In terms of mobile and Mozilla, we’re by and large talking about one of two things here. It comes pretty much down to the efforts directed at Android and the efforts directed at B2G.
The Boot2Gecko efforts are the simplest to deal with, why because they’re over ambitious. Booting to the web is something that so few consumers, in reality actually want. It’s a concept designed by geeks who see the Cloud as some form of utopia. Totally forgetting that it’s simply a rehash of the 80’s where network computers were connected to mainframes and it’s been given a new lick of paint. There’s a curiosity about things like booting to the web but that’s roughly where it stops. Google’s failure with ChromeOS is testament to that and Google better than anyone have the motive for ChromeOS to be successful but the traction just isn’t there.
See the problem with things like ChromeOS and B2G is that they’re just not tangible. The consumer likes to own things, likes to feel things. They like to feel as though they’re in possession of something. That’s why things like App Store’s for PC and Laptops have been so slow in their adoption. People wanted to the prestige of boxes. This is all supported by data that all the major browser makers should be able to get a hold of; how many users are installing web apps on their home screens? And let’s compare that to the same app installed via the various markets out there.
The very notion of ChromeOS and B2G catching on is a euphoric fantasia. The world has only just taken the step to smartphone after being invited so many times over and the world didn’t come to accept that invitation till it was ready, no amount of prodding or pulling managed to speed it up. Granted it only took for the right presentation of the right user experience but none the less, it was an incredibly slow painful process.
Here’s a simple question that should’ve been the basis of the whole rebuttal of the proposal for B2G. What incentives does such a proposal offer to anyone with a stake in this? To the networks, it would require a mass infrastructure in most places around the world. To the OEMs it offers what? It doesn’t allow them to try and lock users into their own brand of user experience nor does it wear and tear on the phone in the same way. Even for the developers of apps, how will they peddle their wares? No one is about to give up on revenue, thus B2G is simply a passion project. If Mozilla can’t out-market Chrome in their push for Firefox, how do they expect to out market what is now the biggest most used operating system in the world?
Users enjoy native apps. The apps are the definition of the era we’re in. To direct finite resources in anything to the contrary is a waste of said resources. Yes, perhaps I was wrong when I stated previously that Mozilla should throw it’s weight behind MeeGo given it’s abandonment. But I’m sure there was another ship better suited for jumping on rather than building a new ship from scratch.
Native UI Firefox
The native UI is the third UI revamp of Fennec. The initial UI was based on Froyo. A thing of beauty, it was full of curves and looked slick. Then came the Gingerbread overhaul and let’s be frank, it was ugly and now we’re back to beautiful with the Native UI.
There’s been a lot of hype about this third incarnation and it’s strangely odd how much every time it’s mentioned as native, UI is neatly tacked on to the end despite it being more than just a UI overhaul.
In a perfect world, Firefox would be modular and developers could simply slap any UI they wanted over the top. So Java, XUL, C# or new emerging technologies. However that isn’t the case, perhaps that’s why it almost feels like Mozilla is waiting for Blackberry to die before rolling out it’s client. Remember those B2G resources? They’d be better spent making this a reality.
As a result of this incarnation of Fennec, some of the more stand out features of the past have been lost. Slide right for tabs being a prime example and slide left for navigation being another. Those were original and innovative, but that also means unique and different. So for every user that loved those features there’d be at least one that hated them.
The new UI has landed on the Nightly channel and it’s not really with much excitement. In fact it’s with disappointment. Despite the UI being snappy, it”s not really worth anything is pages are clipped. The pages are being served with odd dimensions and text boxes can’t be accessed. I get that this is a channel for alpha testing, but that’s it; The Nightly channel is for testing, not development. What happens if these bugs aren’t fixed in time for the Aurora merge? Does Mozilla back out the native UI? Does Nightly once again become a epileptic seizure risk depending on what sites you’re visiting with the XUL UI? Is the general non-responsiveness just accepted until said native bugs are fixed? How did this get approval for the tree?
There was actually talk about how to improve things with the XUL UI, which were missed due to the linear approach. i.e. the use of an omni.jar inside the APK which could shave off a little time off of startup. I’m curious as to what other Firefox 4 train start-up improvements never made it into the browsers mobile cousin. I’d definitely like to see them happen for Fennec, no matter which UI is preferred. Let’s see Fennec be all that it can be.
Once you start to look past the buzzword of ‘Native UI’, other issues start to arise. The AwesomeBar is no longer awesome. And now there’s no longer a Firefox on a smartphone, but rather Firefox is assimilated to become part of the smartphone; Things like bookmarks and browsing history, once something shared solely between the user and Mozilla are suddenly shared with Google too. Mozilla who once stood up proudly for internet freedom and privacy has suddenly kowtowed before Google and willingly handed over everything it can. It’s hard not to feel this was done in an underhanded fashion given that all attention has diverted elsewhere and with closer inspection, all Mobile decisions have gone private and behind close doors.
Google’s goal with Android was to create an ecosystem for locking people into their services. It’s about revenue. Whether this is about their search or their advertising. The current implementation of Native UI Fennec feeds into that, providing Google with more data about Firefox users than they’ve ever previously had access to. Why is Mozilla attempting to drive the Google business model and in such a nonchalant way? Were the alpha testers on the Nightly Channel informed of this? Asked if this was preferential before the change took place? No, but it was pushed through without regard of some of the core principles Mozilla has built it’s issue upon.
So now we’ve identified The Pledge being Fennec, The Turn being that Native UI Fennec will, based on current design, wisp away both privacy and freedom. I’m eager to see what The Prestige will be.
We’re yet to see any traction with Thunderbird for Android, not even a mockup. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect anything prior to the roll-out of Native UI Fennec to the masses. But it’d be nice to know if this is something Mozilla want to pursue or not.