Published in San Antonio Current, June 20, 2007
I wanted to like MySpace. But it’s atrocious: ugly, clunky, ad-ridden, the polar opposite of Google. And like so many atrocities, it’s hugely popular. I got nothing from MySpace, however, except spam from pretend women, and as all the tech podcasters I listen to have shunned MySpace and emigrated to Facebook or Virb, I thought I’d give the former a try.
One of Facebook’s features is to scan your address book and look for email addresses of existing Facebook users. Also, searching in Facebook is more efficient, and within two weeks, I got howdy-do’s from three different high school classmates, all of whom I’m glad to hear from.
Turns out that one of my old ’mates, John Lilly (not the late Day of the Dolphin guy), is now COO of Mozilla, the non-profit org that manages development of Firefox, the free, open-source web browser that currently enjoys about 15% browser market share in the U.S. (“Mozilla” was the codename of Netscape Navigator, the first popularly available web browser.)
If you own a Windows computer, and you still use Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, your fly is open and waiting for some nasty digi-bug to crawl into your PC’s trousers and have its way with you. Plus, you’re missing out on blocked web ads and saved browser sessions. (If you rock a Mac, you’re safe on the ’Net, but you should check out Firefox, or Camino, a browser made for the Mac on top of the Firefox engine.)
Coincidentally, my reconnecting with John came at a fun time for browser buffs. First of all, Firefox 3 is on the horizon, with some lovely features such as private browsing. Next, this last Monday, June 13, Apple Computer made a couple of piquing announcements: It has released for Windows a beta version of Safari, the web browser that comes with every Mac; and the iPhone (June 29, y’all!) will run a full version of Safari, supporting Web 2.0.
I hear ya: What the @#$% is Web 2.0? To oversimplify, it’s the movement to make the web less boring than it used to be. You know how, on Netflix, you can put your mouse over a film’s name, and a little balloon pops up with plot and director info? Or if you go to http://www.apple.com, there’s a search blank at top right that now drops down search results as you type. That’s all Web 2.0. Google Documents and Spreadsheets are pure Web 2.0. Which means that, if Apple’s promises are fulfilled, then boom, the iPhone has word processing… IF you have an internet connection. And you will, and it will cost you.
The latest versions of Windows and Mac OS X also have mini apps, called “widgets” or “gadgets,” depending on who you ask. Many of these are created with the same kind of code that makes Web 2.0 tick, and I sniff that Apple intends to make these insta-apps playable on the iPhone.
In his presentation, Apple CEO Steve Jobs presented his vision for the web’s future, in which Internet Explorer and Safari will dominate to the exclusion of all other browsers. So I couldn’t resist asking John Lilly what Mozilla’s thoughts were on Apple’s news. He first got me a very diplomatic statement from Mike Schroepfer, Mozilla’s vice president of engineering: “Mozilla’s mission is to promote an open, interoperable and participatory Internet. We encourage Apple to put their weight behind open standards and the open Web to help ensure all browser users, regardless of operating system or browser, can enjoy the best possible Web experience.”
I suspected that somewhat stronger feelings ran through the Ethernet at Mozilla HQ. John confirmed this with a post on his blog: “There are a couple of problems [with Apple’s view]. The first is that this isn’t really how the world is. The second is that, irrespective of Firefox, this isn’t how the world should be. A world of tight control from a few companies … destroys participation, it destroys engagement, it destroys self-determination. And, ultimately, it wrecks the quality of the end-user experience, too. Remember when you had to get your phone from AT&T? Good times.”
Yes, I remember that, and I also remember the browser wars between Netscape and IE, when you’d find the words “This site best viewed by Internet Explorer.” To paraphrase Bill the Cat, pppphptpt! I found a thing I wrote about the browser wars back when I didn’t get paid to do so, on a proto-blog in 1998: “Computers connected to the internet will not be truly functional until they all speak the same language.”
I tried Apple’s new Safari, and am pleased that it works better on sites with which Safari used to have problems, sites that until now I have needed Firefox to view. So now I have more choice, and that’s fine. If Apple is simply encouraging development for cool little apps on the iPhone, I like that, too. But if the goal is control, I’m gonna start using Firefox more.