Friday, April 22, 2011

Firefox4 & the future of the Web

Firefox4 was released last month. It has been downloaded more than 57 million times since its release from all over the world. The release has been successful so far, but it seems not to be easy to compete the other browsers as much as before. In this post, I am going to talk about new features of Firefox4 , the reason why using Firefox is important, and the task of remaining competitive as a community supported browser.

New features of Firefox4
First, let’s take a look at the new features of Firefox4[1].

App Tabs & Panorama

How many tabs are you opening when using Firefox? In my case, I open more than 10 tabs, so it is very difficult to find the page I want to see easily. App Tabs & Panorama help you organize so many tabs. In more detail, App tabs are a kind of tab, but these tabs are located in the left side of the tab area, which just display its icon without the title. So it allows users to place more tabs in the tab area. The difference compared to normal tabs is that these tabs can be shown after the browser restarts. If you open Facebook, Twitter, and GMail as App Tabs, you don’t need to open those web pages again. In the case of Panorama, relevant tabs can be group together as you see the above figure. It helps the user find a tab more easily. In addition, you can move tabs among groups by drag & drop.

WebGL

WebGL brings 3D graphics to Firefox, which allows for developers to create 3D games and 3D UI for the Web. This link introduces several WebGL demos running on Firefox4, so you can imagine how the Web would change in the future.

In addition, Firefox4 introduces a lot of new technologies for Web developer:
  • J├ĄgerMonkey JavaScript engine : This is a new JavaScript Engine that replaced TraceMonkey, which allows JavaScript to run faster.
  • WebM Support: WebM is an open source, free royalties video codec open by Google. It allows people to author and distribute their own video without paying any royalties.
  • HTML5 Parser: This allows the browser to parse HTML content in the same way, even if the content has errors.
  • IndexDB: This is the Web standard for database.
  • More File APIs: It allows to upload files more easily.
  • Audio API: It allows to process audio streams for mixing and equalizing.
  • Multi Touch: Multi touch is supported by Windows7.
  • Web Console: This allows developers to check the content loading status from the console window.
For detailed information on the new features, take a look at the following page:
http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/features/

Why Firefox?
Do you remember the dark age of the Web? After the browser war[2] between Internet Explorer and Netscape was over in the 1990s, Internet explorer came to have more than 95% of the market share by 2002. As a result, nobody had cared about innovation in web browsers; until 2006 there was only one new version of Internet Explorer since version 6.0 was released in 2001. IT experts call this period of time the dark age of the Web, because there was no alternative browser for Internet Explorer. As a result, many web sites were dependent on Microsoft’s proprietary technology, like ActiveX control. Firefox was created to give back the Web to people by breaking the dark age like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.

Now, nobody dominates the Web because Mozilla has been doing well to develop the Web using open technology and in the standard way by HTML5, CSS3, SVG, free codec, etc. This means that there should be no barriers to see Web contents from any browser on any platform. However, there are still threats from big companies. They could control the Web in their own way if they surpass the other browsers. ActiveX control issue in Korea is a well known example. Therefore, we have to be interested in spreading Firefox and keeping the Open Web.[3]

Future of Firefox
Open competition makes the Web innovate faster than before. Actually, Firefox has a unique position in the browser market. It is an open source project and has lead to innovate the Web technology. However, Google Chrome also strongly has lead the Web innovation, which supports the multiple process model and the Web technology based add-ons. Additionally, it is an open source project and their development process is open like Firefox, so anyone can be involved the development. In the mobile market, the situation is worse. Apple doesn’t allow users to run Firefox on the iOS because Firefox can be an application platform itself. Another problem is that Firefox for Android is not popular yet.

Well, how does Mozilla overcome this situation? Mozilla is trying to move the development focus from platform to product. In addition, they are preparing the Mozilla2 project which is a future platform for Firefox. It allows us to open each web page and add-on using a separate process. In my opinion, Mozilla should release Firefox for iPhone based on WebKit, because offering the same experience is more important than being addicted to the Mozilla platform.

Firefox is not just a web browser but provides a way to see the world and meet people. If we access the Web through decentralized tools like Firefox, nobody can control the Web, allowing everyone to use the Web equally without any restrictions.

References
[1] http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/features/
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Browser_wars#The_first_browser_war
[3] http://blog.lizardwrangler.com/2009/09/16/describing-the-open-web/