Firefox OS and Browser Choice ∞
Back when I was working at Mozilla, there was quite a bit of discussion about user choice, specifically how important it is for users to be able to choose their browser. Often, this discussion was tied to the Mozilla Manifesto, point 5:
Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.
Back in February 2010 (a couple months after I left Mozilla), Mozilla launched the “Open to Choice” campaign (since shuttered), which was a great place to send individuals to show them why the ability to choose your own browser is important. The campaign was mostly tied to Microsoft’s settlement with the European Union and its requirement to offer a selection of browsers to choose from during setup. Here’s Mozilla’s then-CEO John Lilly on why browser choice matters:
(Side note: the Open to Choice campaign has been shut down and wasn’t archived, unlike most other Mozilla sites. Going to opentochoice.org leads to a bad https site, and then a 403. I would love to read the letter from John Lilly and Mitchell Baker again.)
As an iPhone user, I’m more-or-less stuck with Safari. Sure, I can find numerous browsers in the App Store, Chrome included. But the browsers in the app store are mostly just embedded version of WebKit – a limited version of WebKit at that. Why can’t I run Firefox on my iPhone? Why can’t I run a real version of Chrome? Apple has locked out browser makers by making specific requirements of the applications in the App Store and making the App Store the only way to distribute apps. Short of jailbreaking my iPhone and hoping Mozilla or Google port their respective browsers to jailbroken iPhones, there’s nothing I can do.
Prior to my iPhone, however, I had a Google Nexus One phone. One of the features of Android is the “open” Android Market and the ability to install applications from any source. Back then, I wasn’t locked in to any specific browser. In fact, I ran Firefox on my Nexus One and was quite happy with it, even back in the days of Firefox being incredibly slow on Android. The situation has gotten even better with Google shipping a version of Chrome for Android. It isn’t hard to imagine another browser running on the platform some time in the future.
Last year, in May 2012, Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s General Counsel, wrote about the lack of browser choice on Microsoft’s Windows RT, an ARM-specific operating system tailored for tablets. He conclusion is quite clear:
The prospect that the next generation of Windows on ARM devices would limit users to one browser is untenable and represents a first step toward a new platform lock-in.
But the upcoming Firefox OS, built on Mozilla technology (namely Gecko), doesn’t appear to have any browser choice (as John Gruber pointed out a couple days ago). Is this an oversight or are developers working on the ability to allow browsers to run successfully on Firefox OS? And what about Chrome OS – why hasn’t Mozilla publicly asked for browser choice from Google?
Even webOS –
Palm’s HP’s LG’s ill-fated operating system built on Linux and WebKit – had a method for porting browsers. In fact, a Mozilla developer started an experimental Firefox port a while ago. That experiment ended, likely because it isn’t important to port Firefox to a dying platform, but the point remains that it was possible.
I’ll ask again: where is the ability to select a third party browser on Firefox OS? Is this ability being planned in the future? And why has there been no advocacy against Chrome OS for its lack of browser choice? It all feels rather hypocritical to me.