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What Firefox should do

Sunday, March 22, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A picture named pupInPot.jpgIt's likely that this post will provoke another flame from Mozilla-land, so in anticipation, let me explain that my ideas aren't special.  Permalink to this paragraph

I started writing publicly about ideas I can't implement myself a very long time ago, starting with a piece I wrote for an Apple newsletter in the mid-80s wondering what a computer that was built into a car might look like. Later, I put these ideas on products, like UserLand IAC Toolkit, where I thought it would be great if databases, graphics programs, comm apps, etc all had programming interfaces so we could create scripts that used them as toolkits. I wanted to see the combination of the command line and the GUI, and thought the Macintosh was the place to do it. Permalink to this paragraph

I remember very clearly where I was when I realized that I could publish these things on my own, not as part of someone else's newsletter, or waiting for a product to ship, that with just a website, I could share ideas that I couldn't implement, in the hope that they could help move things forward faster. That's where the archive starts, and the first such piece was an outline of how Apple and IBM could cooperate on Mac OS, in 1994. Since then I've done it many times. Permalink to this paragraph

This has earned me a lot of ire in the tech world, I never understood why -- my missives are usually ignored, proving that no one has to listen. But I've heard from friendly people inside the BigCos who explain that this is the reason I don't get invited to their conferences or press events. Apparently they're scared of something. Too bad, cause I really am harmless. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

Anyway, the pushback I got from Mozilla (and I say it was from Mozilla because no one else from the company said anything publicly to contradict what Mr Dotzler said) was: "We don't want to hear from you." He said it with more vigor and more detail. That's okay Mr. Dotzler but you don't get a say in whether I speak or not, because there are other users, and other browser-makers, and I like to leave milestones so in case I was right I get to gloat (and if I'm wrong others get proof that I'm stupid). I find the discussion itself useful, often when people disagree they show me things I hadn't considered, and that kind of learning is precious. But of course no one has to listen.  Permalink to this paragraph

Anyway, enough preamble. Permalink to this paragraph

Here's the problem not just with Firefox but with browsers in general. Permalink to this paragraph

Their evolution was deformed by Microsoft's "strategy tax." Permalink to this paragraph

That is, browsers are not allowed to compete with two Microsoft cash cows: Office and Windows.  Permalink to this paragraph

Who said this was so? Well, Microsoft did. And since they had a monopoly in browsers for a very important period in the growth of the web, this became an unwritten rule, an assumption that no one challenges. People roll their eyes when you say that the web should evolve to become a spreadsheet, email program, graphics app, or whatever. But that doesn't mean it's wrong. I've seen plenty of people roll their eyes at ideas that eventually became booms. Like PCs, and blogs, and on and on. Permalink to this paragraph

But in fact, even though that's the unwritten rule -- the web has evolved in those directions. The problem is, in doing so, the web which was wonderful for its View-Source simplicity, became a Tower of Babel that you need a degree in rocket science to program for. This both wrong and unnecessary. Permalink to this paragraph

For an example of how ridiculous it has become, why is it that we have to install a plug-in to view a video on YouTube? Why can't the browser do that on its own?  Permalink to this paragraph

Another example. I have a two-level expand-collapse display on my blog. I'm one of very few blogs that has this. Why? It was a pain in the ass to program. And it's only two levels. Why isn't this something the browser can do with no programming. Let me mark up my text to indicate a hierarchy and give me (the author) or the user the option to browse it in an outline. Permalink to this paragraph

I think you get the idea. We're stuck -- on the one hand simple stuff is still simple, I can produce a 1995-era web page exactly the same way I did in 1995 and it still works. Thank gods for that. But if I want to use the latest UI techniques I either have to master the art, and it's not easy to master, or hire someone to do it and then the idea suffers in translation, and is only open to people who can afford to hire programming help. Permalink to this paragraph

Firefox, or any other browser, could blast right through this. Permalink to this paragraph

And it is especially important that Firefox hear this, because in my gut -- I have to believe that Google understands this, because they have people whose job it is to make spreadsheets, word processing, mail, maps, calendars, etc work better in the browser. When they meet with people on the Chrome team, I'd bet anything they ask for special features in the browser. And why shouldn't the Chrome guys give them what they want? It would make their apps more efficient and potentially more beautiful and easier to use. This is something every user would love.  Permalink to this paragraph

So that's my rant for the day. Permalink to this paragraph

Asa, have a great time telling everyone that I'm an unappreciative fuck. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.


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