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Mozilla's Nightingale: Why Firefox Still Matters 260

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the greenspun's-tenth-browser dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Mozilla could be heading into an open confrontation with its rivals Google, Apple and Microsoft as browsers evolve into platforms. Mozilla's director of Firefox engineering John Nightingale gave some insight on the past, present, and future of Mozilla and outlined why Firefox still matters. While Mozilla is accused of copying features from other browsers, the company says the opposite is the case. Nightingale says that a future Firefox will give a user much more control over what he does on the Internet and that Mozilla plans on competing with the ideal of an open web against siloed environments." Chrome may have a nice interface and be a bit faster than Firefox's rendering engine, but if Firefox failed as a project I'd miss its Emacs-like extensibility (something all other browsers lack).
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Mozilla's Nightingale: Why Firefox Still Matters

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  • by zget (2395308) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:26PM (#37034686)
    Firefox matters because it's once again the only open source browser that goes by standards instead of doing whatever they want. Chrome was there for a long time, but now immediately when they started to gain some market share Google decided to do what Microsoft did in the 90's and start implementing their own features and not documenting them good enough for others to implement. Then they went on and created websites that only work with Chrome [thewildern...wntown.com]. I have no idea why and when Google started acting like the new douche bag in town, but it's finally happening. And things were going so well for web designers now that Microsoft picked up their act and made IE9 standards compliant and HTML5 capable..
    • by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:40PM (#37034886)

      ...is to make a version of Firefox that is essentially a fat client for web applications.

      Think client server architecture, but the client is generic and provides complete access to the OS GUI API, robust security and complete control of the app.

      No more alphabet soup of languages, syntax and extensions to provide a real GUI interface. They could even leverage AJAX to eliminate the fucking PostBacks.

      Of course it will all end up in some standards committee, get raped by Microsoft and finally killed as everyone rewrites the apps yet again to support I.E. 23.

      • Java WebStart + SWT.

      • by SiMac (409541)

        That was what XUL and XPCOM were for. XULRunner [mozilla.org] is still a very respectable development environment. (The Firefox and Thunderbird UIs code is written almost exclusively in XUL/JavaScript.) Unfortunately, while these technologies have been around for quite a while, they haven't really taken off beyond Mozilla's apps. Up until recently, it was still possible to load XUL from a remote site and get an interface with native widgets, but no longer.

        • It's actually kind of a shame that XUL didn't take off... What I'd love to have is a remote hosted version of Thunderbird... I have my tbird profile sync via DropBox now, but when I forget to close it on one computer, it really mucks things up. I have several IMAP accounts which aren't so bad, it's the 2-3 NNTP accounts that are the problem...
          • by BitZtream (692029)

            Do you have any idea how incredibly retarded it is to synchronize an imap cache and nntp cache via dropbox?

            imap and nntp are MADE to keep you in sync across multiple clients on a per message basis, dropbox is designed sync files that it considers binary blobs.

        • by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @02:50PM (#37036422)

          XULRunner didn't take off because of a couple things.

          Its just too much of a bitch to get started. Its not hard, its just slow and tedious as you spend 90% of your time googling and pulling in bits of information from all over the web in order to finally get a working XULRunner package. The Mozilla documentation is out of date, in multiple ways. You can see that some bits have been updated, but they aren't current, just newer than some other things. Never can you find any current documentation, unless you consider poor people stumbling through it and sharing their work on newsgroups to be documentation. I certainly don't.

          Too fat. Simple apps take too much. Too much of a download for something simple. In theory you only need it once for all apps but ... see below.

          Bad integration with the OS due to chaotic API. The API is constantly in massive flux, you can pretty much rest assured that any moderately complex app is going to have hacks for EVERY damn version of XULRunner, FORGET supporting nightly builds, you might be able to bounce off an installed firefox or thunderbird installation, which limits the number of releases you're trying to hit, but there are still far too many to cope with, so that means ... you ship your XULRunner app with a known good XULRunner. Hope the user doesn't update it to fix security issues!

          Because of the above, getting an xulrunner package to download and double click to run doesn't work for crap if the user tries to use another one as well, unless maybe you're doing in house apps that share the same XULRunner version compatibilities. Good luck with that, we found that two internal teams working on seperate based XULRunner apps couldn't/wouldn't keep themselves in sync just cause it wasn't work it. Should they waste several hours of time validating code every time someone wants to bump to a newer version of XULRunner for some feature, or ship another 20-60 megs of course instead? Well, the only intelligent choice at face value is to waste disk space since its not an immediate cost.

          The update mechanism is a couple clusterfuck as well, thanks to various bits of half implemented features.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        ...access to the OS GUI API...

        No more alphabet soup of languages, syntax and extensions to provide a real GUI interface. They could even leverage AJAX...

        Sorry, I accidentally cut off your post and emphasized what I thought was great fun.

        I'm a fan of JavaScript and asynchronicity (not a word? It should be), but to say "no more alphabet soup", then go on to mention AJAX and GU[Interface] while previously spouting out OS GUI API just made me chuckle.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        They could even leverage AJAX to eliminate the fucking PostBacks.

        ... welcome to 3 years ago for every major web development toolkit on the planet

      • Monday's XKCD strip (https://www.xkcd.com/934/) had a joke about how modern browsers are recapitulating the history of window managing. And while it's funny, I think this whole idea of rethinking the browser misses the point that the browser was the "unthinked" platform,

        The web wasn't thought as an application platform, but as a document store. It turned out that some simple forms and parameterised queries was all that was required to make applications out of pages. My point is that the beauty of web applic

    • I hadn't heard that site was violating any standards. From what I understand, Chrome has implemented a set of HTML5 features different from the set some other browsers have implemented, and occasionally the implementations clash because the standard is evolving and not fully defined.
    • by BenoitRen (998927)

      The douchebag behaviour started earlier than you may think. They do plenty of user agent sniffing on their services. For example, their reverse image search is a simple file upload to use, yet they sniff for it. Got SeaMonkey (even the latest)? Doesn't work. Firefox 2.0? Not good enough. Firefox 3.0? Still not good enough. Firefox 3.5? Nope. Firefox 3.6? Now we're talking.

      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        You say "simple file upload" as if it was easy. HTML5 allows you to do drag'n drop file uploads, but it requires a very recent browser, hence the user-agent sniffing. Older browsers get the old "Choose file" button upload method.

        • by BenoitRen (998927)

          Older browsers get the old "Choose file" button upload method.

          That's what I was referring to. Older or unknown web browsers don't even get that thanks to user agent sniffing.

    • Firefox matters because it's once again the only open source browser that goes by standards instead of doing whatever they want.

      Yes, because as we all know, the ever changing UI and Addons/Extensions are squarely in the realm of "standards".

    • by icebike (68054)

      Little one sided don't you think?

      That you can find an obscure site that works only in a specific browser, means nothing. What about all the Firefox specific pages out there? Or the addons that ONLY work with Firefox? [switched.com]

      Then there is that pesky Chrome License which is, - wait, MORE permissive [google.com] than Firefox's!!!

      The site you mention was NOT written by google contrary to your assertion. And Chrome is open source [google.com].

      I have no problem with browsers stealing features from one another as Nightingale seems to lament. I

      • by daenris (892027)
        The website has a link back to Google right at the bottom that says "made with some friends from Google" so I'm assuming that Google did, in fact, have a hand in crafting that site.
    • by BitZtream (692029)

      So chrome(ium) isn't open because someone made some chrome specific websites?

      Its not open because it has its own special features?

      By that definition, neither is Firefox then, I can think of plenty of websites that look like shit in browsers other than firefox. I can also remember when firefox basically took IEs place as far as having websites labeled 'looks best in firefox'. 'looks best in a standards compliant browser' would be one thing, but thats not what gets said.

      I can think of plenty of firefox spec

  • by unity100 (970058) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:30PM (#37034742) Homepage Journal
    Isnt what ALL browsers did up to this point ? why any idiot dares criticize any browser outfit for this ?
    • I don't get why they bullshit about it though. I mean look at Google Chrome, tabs each being separate process, plug-ins being a zygote process, a single bar for search and awesomebar functions, and the new tab screen is godly. Mozilla copied the separate plug-ins and processes (failing at it for a couple years), has run Mozilla Labs stuff recently for the single bar and the new tab screen to mimic Google Chrome... it's even gotten rid of the menu bar in a mimicry of Google Chrome. Then they claim that ot
    • by icebike (68054)

      My sentiments exactly.

      If they weren't copying features how could they claim standardization? He really can't have it both ways.

      The four mainstream browser engines all have pretty much the same customer-facing capabilities. They differ in the back ends.

      Is that such a bad idea? Perhaps Mr Nightingale would want Ford to use a joy stick instead of copying every one else's steering wheel, and floor pedals? Maybe elevators should respond to foot stomping rather than have buttons? Voice command of camera's in

    • by NotBorg (829820)

      On one hand we have Slashdot saying "SOFTWARE PATENTS ARE BAD [because copying is good]" and the other "COPYING IDEAS IS BAD [if it's from a major competitor]."

      This fear of taking good ideas from your competitors is a bit silly. I really hate it when developers prioritize being different from their competitors above everything else. They go to great lengths to be different than previous versions or their competitors and then justify it after the fact claiming it's somehow better for the user. If you hav

  • Education (Score:4, Insightful)

    by i.r.id10t (595143) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:32PM (#37034760)

    It is also usually the only browser many learning management systems like Angel support other than Internet Explorer ..

    • Crap software should not determine your browser choice. You should just stop using crap. I used Chrome with a faked user agent when I had to use Angel, and only used IE for file uploads (FF wasn't supported a couple years ago either).
    • I'm proud to say that the LMS I designed and developed doesn't bother with browser sniffing. The Javascript UI toolkit I used does in fact feed different markup (mostly classes and styles) to different browsers, but the end result looks the same and I didn't have to do anything extra. There's no reason an LMS needs to support a subset of browsers, even my Javascript-only AJAX-heavy beast of an LMS works in everything from IE6 to Opera 11. An LMS isn't doing anything mindblowing that only one or two brows

      • by Nimey (114278)

        You said it. We switched to Angel from Blackboard 3-4 years ago and will be switching to something else.

        OTOH the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, quite often because there's more bullshit over there.

  • Platforms (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danbuter (2019760) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:33PM (#37034778)
    I don't need my web browser to be a full platform. I need it to be a web browser. I wish these guys would figure that out.
    • Re:Platforms (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:58PM (#37035120)

      It's pretty bizarre what some people are saying is desired. Supposedly we're all going to ditch our desktops for mobiles, and we're going to ditch our applications for browser applications. And yet, so many people simply don't want that, and bitch about how unimaginably it sucks, whenever they try it.

      The very idea of leaving a comment on Slashdot without a keyboard is laughable (yes, you can do it, but it's painful compared to "old" tech), as is the idea of seriously editing any sort of text (whether it's code or Google Docs' word processor) in any browser, or (best of all) editing in a mobile browser.

      I guess they think that if they keep on repeating these silly ideas, people will get used to how much the future is going to suck compared to 2011, and they'll accept it. The problem with that, is that anyone who doesn't buy into the bullshit, is going to be at such a competitive advantage with those who do, that there will be constant pressure to restore the desktop. How can anyone really think the do-everything-in-browser and do-everything-on-mobile prophecies have what it takes to be self-fulfilling?

  • There are too many links in this summary. I don't want to hunt around for 5 minutes trying to find the correct article.
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:38PM (#37034856)

    It's Open Source. Unimportant to the apathetic, however it is a factor which will become more important as corporations increase their role in governments.

    • Chromium is open-source, which is what Chrome is built upon. I haven't paid close enough attention to know the differences between Chromium and Chrome, though.

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:39PM (#37034872)

    Chrome may have a nice interface and be a bit faster than Firefox's rendering engine,but if Firefox failed as a project I'd miss its Emacs-like extensibility (something all other browsers lack).

    -1 Flamebait - emacs vs. vi. :)

    However, I have to tip my hat for cleverly bringing up emacs in an article about browsers. Or, wait, is emacs a browser now? Wouldn't surprise me in the least.

  • Noscript (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Holammer (1217422) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:46PM (#37034972)
    Noscript is the #1 feature why I'm using Firefox. I suspect a lot of medium to advanced users desire its functionality.
  • I find it funny that every time there's a discussion about browsers, most articles won't even mention Opera.

    • Opera's not an elephant. It's more of a mouse.
      • It's a mouse that thinks it's an elephant. When you ignore it, it gets REALLY pissed off and starts smashing over floor splinters with its whiskers.

    • I find it funny that every time there's a discussion about browsers, most articles won't even mention Opera.

      That's ok, because there is always an Opera user who will point out that even though few use it.

    • My only exposure to Opera is on the Wii. Not impressed with Wii version.
    • I know! And what about Lynx? Every time there's a discussion about browsers nobody mentions MY pet browser that has a microscopic market share even among geeks. How offensive!

  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:50PM (#37035014)
    ... if Firefox's new and unnecessary rapid development cycle renders plug-ins invalid every three months, and the plug-in developers choose not to participate in Firefox's inane rapid development cycle. I, a Firefox user, am left with an egregious choice of keeping the browser secure by jumping on the rapid development cycle bandwagon, or using the plug-ins I want to use by skipping the security updates embedded in the rapid development cycle.

    .
    All in the name of inflating the ego of some developers who are in a testosterone-enabled development war with other browser developers.

    • Are you under the impression that the trunk does not receive security updates?

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        No, he's under the impression that plugin developers who don't want to follow the public release cycle almost certainly aren't going to follow trunk, since will, the obvious fact that they'd be following the public release cycle if they were following trunk. Not everyone spends their entire life tracking someone elses chaotic mess of a code base, no matter how much they want to use the product.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ... if Firefox's new and unnecessary rapid development cycle renders plug-ins invalid every three months, and the plug-in developers choose not to participate in Firefox's inane rapid development cycle. I, a Firefox user, am left with an egregious choice of keeping the browser secure by jumping on the rapid development cycle bandwagon, or using the plug-ins I want to use by skipping the security updates embedded in the rapid development cycle.

      .

      All in the name of inflating the ego of some developers who are in a testosterone-enabled development war with other browser developers.

      How on earth does this nonsense get moded "Insightful"?

      Three years ago, I fixed a bug in Firefox. It took two years before the fix was in a widely used version. By that time, all the sites that put in a hack to work around the bug forgot why the hack was there, and the hacks had to be supported by browsers forever. With a six week release cycle, the fix will take six weeks to get to a beta, and another six weeks to get to stable. Twelve weeks from fix to release means more users have a browser with few

  • ..when it gets rid of all the bloat. If the Mozilla foundation isn't willing to streamline the Firefox codebase they should release a stripped-down no frills version. They can call it something like Phoenix or Firebird to distinguish it from Firefox.
    • by Gordo_1 (256312) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @01:57PM (#37035732)

      Honestly, i don't get this complaint. The belief that Firefox has progressively gotten slower and more bloated over the years is an outright falsehood that keeps getting recycled over and over again on Slashdot and elsewhere. Go ahead and install Firebird 0.7, Firefox 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0, then explain to me where you believe the bloat has crept in... Yes Firefox 4.0 is more feature-rich than previous versions, but if you don't want to use things like sync, you don't have to use them. With a clean comparable profile, each successive Ffx release has delivered some combination of:

      * greater stability
      * better memory management
      * faster javascript
      * faster DOM rendering
      * faster startup time
      * support for new standards/technologies

      Frankly, I don't think anyone remembers how rough around the edges Firebird was, because it was comparatively so much better than it's only real competition at the time (IE6).

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Just curious, have you ever actually used Firefox ... or maybe have you never used anything OTHER than Firefox?

        New technology support? Sure, I'll give you that one. Faster javascript, yea, thats true ... thanks to Macromedia/Adobe, not really Mozilla's doing though. ... the rest of them? No way, flat out false statements that aren't true in this dimesion. It may occasionally become 'stable' ... relatively, but that comes and goes, it most certainly has not gotten better at memory management. Just becau

    • Really? Bloated? Browser speed might have mattered back in the 90s, but I'll take that Firefox just works over a nanosecond improvement in page loading any day of the week, thanks. I mean Google are aware that basic off the shelf hardware can run 3D FPS MMORPGs without blinking, right? What web page do they imagine will beat that for a system hog? For a marketing company they didn't pick a very good selling point.

      And then we get to the way chrome breaks a lot of websites. Who would have guessed that strippi

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:57PM (#37035108)

    The closest thing you can get to NoScript on Chrome is NotScripts. And I'm sorry but that sucks ass by comparison.

  • 1- make it not crash: I've got Chrome, IE 9, Opera, and Firefox. Firefox is the only browser that can't go a day without crashing.
    2- make it work without addons: Firefox code don't run too well... but it still runs better than addons, and addons create headaches at upgrade time. So, instead of dreaming up a cloud-based quasi OS with a laundry list of sci-fi features, how about they just put mouse gestures, ad blocking... in it ? You know, as if it were a browser ?

    I'm getting the same vibe from Firefox as I

    • I guess it depends on your workload. Opera freezes up on me a few times each month. Luckily just one thread keeps spinning so I can easily shut it down on my dual-core machine. CHrome/FF/IE have all been stable for me...

  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @12:59PM (#37035142) Journal

    Try UZBL. It's rendering engine is based on WebKit, and all other features are provided by scripts. You can customize it in any way you want.

  • Chrome may have a nice interface and WebKit may be a bit faster than Firefox's rendering engine, Gecko [mozilla.org] , but if Firefox failed as a project I'd miss its Emacs-like extensibility (something all other browsers lack).

    TFTFY. Seriously, how do you publish a story about browsers and get stuff like this wrong, or use such confusing language? And I don't want to get into another pissing contest between WebKit and Gecko, but do we really need a shout-out to Chrome in a Firefox story just to placate the /. users that prefer it? While we're at it, why such a dismal outlook on Firefox's future? It's not becoming a niche browser any time soon; anyone see concrete signs of that happening? Even if it did, I'm sure Mozilla will

  • Let's also not forget that Google has been paying for Firefox development for years. If Google pulls out in favor of Chrome, you have to ask what will happen.

    Mozilla, the organization behind the popular Firefox web browser, has extended its search deal with Google for another three years. In return for setting Google as the default search engine on Firefox, Google pays Mozilla a substantial sum – in 2006 the total amounted to around $57 million, or 85% of the company’s total revenue . The deal

    • Re:Money from Google (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BZ (40346) on Tuesday August 09, 2011 @01:37PM (#37035518)

      > If Google pulls out in favor of Chrome, you have to
      > ask what will happen.

      You can ask... or you could look up the answers.

      The 2010 data is not out yet, but the 2009 numbers are at http://www.mozilla.org/foundation/documents/mf-2009-audited-financial-statement.pdf [mozilla.org] which means you don't have to worry about citing 2006 numbers.

      As of 2009, Mozilla had $120 million in net assets. Expenses in 2009 were $61 million. Revenues were $104 million. They were hiring as fast as they could find good people, and earning more money than they could spend. They had 2 years worth of operating costs in the bank. All of this is public data, as it is for any other nonprofit.

      So if trends continued in that revenue and expenses grew at the same percentage rate, and if you assume that Google is still 85% of their revenue stream (the data on that doesn't seem to be available), what would happen if Google pulled out is that Mozilla would have about 2.3 years to find funding sources to replace that revenue. Assuming they kept spending as much as they do now in the meantime instead of trying to stretch the money out.

      On the other hand, you also have to wonder what the bottom line for Google would be from 20-30% of internet users not having Google as the default search engine anymore, say. And if that were a possibility, why Google would want to risk that.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        On the other hand, you also have to wonder what the bottom line for Google would be from 20-30% of internet users not having Google as the default search engine anymore, say. And if that were a possibility, why Google would want to risk that.

        Of course they don't want to lose 20-30% of the search market. But a lot of people speculate that Google has been propping up Mozilla, paying them a lot more than strictly necessary so that they can fight IE and Bing on Google's behalf. With Chrome Google is now taking that competition directly, possibly only paying Mozilla the barest minimum that's commercially necessary. Let's say Google now offers Mozilla a pittance, what are the alternatives? Well the closest alternative would be Microsoft, who now powe

        • by danlip (737336)

          change browser rather than change search engine

          We are only talking about the default search engine, not being forced to use a certain search engine, so everyone with clue would just change the search engine back to Google (and complain loudly on Slashdot). Only the clueless would keep using the default search engine, and those people wouldn't be switching browsers anyway (likely they're still using IE).

  • Honest question. I know little about the source code of both projects, but Chrome does have extensions (I know b/c I use a lot of them) and is based on an open-source product, making it very hackable. So in what way is Firefox extensible that Chrome isn't?

  • Was I the only person who read the headline and briefly mistook "Mozilla's Nightingale" for the name of yet another project they were starting up?

    I'm sure Bob Seamonkey and Jill Firefox can sympathise.
  • Anyone else feel that the last decade control has been taken out of the hands of developers, in return for a big increase in compatibility headaches? I personally feel as if I'm being taken hostage by all these new environments. I cannot even have the guarantee that the javascript/HTML code I write now will still work in 1 year from now. This is of course ridiculous and completely contrary to the idea that technology should improve our lives as developers. And I think it cannot continue in this way.

    The main

  • Er.... all browsers I know of allow you to write extensions. And Chrome's extension system is arguably vastly superior to Firefox's in almost every single way, from overall speed to not having to restart your browser to seamless synchronization to superior forward compatibility to everything else.

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