Mozilla: The browser as operating system

Way back in the mists of time, the rise of Netscape and the Web was seen as putting pressure on Microsoft and its Windows monopoly because of what some called the “browser as operating system.” Much of that early promise — or fear — has yet to be realized, but looking at something like Ubiquity, the alpha software from Mozilla Labs, it looks as though it is coming closer. In effect, Ubiquity wants to tie together all of the Web-based software and services like Google Maps, Wikipedia and Twitter by using the browser, so that users can integrate them into things like email, instant messages and Web pages.

In the video below, Aza Raskin of Mozilla — who happens to be the son of legendary Apple designer Jef Raskin and is also the developer of the excellent music app — demonstrates some of the ways in which users could tie together different services with Ubiquity, by inserting a Google map and reviews of a restaurant quickly into an email to a friend. The app recognizes simple terms like “map these” (after a number of listings are selected), and different services can be added by simply subscribing to scripts that use Ubiquity’s code.

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Mozilla Weave: Who owns the cloud?

From various sources comes the news that Mozilla is testing a prototype of a service called Weave, a kind of browser-to-cloud feature in which users can synchronize their bookmarks and other info from Firefox to a remote server somewhere — although most descriptions don’t really make it clear where these servers are located or who operates them. Will Mozilla be using Amazon’s S3, one of several cloud-computing services the online retailer has launched over the past year or so? That’s not clear.

It seems like everyone is moving in the direction of desktop-to-cloud synchronizing, or the blurring of borders between online and offline. Google has Google Gears, which lets you synchronize your Google Reader RSS feeds, and Zoho has synchronizing features for its online document-editing and spreadsheet tools (which Google will presumably be adding to its Google Docs services soon). Google has had a rudimentary bookmark-sync tool for awhile now, and Opera recently added one to its browser. Where will Mozilla’s Weave sit in this landscape of tools?

More importantly, are we going to have several competing standards for this kind of syncing, or is everyone going to agree to use open-source methods such as FOAF and OpenID and all that other semantic Web goodness? I would hope for the latter. If there’s anything worse than having to type the exact same personal info into half a dozen social networks, it’s having to replace all your bookmarks everytime you get a new machine. Synchronizing would be a huge boon — and Mozilla says it will be encrypting the data too, which is another plus.

Mozilla Prism: Don’t really get it

So like the beta-whore I am, I downloaded the demo of Mozilla’s new web-desktop hybrid thing — which used to be called Webrunner and is now called Prism — and I installed it and created a desktop icon for Google Mail without too much trouble. But I have to confess that I still don’t really get it. I mean, it’s cool and everything, but well… I don’t get it.

So I can click on a desktop icon and open a Gmail window, which is great — but it’s really just a browser window with all of the browser bits (like the address bar and the back and forward buttons) taken off, as Phil Lenssen at Google Blogoscoped points out. It can be added to the Start menu on Windows, but you know… ho-hum. I seem to remember that Internet Exploder’s “Active Desktop” setting could do something similar, but no one really cared and so no one used it.

I realize that this is still an early demo, and there are no doubt all sorts of great things ahead for Prism, some of which Phil mentions in his post, and others of which are described by Ryan Stewart at ZDNet and the Wired blog. And there’s no question that the blend of desktop app and Web app is something that holds a lot of promise. So maybe I should give Prism more time to become amazing. As it stands, I’m underwhelmed.

Time to get the Flock out of here

According to a piece in Private Equity Week, the founder of Flock — the browser filled with Web 2.0 goodness wrapped around a chewy Mozilla center — has decided to leave and “pursue other opportunities.” According to the mag, Bart Decrem says that he is looking to move on and build another company, but that his sudden departure (in PE Week’s words) “isn’t tied to anything wrong with the company.” He will remain as chairman and a shareholder.

Valleywag isn’t the only one to smell a rat. Why would the founder move on and say he wants to build another company? He’s not even finished building the first one yet, for chrissake. It’s not as if Flock has become a massively successful enterprise and he can move on to bigger and better things — there’s still plenty of debate about whether there’s any point in developing another browser with Flickr and blog integration, since Firefox is so extensible. I like Flock, but it seems like a bunch of features tied together and disguised as a product.

A quote from Bessemer Venture Partners makes it sound like they need someone with talents Bart doesn’t have. Says general partner David Cowan:

This development has been anticipated since the day we started the company, and if it’s happening sooner than anyone expected, it’s only because of the traction we’re getting with partners that taxes the team for experience and resources.

Here’s Bart’s bio. He’s the former head of marketing and business affairs for the Mozilla foundation, and before that was involved with Eazel, a Linux desktop project. Pete Cashmore at Mashable wrote favourably about one of Flock’s recent initiatives: a private label version of its browser released in partnership with the photo-sharing site Photobucket.