Most people know that I’m a loyal Firefox user. Some people know that I’m also a loyal Opera user. Why do I mention this, you ask.
There has been a fair amount of Opera-bashing within the Firefox community, and an equal amount of Firefox-bashing in the Opera community. Now with Netscape doing an about turn and adopting Firefox/Mozilla as a codebase again, lots of people are bashing Netscape and questioning their motives and wondering what the point is of Netscape doing all this work when Firefox is already there.
I’m going to ask two questions:
1) What’s good for the web?
2) What am I looking for in a browser?
From the point of view of the first question, having all these alternative browsers around is an excellent thing because it drives adoption of standards compliant user agents. I only care that Netscape is releasing a new version based on Firefox insofar as it will drive adoption of Gecko based user agents. This is a good thing. Opera is our ally here. KHTML (and Safari) are our allies here.
In the end, an open web is good for everyone (except for the monopoly who lost out on monopolising the web with polluted ‘standards’). The more standards compliant user agents we have out there that don’t support proprietary technologies, the less people we will see relying on utilising those technologies for their services, and the more accessible the internet is for everyone. Driving adoption of open standards is the most important goal of the Mozilla Foundation (as I see it). Firefox is merely a tool that’s used to fight that war.
So onto the second question. To fight that war you need good weapons. Firefox is such a weapon. In order to get normal users to help you win your war you need to get them to care about it. The problem is that you can’t (and will never be able to) get normal users to care about web standards. You have to give them some other incentives. This is where Firefox really shines, because it offers incentives that most internet users can relate to. That’s why it’s so popular. And that’s why it’s such an effective tool. Presumably Opera’s goals are to turn a profit, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be an ally in creating an open web. Netscape falls under a similar category. Whatever people think about their settlement with Microsoft, and how they treated Mozilla, there is no doubt that driving adoption of Gecko based user agents is a good thing.
Different people want different things out of a browser. As many who use the Mozilla Suite will attest, Firefox is not the right browser for everyone. But that doesn’t matter. When there are alternatives like the Mozilla Suite, Opera, KHTML, Safari, et al., browsers have to compete on features, which is good. Better browsers means better productivity and happier users. If standards compliant user agents can offer this (and today they are), then we can use them as tools to get the average user to help us bring our goal of an open web to fruition.