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Mozilla sets its site on mobile standardization

Mozilla has plans to standardize mobile applications on the Web platform

By Joab Jackson, IDG News Service
October 12, 2011 05:20 PM ET

IDG News Service - After helping pave the way for platform independent websites and applications, the Mozilla Foundation has set a new, and ambitious, task for itself to standardize mobile applications on the Web platform as well, according to a talk given by its chief technology officer.

"The Mozilla vision for mobile is to have fewer silos and more hyperlinks, and more data portability," said Brendan Eich, Mozilla CTO and the creator of JavaScript, speaking Wednesday at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo in New York.

"Users should not lose their data in a data coffin, or lose it due to some terms of service or cloud accident," he said, referring to how user's data and applications are usually locked into one type of device. "You should take the apps you buy from one device to another."

The world for online mobile applications closely resembles that of the early days of the commercial Internet, Eich said, where content providers such as America Online offered a "walled garden" approach in which content and services were offered as independent services. They were accessible only by a stand-alone application on the desktop, or, later, by a specific browser, notably Internet Explorer.

Today's mobile applications are a return to this walled-garden approach, Eich told the audience. So, Mozilla has set a goal for itself to standardize mobile application development on Web standards.

While this may seem to be an ambitious effort, the effort is not unprecedented for Mozilla, Eich said. Founded in 2003 out of the ashes of Netscape, which was then controlled by AOL-Time Warner, the Mozilla Foundation set out to provide a competitive alternative to the then-dominant browser, Internet Explorer, as a way of promoting the use of company neutral standards across the Web. The mission was to "keep the Web open, interoperable and evolving, and represent the user above all else," Eich said.

Using the code from the Netscape browser, which had grown increasingly out of favor, Mozilla succeeded at this mission, namely by developing the popular Firefox browser, Eich said. "We got what we wanted. We got competition. We've gotten productive work in the standards bodies," he said. He pointed to how Microsoft's share of the browser market has declined in the years since the debut of Firefox -- and the increasing popularity of other browsers such as Apple Safari and Google Chrome.

Now, the company wants to renew this battle in the world of mobile devices, Eich said. Mozilla calls this initiative Open Web Apps. The idea behind it is that mobile applications can be written once, using the Web platform, and they then can be deployed across different mobile devices, such as an Android device or an Apple iPhone, for instance.

For developers, writing to a Web platform would save development time, because each application would only have to be written once, Eich argued. And consumers could benefit by being able to run their applications across different devices, as well as be able to access their data no matter the device or the software used.

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