June, 2007

Jun 07

The “messy” version

Well, getting digged makes for an exciting week. 🙂 In case there was any doubt, Digg can drive a lot of traffic. My post about Steve’s view of the browser world has generated a lot of good conversation, and I’m happy it has, even if some of the headlines are more inflammatory than I think the post was, or than I think. There are a ton of great reactions, and the comments on the post are insightful — many that both agree or disagree, and make good, distinct points.

There are a few things I’d like to clear up, though, in as direct a way as I can. (Rather than try to re-state any of the misinterpretations of what I said, I’ll assert my positive views here.)

I like Apple and Apple products. You’ll just have to trust me when I report that we have more Macs in the house than we do people. iPods, too. They’re great.

I think that Steve Jobs has made a ton of positive change in the industry. Design matters again. DRM is dying. And I’ve got all my music in my pocket.

I think that Safari coming to Windows is a good thing. User choice is good. No doubt about it.

I think competition in the browser world is fundamentally a good thing. There is great work being done by browser makers today, in all parts of the world, not just from Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla. Also great stuff like Camino, Opera, OmniWeb, Maxthon, SeaMonkey, Shiira and Flock, not to mention new types of non-traditional browsers like Songbird (for music) and Miro (for Video).

I don’t believe that Firefox deserves anything from anyone, except based on the value we deliver — we need to compete to stay relevant. We need to make Firefox better & better, we need to help people understand why we do what we do. Absolutely, and we’re working hard to do that.

Firefox market share does matter. But maybe not for the reasons you think. The Mozilla mission is to keep the Web open & innovative — that’s our public benefit goal. To get further towards that goal, people have to care about Mozilla, of course, and Firefox market share is an important tool for that at the moment. But it’s not an end in itself. It’s not even really a revenue issue. We’ve figured out reasonable sustainability strategies that don’t rely overmuch on whether our share is 20% or 25%. And we’re investing a lot of time and attention in places like China, where helping the Internet get better is the right thing to do, but won’t result in obvious market share gains (because the Chinese market, and many Asian markets are notoriously undertracked at the moment).

Here’s the main point from my previous point: words and pictures matter. There are two basic possibilities for why Steve’s slides looked the way they looked. The first possibility is that their actual intent is to make this a two browser world on all platforms (well, all the platforms they care about, which would be Windows & OS X). I think that’s not a wonderful strategic goal for them, but the market will decide (like with everything).

The second, more likely possibility is that it was a careless construction of the slides that show a transition from the current world with more than just IE & Safari to a world with exactly two options. That it isn’t what they were trying to say. Oops!

I think that the truth is actually somewhere in between — that as they started to think about how to draw an “after” picture, it was messy. That representing anything like the real world wouldn’t show the impact that Apple wants to have, or the incredible diversity of what’s likely to be the real after picture. It’s much easier to say things in the language of the past — that users can just get their browser from Apple or Microsoft.

But by using mental models and language of the past — a past in which modes of distribution are controlled by a few players with global financial wherewithal — the large companies, the controlling parties are seeking to prolong control. It’s an insidious way of thinking, because often you don’t even realize you’re doing it because it’s not convenient to try to communicate or try to understand a complicated future where it’s not Red against Blue, La Bamba versus La Costena, Coke against Pepsi. And by letting others use these simplified 2 party models, whether intentional or not, we’re all aiding & abetting their dominance, whether it’s good for people or not.

But the world is messy and complicated, and it’s increasingly rare for something to be pure and simple. My friend Diego says that “Web thinking is freedom thinking.” But we have to protect that by calling out efforts to the contrary, whether they’re intentional, accidental, or just because people don’t take the time to draw the messy version of the picture.

Jun 07

A Picture’s Worth 100M Users???

Steve Job’s keynote at WWDC this year inspired some and was disappointing to others — but, as usual, it was interesting & entertaining. I’ve always liked Apple’s products, and spend an embarrassing amount of my own money on them. So I’m interested in what he’s got to say.

Every so often though, as inspired as he is, he says something that betrays at best a blurry view of the real world, at worst an explicit intent to bring more of the world under directed control from Cupertino, and that happened Monday.

The big news, of course, is that Apple’s releasing Safari on Windows — and although it’s been a rough first few days for them (and will get rougher), more choices are generally good for users, and so I’m hopeful that they can work to produce a product of quality on Windows eventually. I’m quite fond of Firefox, of course, and am very happy that people everywhere in the world continue to adopt our browser in increasing numbers.

Here’s a screen capture from the keynote of what Steve thinks the world looks like today (discussion starts at about 1:06 into the preso):

Current Share

We could quibble with the numbers, but close enough. It doesn’t give much credit to the large & growing number of other quality browsers that are on the scene today, and certainly doesn’t give any sophisticated understanding of the situation outside the United States, where things vary more. Close enough, though.

But here’s the graph that betrays the way that Steve, and by extension Apple, so often looks at the world:

Duopoly Future

He said this: “Well we dream big. We would love for Safari’s marketshare to grow substantially. That’s what we’d love.” Aw, shucks.

Fantastic! Dream big! Imagine a world of…wait for it…access to the web controlled by 2 companies — and why not just go with the 2 dominant operating system vendors in the world.

But make no mistake: this wasn’t a careless presentation, or an accidental omission of all the other browsers out there, or even a crummy marketing trick. Lots of words describe Steve & his Stevenotes, but “careless” and “accidental” do not. This is, essentially, the way they’re thinking about the problem, and shows the users they want to pick up.

There are a couple of problems, of course. The first is that this isn’t really how the world is. The second is that, irrespective of Firefox, this isn’t how the world should be.

First, it isn’t really how the world is. The meteoric rise of Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Linux and Firefox, among many other examples, shows that today’s connected world is no longer constrained by the monopolies and duopolies and cartels of yesterday’s distribution — of the publishers, studios, and OS vendors. Hundreds of millions of users, in every language around the world are now making new choices. That Apple doesn’t feel this, even within the familiar reality-distortion-field confines of Moscone Center, illustrates much of the problem.

Second, it isn’t how the world should be. Even if we could somehow put that movement back in the bottle — that a world of just Starbucks & Peets, just Wal-mart & Target, just Ford & GM — that a world of tight control from a few companies is good, it’s the wrong thing to do. It destroys participation, it destroys engagement, it destroys self-determination. And, ultimately, it wrecks the quality of the end-user experience, too. Remember (or heard about) when you had to get your phone from AT&T? Good times.

So here’s my point, to be clear: another browser being available to more people is good. I’m glad that Safari will be another option for users. (Watch for the Linux port Real Soon Now.) We’ve never ever at Mozilla said that we care about Firefox market share at the expense of our more important goal: to keep the web open and a public resource. The web belongs to people, not companies.

This world view that Steve gave a glimpse into betrays their thinking: it’s out-of-date, corporate-controlled, duopoly-oriented, not-the-web thinking. And it’s not good for the web. Which is sort of moot, I think, because I don’t think this 2 party world will really come to be.

Steve asserted Monday that Safari on Windows will overturn history, attract 100M new users, and revert the world to a 2 browser state. That remains to be seen, of course.

But don’t bet on it.

Jun 07

Parallels 3 & Coherence (plus Fusion Beta 4 & Unity)

I’ve been using the beta of (now-released) Parallels for about a week now, and I’m really impressed by it. I’ve played around with most of the virtualization technologies for OS X over the last year, and have really gone back and forth on them. I’ve used Boot Camp for a while, in particular to get some familiarity with Vista, I’ve used Parallels a bunch for personal reasons (to run Quicken on Windows, a far superior experience to Quicken on the Mac) and for work reasons (to test Firefox versions, mostly).

When it came out, I wasn’t super-impressed with Coherence, a feature in Parallels that hides everything but for the application windows that you’re working in, including the Windows desktop. But now, with this release, it’s fantastic. I used it most of the weekend to work on updating my Quicken info, and it really felt much like Quicken was just another application on my Mac desktop.

I’ve always been a little skeptical about Windows apps on Mac — just because there are so many OS-level services that modern OSes supply and modern applications depend on — that I never felt that application-level virtualization would work.  This approach — visually hiding the OS, except when you need it — falls short of application virtualization, but I think provides just about the best experience you could hope for. [caveat: the beta that I’m using is a little crashy — we’ll see what happens when I get around to upgrading to the release version.]

Performance is much better, too — in fact, I’m running Vista on Parallels, and it’s working great.

They’ve also included snapshots, which makes Parallels much more suitable for testing than previously — and the UI for them seems to be a good step forward.

One side note: I made the mistake of installing Google Desktop on my first instance of Vista, and it really, really made life suck. It’s not exactly Google’s fault — the Google indexing + Vista indexing was just completely maxing out my system. (And, in fact, Google has filed a Justice Department complaint about just this thing, and it seems to me to have some merit.

Over the weekend, since I had Vista installations on my mind, I also tried out VMWare’s Fusion Beta 4 — it seems to me that they’re falling further behind Parallels, not catching up. I tried to use Unity (their name for Coherence), which is notable because it does the same thing, but, I guess, with drop shadows, but it doesn’t seem to work yet with Vista.

Jun 07

3 random, unrelated things

3 random thoughts for the morning:

1) i’ve been cool towards getting a first generation iPhone, not wanting my pants to catch on fire. that’s not fair, of course, as not every Rev A piece of Apple hardware catches on fire — it’s more like a 50% hit rate. but these commercials that i’m seeing every night on whatever it is that i’m watching — ESPN? FX? Comedy Central? I don’t know exactly, but i’m suspecting that maybe i’m precisely their target demographic. anyway, these commercials are fantastic. they show off user experience, they highlight UI innovation, and they really clearly, provocatively, show off the things that this phone can do. they’re amazing. i don’t care at all about the music & movies bit, but it’s still really compelling. anyway, i don’t know. i know i’m not willing to stand in line now, so that means an early one is out of the question, but maybe in the fall. we’ll see.

2) at starbucks this morning, probably half the people there were monkeying around with their blackberries/treos/windows mobile thingys. it felt to me like the weight had started to shift away from everyone bringing their laptops in towards working on mobile. it’s a bad sample set for a couple of reasons (1: it’s practically in the middle of the Googleplex, so nerd-friendly territory, and 2: morning time is “waiting for your meeting to show up by reading mail on your phone” time, at least for me & people like me), but still, feels like something is happening in the US now, in spite of our stupid, closed carrier system.

3) i have noticed that i really, really like it when other people are using wordpress for their blogs, because for every post, you can subscribe to an RSS feed of the comment stream. so if something interesting happens in a post, i can use what’s essentially a time-expiring single use feed to track the (often more interesting) comment threads. that’s a great use for feeds — throwaway sources of time-relevant information. they’re not like the other feeds that i track, but still really useful to throw into newsfire.