Archive for September 17, 2005

Microsoft vs. Mozilla: The Future of the Web

[ music | They Might Be Giants – Battle for The Planet Of The Apes ]

Don’t be fooled, Microsoft is very threatened and is not going to be caught totally off guard. They finally are taking the Web seriously. And they see Mozilla as a threat they can’t cheat out of the market. They can’t cannibalize Mozilla’s sales, because Mozilla has none. They can’t just bundle it with the OS and wait, because Mozilla’s client-side products run on everything from Windows 98 to Windows Vista betas, Linux, MacOS X, and a dozen other niche operating systems. A browser or presentation layer (XAML) tied Vista can’t compete with all of that.

So MS is going to try to take XAML and port it to their handheld OS platform (with the ever changing name), backport it to Windows XP and probably 2000, and possibly even MacOS X. It’ll never move to Linux, because MS can’t afford to legitimize Linux as a Desktop OS, they’ve already admitted it’s a serious threat to the server space. XAML brings with it Microsoft’s mindshare muscle for the legions of Windows devs that think everything MS touches is gold, and the mid-level managers who survive by making the safe choice (“No one was ever fired for buying IBM” now applies to MS for these people).

But why? Why is MS seemingly abandoning trying to make Windows the center of the Internet? They’re not. As MS always does, they’ll make sure XAML applications always run best on a Windows platform by either hindering performance or limiting the features available to ports. XAML is Microsoft’s recognition that Mozilla’s XUL and Firefox technologies can’t be out muscled. Gecko/Firefox 2.0 with Cairo-based rendering will provide exactly the type of platform MS is now building, and Gecko/Firefox is already cross platform and already eating into Microsoft’s marketshare like no one else has ever done.

Looking at what Google did with GMail and GoogleMaps, looking at what Firefox and Mozilla already provide as application platforms, and looking at how they have allowed IE to lay fallow while other competitors have grown stronger, MS realizes they have almost allowed another Netscape to happen, and they have to fight it on a technological level this time. They see what is truly possible with cross-platform web-centric APIs. It is possible to create true applications with the breadth and scope once thought only possible running natively on a client, not straddling the network like this. They see their efforts to push Windows and IE as the key platforms is still failing.

Netscape is dead, but the revolution it started is not. Microsoft once again has to play catch up, but they can’t define the rules this time, at least not yet. They have to try to steal the battlefield first, as when IE became “part” of the OS. But now the battlefield is bigger than one OS market, simply leveraging monopoly power won’t work. We can’t let them steal this battlefield. This is the new browser war, and anyone who dismisses it isn’t looking at the long term like MS is currently.

Making Firefox powerful to users is something for which Mozilla has proven itself to be very capable. The extensibility of Firefox is a great demonstration of Firefox’s potential as a great development platform too. Mozilla’s new goal is to make Firefox easy for users, and attractive to developers without falling into the same trap as the Suite. We’ll see if they can do it.

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