opera, netscape and project goals

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.

8 thoughts on “opera, netscape and project goals”

  1. Agreed. I really don’t care what browser people use, but what I can do with the engine is important. If people want to use Opera, great. If people want to use Firefox, great. I’d rather code to standards and let people use the browser of their choice.

  2. Foxtrot, I had a look at your post on sfx, and I agree with quite a bit of it. One thing to bear in mind though is that spreadfirefox.com is a site aimed at spreading Firefox. It’s not really a place to promote Opera or other browsers.

    The point of blog post was that the promotion of other browsers is not mutually exclusive to our goals. But I still prefer Firefox, and promote that over other browsers. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect the choice of those who prefer Opera, because it’s not a bad browser, just not one that I would particularly want to use myself on a desktop PC.

  3. Good points, it’s a shame it needs to be spelled out for some people.

    As a mac user and open source fan, I think that MSFT’s utter dominance of the end-user visible sections of computing has had a really negative impact.

    Well, it’s had lots of negative impacts but one of them is that it is not enough for Macs to be really user friendly, or have sexy hardware, it’s not enough for Linux to be cheap and customisable and captial ‘F’ Free.

    No, if it doesn’t utterly destroy its competition (and in the process limit the market and kill innovation) then it’s not considered a success by people using MSFT as the measuring stick. And that immediately puts users of different software into direct competition in a way that owners of Ford and Honda cars aren’t.

    (To the other poster, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree with that spreadfirefox thing. I use a Mac, and if I discovered another Mac user still struggling with IE I’d hit them with a clue by four and point them at Safari rather than Firefox, unless they would really benefit from a specific feature e.g. web developer extension. Likewise I’d recommend Opera for small screen handhelds. Doesn’t mean I’d consider it wise to invest the time and energy needed to start Win IE users off with anything other than Firefox though)

  4. Only downside I see on this is that if AOL really sees Firefox as the way to get rid of MS, it will almost surely add IE quirks support to “avoid having millions of customers calling because their favorite web page is not displayed correctly” as mentioned somewhere else.

    SO, if AOL is really into it, it can spread another non standards compliant browser, bearing the name of open source and Firefox as its code base. Good or bad? I say bad, but that’s certainly a risk for any open source project and specially successful ones like Firefox.

  5. Percy,

    I don’t think that AOL/Netscape would be capable of doing what you say, simply because they don’t get developers to back them up on this. If they approached Mozilla.org with a request to add random proprietary IE hooks, I’m sure that Mozilla.org would tell them (in a sufficiently polite way) to screw off. Can Netscape pull this off on its own without Mozilla? No way.

    As for bearing the name of Firefox, the Firefox trademark is owned by the Mozilla Foundation. If Netscape was damaging the Firefox trademark, the Foundation would have legal recourse against them. The upshot of having the Firefox name and branding being trademarked is that no one can use them without the consent of the Foundation.

    In any case, these days Netscape is not really relevant as a browser vendor. Firefox surpassed Netscape usage months ago. I’m sure AOL is kicking itself in the rear-end right now for spinning off Mozilla completely from AOL/Netscape.

    In the end having Mozilla independent has worked out best for everyone — except Microsoft and Netscape, who have lost out big time.

  6. Very interesting post and I agree with you. But there’s even more than Opera, Moz family, KHTML family, there are all small devices which needs interoperability, the Mobile community driven by Japan (and a bit of Europe) are advocating for Web standards, because this is the only way to have functional services among the many possible devices.

    The web is not only a browser on a desktop computer.

  7. Hi Karl,

    If you read the post I linked to at the start of my blog post, you’d know that I’m well aware that the web goes beyond desktop computers. I use Opera on my Nokia 6600 daily. My blog post’s intention wasn’t to marginalise other devices, but rather to focus on why browser diversity is a good thing.

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