With Google Chrome doing so well, there’s a lot of eyes on it and the usage model it promotes. The problem with the Google approach to browsers is that it’s so comprehensively one-size-fits-all. One-size-fits-all works for some people but when a user is no longer of what one-size is and in fact Google starts slicing bits off of the whole a user is entitled to, a problem arises. For people that know no better, that’s fine, they don’t know that there’s more to internet browsing than the main window. To people who want the bare minimum again that’s fine, but it isn’t necessarily right.
Dietrich Ayala recently raised in a blog post a few ideas about Firefox and how to bring it forward in the current climate of this browser cold war. Dietrich has gone on to evolve his ideas for the modularisation and thus the progression of Firefox by suggesting that we bundle core features as add-ons.
While somewhat in agreement, I don’t believe it makes the change in as effective a way as possible. Recently I’ve talked about the level of frustration I’ve felt regarding the various sister and cousin projects that Firefox has and how I believe that more of the burden should be on the platform. Well that’s at least what I’ve been getting at and it’s basically what I’m attempting to further lobby for.
There are various aspects of the Mozilla family where to put it frankly, the approach is simply sloppy and inefficient. It can be improved and thus should be improved. Take Tabs for example, there were various changes made to tabs between Firefox 4 and Firefox 10, there was an even bigger change made between Firefox 3 and Firefox 4. The changes made should automatically be carried over to Thunderbird and yet they’re not. Why? Because the design doesn’t allow for streamlined changes like that. The Tabs API should firmly be in the platform and thus such changes should be reflected in the children unless desired not to.
Again with for example the Firefox button, it should be as simple as deciding the populous and hey-presto you have it in the development channel of both Firefox and Thunderbird. By decreasing the dependencies between parts at the bottom, you create a greater ecosystem for the applications at the top. You’re also able to pool your resources more effectively allowing for more workers at the bottom and greater precision at the top.
The idea itself extends beyond that. You can think to include the RSS reader. Google has decided to leave it out of their browser. This isn’t a matter of simple numbers, as they run Google Reader, the advertising revenue there is enough to warrant being browser free. However I’ve been informed that even then, the number of users that use the Google Reader service pales in comparison to the number of users of their browser. Mozilla are also of the opinion that the RSS reader isn’t an aspect of their browser that warrants enough resources to make it ground-breaking. Now that in itself is a disappointment, especially when you consider extensions like Brief are exactly what users should be presented with. It’s easier to read and the learning curve is considerably lessened. That said, resources are finite. But ultimately an RSS reader is something that’s in that grey area between browser and Email client. So between the two, the collective requirement of a good reader aspect should be sufficient to not only create something like Brief but improve upon it.
Firefox has for as long as I can remember featured the ‘Send Link’ feature. Now personally, I can’t remember the last time I shared a page via email. I’ve sent pages via Instant Messenger, via Social Media and via Text Message, but via Email? No. When it was suggested that Firefox add a feature to enable social sharing of page, the masses cried bloat. I cried in gratitude, the masses won out, I stuck with the prototype extension. But this is something that should’ve been done on the platform, thus servicing sharing on whichever app in whichever manner the application required. This could’ve also lead to allowing users to customise their application and thus have their personal sharing needs. Again with the ‘Save Page As…’ feature, the rarity of users wanting to actually download whole page is so low a number that it may be impossible to see without aide. Instead the feature should by default to save as a PDF and the option entitled Download or Save Copy. And at installation a user can select whether to save pages as PDFs or HTML files with folders. I know that it’s far more likely to want an email saved as a PDF than it is a HTML file with folders in tow and let’s not forget that Mobile defaults to the option of PDF.
These are but a few examples of how the platform stepping up, decreasing it’s dependencies and becoming 100% API reliant can foster the applications and enable innovation rather than what feels like struggling to simply staying afloat. If it’s a question of is it time, the answer is a resounding yet. For the greater good, it really is. But will it happen? I fear not.