Mozilla recently announced that going forward, they’d put no more resources into Thunderbird and the pre-announcement caused a huge furore. Within the furore popped up the line “B2G is the #1 major strategic priority for Mozilla”. However, the question that it raised was whether or not Mozilla actually have a strategy?
Whether or not B2G or as it’s been renamed Firefox OS can be successful aside, the biggest question here is what exactly is it that B2G brings to the table? Yes we know that Mozilla envision a future where users opt for open web apps over their native counterparts and we’ve all seen how that stands up. But given how Thunderbird was downgraded to community development rather than having its focus shifted to Android where it can become a natural huge success. You would be forgiven for wondering just what the bigger picture is.
Mozilla hasn’t even managed to make the Nightly download page hand-held friendly and again hasn’t done so with Bugzilla, so why should everyone else cement their vision for them? On the other hand Mozilla could’ve gone about this whole utopic world of open web apps differently. Mozilla’s aspirations aside, users enjoy installing apps. To the point that the topic of apps has embedded itself into the social interactions of the many. You only need to look at the successes of Instagram and Draw Something for proof of that. So why is it that the number one strategic priority for Mozilla the hope that users will say “hey let me not go for the most popular phones running the most popular operating system that all my friends and colleagues talk about and instead opt for relatively inconsequential phone manufacterers who opted to create a phone that runs software which is failing to attract users in their primary area of business”.
A companies number one strategic priority should uplift the various other company products. It should improve the company as a whole and all that falls under it. Firefox OS doesn’t do that. Firefox OS ships with an email client that actually took nothing from nor added anything to Thunderbird. Thunderbird isn’t quite innocent in all this though. It in itself didn’t have much portability in terms of it’s code. It’s not written in web technologies or namely XUL like how Firefox is and quite frankly… that’s a problem.
But again, I can’t help but question the actual strategy or goal of Mozilla’s number one strategic priority. For example, let’s say that their new number one strategic priority actually made sense in regards to growing the Mozilla community beyond that of which Blackberry and even the monolithic Microsoft have so elegantly failed to do. Let’s say that their was a clear vision and that vision was write-once, run everywhere. That would be a strategic decision. In fact that could even later tie in with launching an OS. After all, when you have several popular large apps running on your platform, users and vendors stand up and take notice. Or at least that would be the goal, though it’s not really working with Chrome OS right now. But it’s certainly strategic. A Thunderbird written in web technologies that can run on desktop, tablet and smartphone. The same Thunderbird, that along with Firefox that can be packaged with Firefox OS.
Speaking via numbers. Mozilla aren’t a financial powerhouse. They don’t the clout of Google or Apple and so there’s a limit to what they can achieve. Mozilla is an organisation that can’t even get Apple to allow them to run Gecko on iOS and yet the the plan of a Firefox OS somehow won out over smaller baby-steps. Baby-steps that would bring various developers closer to Mozilla and the code-base and potentially force them to re-embrace Firefox thanks to enjoying the ease of the platform to the point that patches trickle into the tree in an attempt to improve the platform and/or the browser. And what about the various end users who begin to acclimatise to ‘The Mozilla way”, the user experience designed for them by Mozilla and the familiarity they get from it. Well of course, those users would organically take a look at other Mozilla products. But those users are not going to give up fully featured phones full of patented gimmicks they want to play with and use for the sparse Firefox OS.
And talking of gimmicks and a Firefox operating system that isn’t Firefox OS. What would’ve been a far more interesting presentation than that of B2G would’ve been Android having Webkit/Chrome ripped out and replaced with Gecko/Firefox. Hey it could’ve even been done on the CyanogenMod tree and could’ve been called something along the lines of FiregenMod or CyanogenFox. With all the publicity that CyanogenMod receives on the various tech sites and the embrace they’ve received from Samsung and Sony. I feel this would’ve actually provided them with an opportunity to be seen on a special edition top-tier phone. Well more top tier than the recently negatively publicised ZTE anyway.
As things currently stand, Mozilla are ploughing resources into a project that has no traction in the real world. Developers won’t leave Android or iOS because that’s where the money is. That’s where the consumers are. Consumers won’t leave because that’s where the apps and their friends are and manufacturers will continue to churn out their best products for whatever operating system will provide them the greatest number of users. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for B2G, in fact it’s so dark that Mozilla aren’t even sure of whether it is a tunnel or not. But they’ve decided to pin their hopes on Firefox OS rather than actually get involved in something that matters. I’d argue that Mozilla simply don’t get it and that’s a shame. A real shame as they’ve taken a chance to entrench their relevance in modern day lives and thrown it to the wind.