Standing for choice and innovation in the browser market is a bit like saying you stand for air and the colour blue

Internet Explorer is learning how to play nice with others, Safari gets prettier every iteration, Opera’s on feature steroids and Chrome goes whoosh. Do we still need Mozilla keeping everybody else honest? If not, then what is it that Firefox still offers? What is the outstanding feature? Add-ons are nice – I don’t use any because Chrome comes with all the ones I need preinstalled – but selling your browser on them, as Mozilla seems to be, is riskier than inviting Wayne Rooney to your nan’s birthday party.

Like the catalyst in a science experiment, I’m beginning to wonder if Firefox’s greatest contribution to browsers is not its continued existence, but that it existed at all. Put another way: Mozilla has won all its battles, is it time the company picked a new war?

My lord, if looks could kill I’d be stabbed, shot and dropped off a bridge by now. But bear with me, ferocious internet creature filled with malice and wrath. I’m not suggesting Mozilla give up on Firefox, or that the company’s rubbish at creating browsers. It’s not. However, given the resources available to rivals, and their renewed impetus, Mozilla’s beginning to look like a pantomime horse with a 100,000 people inside being asked to race in the Grand National.

Roaming troublemaker

I think Mozilla has a lot more to offer as a kind of roaming software troublemaker. The company has already proven itself brilliant at pulling a community together, offering it direction and spurring innovation in a lifeless market. Now that browsers are healthy, wouldn’t it be brilliant if Mozilla started a ruck elsewhere?

Now that browsers are healthy, wouldn’t it be brilliant if Mozilla started a ruck elsewhere?

And in the finest traditions of “did you hear what that bloke just said about your mum” I’d like to suggest that it crash Microsoft’s cushy Office party. As it stands, Office 2010 and Office 2007 are brilliant, and all the rest are rubbish. I’m sure the community behind OpenOffice.org work very hard, but pretending the last seven years never happened is no way to make an office suite. Similarly, and I’m looking at you Google, pretending hard disks don’t exist isn’t exactly healthy, either.

In fact I’d rather carve words into my own flesh than ever use either again – a point rammed home every time to use Ubuntu for an extended period. (Just imagine how much more attractive Ubuntu 10.10 would be with a decent office suite pre-installed.)

This is a market that desperately needs somebody to be brave. Look at Scrivener on the Mac, an utterly brilliant piece of software chock full of ideas that deserve a bigger audience. I’ve written before about the implementation of tabbed documents in a word processor, and that’s only the beginning. There’s so many things that could be better.

I can feel the rope being slipped around my neck, but before you kick away the stool, give yourself over to wistfulness for just a moment. Imagine if Mozilla decided tomorrow to build an office suite. Imagine all those ideas. Imagine how brilliant that could be. Just imagine. Now imagine Firefox 4. Honestly, which one of those are you most excited by?

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Posted in: Microsoft Office 2010, Rant

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28 Responses to “ Why Mozilla needs to pick a new fight ”

  1. mcviracca Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I think the last paragraph is where you won me over, nicely put.

    Not dumping my Firefox though, and yes, it is mine as I have it customised to my particular needs with the layout and extensions that I find useful. I don’t know if Chrome or Opera offer the same level of customisation that Firefox does but it’s the main reason I stick with it, and it makes me more productive when on the web.

     
  2. Alex Stuart Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I think that IBM’s Lotus Symphony suite is quite nice. Attractive, multiplatform (Ubuntu, Windows, OS X), has a tabbed interface and is free. Sure it’s a little bloated, but I far prefer it over OpenOffice when not using Office 2010.

     
  3. Fiqqer Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    The Ultimate of the likes of Firefix and Google will be to liberate the Operating System. Computers have been heaved through the turgid Microsoft Operating System for so long. The functions and software so heavily embedded into the ugly, clumsy operating system. I am sure they can do a much better job than Microsoft can – as they have shown with browsers. Google are on their way. Surely Firefox are equally capable as they have demonstrated with their people power browser.

     
  4. gvozden Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    What we need is groupware!

     
  5. prrrrra Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    “We have the browser ballot – Opera’s work”

    Wrong. It was Microsoft’s own suggestion. Also, Mozilla and Google joined and fully supported the EU complaint too. Mozilla’s top boss blogged and spoke extensively on the subject. So Mozilla was HEAVILY involved, and taking away credit from that is just silly.

     
  6. Scott Dowdle Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I’m *MOST* excited about Firefox 4 rather than some wetdream idea about an office suite. Why? Because Mozilla knows browsers not office suites. There are several features in Firefox 4 I’m looking forward to.

    If Mozilla did decide to drop browsers and go after an office suite (which will *NEVER* happen), it would be years before they’d have anything to show off.

    I guess they could fork OpenOffice.org and break it up into separate packages like they did with the browser component of Netscape Navigator… and work on a word processor component. And then after a few years and building a following, they could concentrate on separate spreadsheet, and presentation products.

    And they could all be modular where the core apps have only the basic functionality… and third-party addons would add in the extra features.

    Wait… that’s all a terrible idea. I think I’ll be much happier with Firefox 4.

     
  7. Nathan M Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    The premise of your article is fatally flawed. The Mozilla corporation was formed out of the Mozilla community, not the other way around. If they changed course to work on an office suite, using the top-down approach you seem to be implying, it probably wouldn’t catch on. There are dozens of other attempts at open source office applications. None have any real widespread appeal. You mention Scrivener “deserves” more attention. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. The software market is far from a meritocracy. The free/open source software community isn’t much different. Open source software dominates the server market, but there’s a dearth of successful open source software on the client-side, besides Firefox.

     
  8. Matt Wilkinson Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Mozilla already does what you’re asking them to do with the Mozilla Foundation. They are, first and foremost, about protecting the open web and open standards. Mozilla doesn’t have the resources to start up a group to develop an Office clone.

    Also, we do need Firefox because if all open source web browsers drop out of the race, we’ll be back where we started. So you’re completely wrong here.

    Firefox 4 is coming and it’s going to be a fantastic release. Things will keep getting more competitive and the browsers will keep pushing each other forward.

    http://www.arewefastyet.com/

     
  9. Tom Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    “Imagine if Mozilla decided tomorrow to build an office suite. Imagine all those ideas. Imagine how brilliant that could be. Just imagine. Now imagine Firefox 4. Honestly, which one of those are you most excited by?”

    A new, faster version of Firefox that maintains the current version’s extensibility. I mean … an office suite? Seriously? Apparently it’s 1997 where you’re writing.

     
  10. Larry Smith Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    We need a couple of things. A free Office suite competitive with MS Office 2010 (or 2012) is certainly worthy, and I would volunteer to work on it. But what we need most is a fully windows-compatible OS. We need a standard platform. I would advocate two action areas – one group to augment Wine and get it to 100% compatibility, and one to ensure that Linux becomes the ONLY platform.

    Windows and Lion would survive, but, like the other browsers against Firefox, they would have to become damned good – and damned compatible to do it. Either way, one platform.

    WORLD DOMINATION!

    It’s the only way.

     
  11. Janes Cratovac Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    gvozden++

    i just don’t care enough about “office suites” to have a problem with openoffice. It’s slow and sometimes stupid, but it’s not broken, and it allows me to work with all these people who think learning Microsoft Word is an accomplishment that belongs on a resume. gnumeric and abiword are faster and cleaner albeit not as good at the former goal. but this is not what you should be worrying about.

    Google Docs, on the other hand, is incredible. You can see the other person’s *cursor*. and the potential is almost limited. dabbledb.com is also pretty awesome as a spreadsheet/database hybrid (though, you can see the perils of proprietary software: they’ve sold the shop and shut down). These two classes are more interesting than office apps: (1) ubiquitous saveable whiteboards (perhaps wrapped inside a familiar word processor interface to avoid scaring people), and (2) spreadsheet-like things that preserve more of the shape of the data almost like a database would, ex. better type safety and foreign keys, and are safe for concurrent multi-user access. Anything which says “cannot open Document1. another user is editing it.” deserves to die.

    Reinventing wooden carts for people who refuse to learn is not what we need. Ways for you to send me garbled email in which you’ve used sillyfonts and color to express yourself is also not needed. I do not care in a business setting about your skill with scissors and paste, and if you are truly creative you should be using something like illustrator. These hybrid kindergarten-art-shop plus administrative assistant programs are a dead-end. Expand your imagination. It’s time for y’all to step up and learn some new things, stop whining for your helpful paperclips and other virtual pacifiers from 1992. that work is done, several times over. no, you cannot make us stop everything and build you geezers and technomidgets another slightly-better but not more useful one. You should either come up with a real idea, or learn Python and get to work.

     
  12. Chris Hart Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    I don’t think we should have to make a choice of one, or the other. I never want Firefox to go away. I still think it’s the best browser out there, but browsers could still stand to be so much better. I think Mozilla is setting the right direction with their browser development work.

    Would I like them to do an open office suite? Hell, yeah. But not if it meant that Firefox would go away. No way.

     
  13. Adblock Fan Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    So long as Firefox is stable and Adblock Plus works, I’m not going anywhere. When either of those change, I’m shopping for a new browser.

     
  14. Chris R. Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    This proposal makes absolutely no sense. Mozilla’s core competency is browsers and web technology. What do they know about office suites? What makes you think Mozilla’s developer base has significant overlap with developers who are interested in office suites?

     
  15. hmmm Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    I would be more excited about ” Mozilla Photoshop ”

    After all Photoshop is insanely priced for what it is.
    e.g for a quarter of the price I can have an OS.

    Paint.net is good to a degree but it is difficult to use, does not flow, does not support raw formats and would benefit with extensions.

     
  16. WhatTheHeck Says:
    October 25th, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Still scratching her head….

     
  17. nobody Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Lotus Symphony…*is* openoffice.

    And this idea is brilliant. They already have the toolkit and dev practices in place. I’ll bet they could have a worthwhile competitor in less than a year. Remember how fast Firefox took off when it was just Blake developing on it?

     
  18. Adam Williamson Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 12:26 am

    “Internet Explorer is learning how to play nice with others, Safari gets prettier every iteration, Opera’s on feature steroids and Chrome goes whoosh.”

    Internet Explorer will go right back to being evil the moment it feels the possibility, (still) no-one uses Opera, and Apple and Google are competing to see who can best succeed in manipulating the HTML 5 standardization process to their own personal ends.

    “Do we still need Mozilla keeping everybody else honest?”

    Given the above? Christ, yes.

     
  19. Stuart Turton Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 6:01 am

    Hi guys, thanks for the comments. Just to clarify, my interest here wasn’t the likelihood of Mozilla doing this, nor the viability. I was daydreaming – an exciting company picking a new direction. The end. However, in terms of core competency: Mozilla is a charity with a tiny amount of permanent staff. Their core competency is whoever they decide to hire and the open-source community they can attract. Of course it would take some time to put the infrastructure in place and attract the people, but it’s not like I’m suggesting they learn how to resurrect the T-Rex and teach it how to bake cakes. Though that would be awesome.

     
  20. David Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 8:25 am

    If Mozilla is a ’state of mind’ rather than a specific company, then it might be able to expand without spreading its efforts and finances too thin. But if OpenOffice and IBM can’t produce a competitor (your opinion – they are perfectly adequate for my needs), I doubt a newcomer can. Many open-source projects have remained nearly-there for years.
    You also have the ‘credibility’ issue – Microsoft had to react to Firefox because it knew it wasn’t going away. If Mozilla looks like it starts trouble then moves on, the competitor will just hang on until Mozilla get bored.
    And why spend your life just trying to annoy Microsoft? Innovation is much more fun

     
  21. Kim Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Wouldn’t it be great if Mozilla could do for the office suite what it has done for the web browser. Yes, go for it Mozilla, NOW!

     
  22. Steve Cassidy Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    it’s going to take a long time for people to unstick themselves from Microsoft Office. It has attained the durability of “hoover” – a brand so pervasive that many countries use it in place of the word that describes the job itself. Personally, I agree entirely with Stuart that OpenOffice is no more than a cave-painting done by people who once dimly perceived a useful piece of software: and I am very glad that some contributors have drawn people’s attention to IBM Symphony, which I use every dayt and I find to be a much more capably done piece of work.

     
  23. Jeffrey A. Williams Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Frankly I think it would be far more exciting if Mozilla would get more interested in DNSSEC and DNS resolver considerations at the browser level.

     
  24. frankle Says:
    October 27th, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Mozilla IS working on an office suite. At this time they are still working on the layout and scripting engines. Once these are at a satisfactory level they will probably start working on the content creation tools. If you are wondering why it’s taking so long, it’s because the final suite is far more ambitious than what MS Office or OpenOffice.org currently offer. The new office document format is code named HTML5.

     
  25. skierpage Says:
    October 27th, 2010 at 2:33 am

    MS Office will decline, but right now chasing Office means implementing MS file formats and 20 years of feature bloat.

    It would be more relevant to the future and Mozilla’s mission (”We believe that the internet should be public, open and accessible”) if someone made it easier to create sophisticated HTML5 web pages containing words, calculations, multimedia presentations, and data, and left .DOC/.XLS/.PPT/.MDB interoperability to dinosaur hunters.

     
  26. Brian Masinick Says:
    October 28th, 2010 at 4:47 am

    If your assertion that Mozilla really stirs things up well, then yes, a great office suite would be a great contribution. It is not at all clear that the Mozilla organization has the right skill set to do that, but if you are right that it has the right innovation skills, perhaps the organization could attract the right people. As it stands right now, they are not properly staffed to innovate on an office suite.

    I’ve checked out their Firefox browser on my Droid phone. Maybe they will get that right some day, but right now it barely works.

    Maybe Mozilla could get an office suite right in five years. By then, something else will emerge.

    Good idea, good brainstorming. It’s possible, and it is always good to brainstorm. While possible, the scenario you paint is rather unlikely at the present time.

     
  27. Albert Donald Says:
    November 9th, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Mozzila has an upper hand over its other rivals because it is faster and safer. It needs to improve this more.

     
  28. Chris Clarke-Williams Says:
    February 10th, 2011 at 7:18 am

    I personally find Open Office quiet a step forward from MS Office, with the exception of Base. The new UI in office 2010 makes it almost in usable. The functionity of Word is far too limited Writer is much better.

     

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