Mozilla is facing an uncertain future. Its problem: basing a business (even a non-profit one) on being the alternative to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is no longer sensible, given that Apple and Google are now doing this too, and even Microsoft is now investing in HTML 5. I discussed these issues in more detail here.
So what is Mozilla to do? Mozilla Chair Mitchell Baker has posted about a possible new approach, based on being the alternative to Apple for apps. She lists some of the problems with the current “app experience”. Apps are device-specific, require permission at many levels, and a few App Store owners (mainly Apple but also Google) control the business model and customer relationships.
Mozilla is proposing what I presume is a new app platform, which will be cross-platform and cross-device. Instead of discovering apps in a single app store, she envisages multiple providers and the ability to find apps in the same way we find web content.
In other words, if the old Mozilla was about freedom from Microsoft and allowing web technology to progress, the new Mozilla might be about freedom from Apple and allowing app technology to progress.
It is a bold vision and one that in principle would be welcome. That said, Mozilla cannot change the control Apple has over its platform, and its insistence that apps are installed only through its own App Store. Maybe she has in mind a cross-platform toolkit, or browser-based apps, or some combination.
Another snag is that whereas there was widespread dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer back in 2004 when Firefox was launched, this is not the case with Apple and its app platform today. Apple’s App Store system undoubtedly has a dark side, but the user experience is good and developers are making money, some of them at least. Apple’s control over app installation and the constraints imposed on what apps can do are also good for security.
Nevertheless, having looked at a number of cross-platform mobile toolkits, from PhoneGap to Appcelerator Titanium to Adobe AIR, I can see both the significance of this kind of development and that there is plenty of scope for improvement.