The changing face of software consumption isn’t something that’s just happened. It’s been something that’s been evolving for as long as software has existed. However we’re now undergoing one of the larger pivotal moments in the way that software is both delivered and consumed.
With recent changes in online technologies, there was much anticipation regarding the role web would play in applications and many dreamed up a euphoric idealism that the world would switch to webapps, as they were naturally cross-platform and cut down the workload and expense of those producing them.
While it’s been argued that such an approach is neither feasible nor in the best interests of consumers. Some have decided to push on with a web-technology-centric strategy to app consumption. Mozilla have reached the Rubicon with Firefox OS (B2G) and have no other recourse but to deliver what they’re contracted to. Even at the detriment of the bigger Mozilla picture. However Facebook, the most popular website on the planet have no such contractual obligations and as such have decided to give up on webapps for mobile in favour of a fully featured native experience.
As it became apparent that everyone knew how to find and download music, Apple successfully rode the momentum with the iTunes and monetised downloading. However, the interesting thing of note was their app store. As per the music industry, the sales of applications was slowing down and while the music industry’s embrace of the internet as a means of delivery was easy, it was thought that the same would be a lot harder for applications. It wasn’t.
With the increased internet speeds worldwide, the shift to digital purchases were always going to be embraced. The question would simply become one of how? How do you sell to consumers and keep them locked in while having the smallest overhead possible? Of course, once again to the rescue is the OS-level application store. However, while that makes delivery but a simple task it doesn’t solve the issue of locking in the user and repeat business is paramount.
This, for all intent and purposes brings us to where we are now. The frailties of the webapp have been highlighted over and over again and while some persist, others have set aside personal ambition and pride in favour of surviving to fight another day. It’s within this chasm of space that the Mozilla Platform should’ve blossomed and dominated. The bridge to the desired-by-some webapp era. The lessons they’d learned with early XUL Firefox put Mozilla in the perfect position to spare others that pain. And for that commercial opportunity, all it would’ve taken is the release of Thunderbird for Android and some standalone Web Developer Tools. However, due to commitments with Firefox OS (B2G), they dropped the ball.
Adobe have probably had the most aggressive start in terms of embracing this modern day model of software consumption. And have targeted students and small businesses alike in their model. Though their rhetoric would have you believe they’re marketing to out-of-touch middle-management. They’ve been bold and opted for the subscription model. Consumers pay a monthly fee and as such can download and install applications. While this means that should they release three versions of their flagship software in a year, you’re quids-in. The issue is that users lose access when they stop their subscription.
There is a better and in fact fairer way however and the question is simply, who will be the first to arrive at it. Software companies, especially large ones, seldom release more than one version (major) of their software a year. Consumers should pay a flat fee for a major version and be given a choice of subscriptions to pay a year. The lower fee would be to support to bugfixes and the higher fee gives you access to any major version that’s released while you’re paying the subscription. If a consumer opts to stop paying the subscription all together the day after a major release, then of course they don’t get any bugfixes. Access to the higher subscription should require so-many months of lower subscription fees or a new purchase. But basically, this enables developers to lock consumers in and build an comfortable environment to work.
In terms of organisations like Mozilla, they could quite easily take a cut as per a license for using their software in a commercial endeavour. And app stores, I’d like to think that they’d see the sense in keeping their hands off of subscription fees that were lower than some arbitrary amount. Well, this is where software consumption will ultimately end up. It’s just a question of how long will it take.
Mozilla recently announced that going forward, they’d put no more resources into Thunderbird and the pre-announcement caused a huge furore. Within the furore popped up the line “B2G is the #1 major strategic priority for Mozilla”. However, the question that it raised was whether or not Mozilla actually have a strategy?
Whether or not B2G or as it’s been renamed Firefox OS can be successful aside, the biggest question here is what exactly is it that B2G brings to the table? Yes we know that Mozilla envision a future where users opt for open web apps over their native counterparts and we’ve all seen how that stands up. But given how Thunderbird was downgraded to community development rather than having its focus shifted to Android where it can become a natural huge success. You would be forgiven for wondering just what the bigger picture is.
Mozilla hasn’t even managed to make the Nightly download page hand-held friendly and again hasn’t done so with Bugzilla, so why should everyone else cement their vision for them? On the other hand Mozilla could’ve gone about this whole utopic world of open web apps differently. Mozilla’s aspirations aside, users enjoy installing apps. To the point that the topic of apps has embedded itself into the social interactions of the many. You only need to look at the successes of Instagram and Draw Something for proof of that. So why is it that the number one strategic priority for Mozilla the hope that users will say “hey let me not go for the most popular phones running the most popular operating system that all my friends and colleagues talk about and instead opt for relatively inconsequential phone manufacterers who opted to create a phone that runs software which is failing to attract users in their primary area of business”.
A companies number one strategic priority should uplift the various other company products. It should improve the company as a whole and all that falls under it. Firefox OS doesn’t do that. Firefox OS ships with an email client that actually took nothing from nor added anything to Thunderbird. Thunderbird isn’t quite innocent in all this though. It in itself didn’t have much portability in terms of it’s code. It’s not written in web technologies or namely XUL like how Firefox is and quite frankly… that’s a problem.
But again, I can’t help but question the actual strategy or goal of Mozilla’s number one strategic priority. For example, let’s say that their new number one strategic priority actually made sense in regards to growing the Mozilla community beyond that of which Blackberry and even the monolithic Microsoft have so elegantly failed to do. Let’s say that their was a clear vision and that vision was write-once, run everywhere. That would be a strategic decision. In fact that could even later tie in with launching an OS. After all, when you have several popular large apps running on your platform, users and vendors stand up and take notice. Or at least that would be the goal, though it’s not really working with Chrome OS right now. But it’s certainly strategic. A Thunderbird written in web technologies that can run on desktop, tablet and smartphone. The same Thunderbird, that along with Firefox that can be packaged with Firefox OS.
Speaking via numbers. Mozilla aren’t a financial powerhouse. They don’t the clout of Google or Apple and so there’s a limit to what they can achieve. Mozilla is an organisation that can’t even get Apple to allow them to run Gecko on iOS and yet the the plan of a Firefox OS somehow won out over smaller baby-steps. Baby-steps that would bring various developers closer to Mozilla and the code-base and potentially force them to re-embrace Firefox thanks to enjoying the ease of the platform to the point that patches trickle into the tree in an attempt to improve the platform and/or the browser. And what about the various end users who begin to acclimatise to ‘The Mozilla way”, the user experience designed for them by Mozilla and the familiarity they get from it. Well of course, those users would organically take a look at other Mozilla products. But those users are not going to give up fully featured phones full of patented gimmicks they want to play with and use for the sparse Firefox OS.
And talking of gimmicks and a Firefox operating system that isn’t Firefox OS. What would’ve been a far more interesting presentation than that of B2G would’ve been Android having Webkit/Chrome ripped out and replaced with Gecko/Firefox. Hey it could’ve even been done on the CyanogenMod tree and could’ve been called something along the lines of FiregenMod or CyanogenFox. With all the publicity that CyanogenMod receives on the various tech sites and the embrace they’ve received from Samsung and Sony. I feel this would’ve actually provided them with an opportunity to be seen on a special edition top-tier phone. Well more top tier than the recently negatively publicised ZTE anyway.
As things currently stand, Mozilla are ploughing resources into a project that has no traction in the real world. Developers won’t leave Android or iOS because that’s where the money is. That’s where the consumers are. Consumers won’t leave because that’s where the apps and their friends are and manufacturers will continue to churn out their best products for whatever operating system will provide them the greatest number of users. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for B2G, in fact it’s so dark that Mozilla aren’t even sure of whether it is a tunnel or not. But they’ve decided to pin their hopes on Firefox OS rather than actually get involved in something that matters. I’d argue that Mozilla simply don’t get it and that’s a shame. A real shame as they’ve taken a chance to entrench their relevance in modern day lives and thrown it to the wind.
Mozilla has this reputation for caring about people more than profit and it’s a good reputation. Well deserved and generally everyone that has been involved with Mozilla is both honoured and proud. Mozilla has played the role of the underdog well and without the pressures of being the top dog. It’s just got on with it’s job and in doing so Mozilla has championed open source. Taking it from niche nerdism to something that’s embraced not only in tech circles but as a way of life. The strong ties with the community and the transparency that Mozilla have championed are things that have been adopted by projects both larger and smaller.
However having achieved some success, it’s easy to get lost in the plaudits and go out of your way to maintain that perception of success. Google Chrome came along and really attempted to punish every stumble that Mozilla made, aggressively carving out a position in the browser space and even surpassing Mozilla at the alternative to Internet Expolorer. In doing so, Google redefined what was expected of a modern browser beyond what Mozilla had once set and ever since Mozilla has been playing catch up.
Mozilla now entrench in another battle and no longer able to set its own pace. Had to make some changes to the way it went about things. It required more staff and perhaps that is its downfall. The current face of Mozilla is in start contrast to the face that once was. Mozilla wasn’t just about open source, but open design and open concepts. There has been many occasions over the years whereby someone could disagree with Mozilla but for better or worse, they could always understand the train of thought behind the decisions. This is no longer the case.
Mozilla is, at least on the surface, almost entrenched in a new siege mentality. Directions are presented, particularly in regards to design, but none are explained. The assumption that seems to be all over the various forums and in Bugzilla is that Mozilla is simply mimicking that of Chrome. Some developers seem to revel in the practice of not justifying or discussing decisions in public. Aggressively so. Such developers would’ve never have found themselves in the employ of Mozilla a while back but the general attitude right now is that beggars can’t be choosers.
But the question remains, is it worth? It’s there for all to see in the comments sections of all of the mainstream tech sites. People asking and agreeing with the premise that Mozilla has all but decided to do whatever Chrome does. Certain key Mozilla figures are adamant that Mozilla does its own user research and has it’s own user experience teams but with the desktop browser simply becoming and more Chrome-like it’s hard to accept that. Why for example are curved tabs better than square tabs? Why are flat buttons better than accented ones? In which ways is Mozilla arriving at the same conclusions as Google rather than blindly following them?
If Mozilla’s evolution is in fact being hostile to working in the open as the core of a community rather than working above the community then there’s no doubt that this path of evolution is undoubtedly bad.
Back when Firefox launched Panorama, it was launched in a rather linear manner. Here’s a problem and here’s how to fix it. However the major problem was that it was a problem that so few seemed to have, rightfully so its legitimacy was questioned. The manner of the launch in hindsight was wrong and that’s lead to Panorama being maligned.
The initial approach with Panorama was far too linear. It was marketed from a work-flow feature and that’s where it went wrong. To begin with, so few of the browsers users are actually power users. In fact Mozilla’s own research data suggests that users were simply forgetting to close tabs in most cases (if I remember correctly) and further went on to suggest that most didn’t even grasp the concept of tabbed browsing. So if that’s the case, why would you market visual tab management as a work-flow feature?
The approach taken was met with opposition and in fact some users felt the feature was shoehorned in before it was ready. It wasn’t until it’s use was reframed as the ability to visually temporarily bookmark tabs that an interest started to grow in the possibilities of Panorama. But even if you take the feature and you reframe it in a manner to make it more marketable to the average user, there were some usability issues that can’t just be marketed around.
Sadly for Panorama, it meant or indeed still means that it’ll require a concerted effort by a team of developers to really make it into what it should be and deliver the type of punch that was imagined when it envisaged. Apart from making it follow default operating system behavioural patterns. There’s also other usability issues that affect the potential successful turn around of the feature. One of which appears to be based on the assumption that browsing is linear. In it’s current design Panorama currently doesn’t allow you to visually manage tabs in a different window. So if you have a group of tabs open in one window and want to open a group of tabs stored in that same window, you have to choose between groups.
Firefox is also a contradiction in terms of tab management. At the same time Panorama was launched, Mozilla also launched Sync which allows users to access tabs stored on different machines, devices and profiles. However the approach that Sync took was almost like night to Panorama’s day and instead of the taking the visual approach of thumbnails, it instead opted for a list view. It has been put forward that Firefox should refactor Sync into Panorama giving users a truly global tab management canvas but such a proposal has yet to gain traction and that’s a shame as two of the marquee features of Firefox 4 are lacking the polish in which their potential deserves.
It goes without saying that Panorama is an uncut diamond and should it get a push with some additional resources it can really become an asset to Mozilla. Only the powers that be at Mozilla know whether or not Panorama will be relaunched, but as of yet it isn’t on the road map for 2012 and that’s a real shame.
It seems to be a question which various blogs and article collation services were running on their front pages. But in reality it was a non-question. The question wasn’t about losing the deal, it was about whether Mozilla was able to convince Google of their importance in a post Internet Explorer 6 landscape.
Since the last deal was signed, Microsoft’s presence on the internet had majorly dwindled. They’re no longer the go-to company that they were, where a product by Microsoft meant seamless integration which it leveraged to give an impression of better build quality. The internet seemed to be word in the dictionary that no one at the corporation quite seemed to know what to do with. If remembered correctly they even dissolved the Internet Explorer team before attempting to finally bring it back and move people forward. All while doing this, they struggled to understand what was happening on the internet. Allowing the bad reputation of Hotmail’s spam and scam flaws to snowball. Now they are Bing, but they also appear to be forward thinking and that’s largely down to Windows Phone 7.
In the face of the decisions that Microsoft had been making, the Mozilla corporation got caught up in it’s celebrity and once that mirror finally cracked it found itself in a new world. No longer was it fighting against a company with a blatant disregard for the internet, it was fighting against while also fighting simultaneously alongside a company that made its bones off the internet.
Google and Mozilla have successfully come together to push forward and implement a lot of innovations that we today take for granted in our internet lives. That’s what good innovation is about, things that seemed like they should’ve always been like that and to be honest. The internet is a much better place for it.
But now Google is in a position where it’s dependency on Mozilla has been negated and it’s almost in a position of luxury with it’s support to Mozilla. If it’s a question of whether Google would like to have Bing as the default search engine on all of it’s browsers, then of course the answer is no. But does it need that answer to be no? Can it allow it? That’s the question that Mozilla have to ask. Of course given the structure of how things had broken down, Mozilla also had to worry about being low-balled by Miscrosoft should Google withdraw. Already being tight on resources, it really needs to grow it’s workforce rather than reduce it.
The ship that is Mozilla looks in terrible shape as things stand. While it was doing great things with it’s name alone, the overall management of the flagship product (Firefox) meant that bug-fixes were coming out and innovation in the browser was rather stagnant or long-winded. The place you can mostly see the demise of Mozilla is in the Evangelism Team and the presence it holds; once able to convince the mightiest of sites to standardise code, the team seems to now be MIA without even an intern checking the bug-tracker. So it’s no surprise that we’re seeing vast amounts of Web Apps pop up supporting only Chrome in the exact same manner the Web Applications once only supported Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6.
And what of the resources that Mozilla does still retain? Well a lot of resources are entrenched in the various aspects of Mobile. While others appear to be bumbling around never quite achieving much in the open . Now that’s not to say that said developers aren’t achieving lots, but there’s less transparency in Mozilla of late and of course that’s down to where they presently find themselves in the grand scheme of things. Whether it’s another Mozilla move in homage of the way that Google handle things with Chrome or if it’s just regret and paranoia, it seems to be something that Mozilla are hoping no one seems to have noticed.
Time for Mozilla’s Firefox for Android is running out, the train is fast approaching beta and that’s where people put reviews in the Android market. As things currently stand, the present Nightlies aren’t even usable as a browser. Not that Mozilla acknowledges users would actually like to use it in that fashion. But it’s likely that, based on how the browser is working at present, they’re likely to get a real hammering from the average users who are expecting Firefox for Android to work. And of course there’s still the possible class action lawsuit for voluntarily handing over all their private data to Google without so much as a notification let alone a question of choice.
Mozilla should’ve spent it’s last eighteen months in talks with the likes of Samsung and Sony. The conversation should’ve been centred around providing the browser built in to televisions and Playstations. They should’ve also spent that time improving the clearly neglected and not-so-forward thinking platform so as that they could provide users with Thunderbird for Android. Those aren’t the greatest of feats on their own but they grow Mozilla’s usage and usage guarantees cheques. Another thing that seems to have fallen victim to Mozilla’s tunnel vision is Image Search, Google’s efforts in that area now have it as clear competitor to TinEye and it will come to the fore more and more; there was a separate cheque to be cut with that one.
Mozilla is apparently on a big recruitment drive at the moment, bringing back disgruntled ex-community members and contributors and saying “hey, you once cared, come back and make it better as a job”. Will it work? Who knows. But if it enables them to catch up to Google’s Chrome it could be a good thing for the internet as a whole and force Chrome not to follow the universally hated road that Microsoft done with Internet Explorer. Though of course the PR from Google would attempt to make them look innocent in that regard.
So this time round at least, it wasn’t about being in danger of losing the Google deal, it was just about making sure they had enough to move forward. But if they fail to use the money to drive the company forward, this will indeed be what marks the beginning of the end. Let’s hope that the personality of the user experience team comes to the fore also, because money being used correctly or not, if they can’t arrive at solutions other than what Google has arrived at, people will simply give up on Mozilla.
Reports are emerging that Kodak is about to file for Bankruptcy and to be honest, I don’t think anyone is surprised. See the issue with Kodak is that while it’s business was pictures, it’s done nothing but fail in terms of leading the foray into the future of photography.
Both Kodak and Polaroid should be in a two way battle with each other and that battle should be about digital photo filters and social photography. So the big question here is, why aren’t they? Why is it instead instagam that leads in this space? And why is it that even late to the party in such a field and in such a desperate position, why haven’t they bid on instagram?
At this point, it’s probably too late to simply rebrand instagram as Kodak and so there’s undoubtedly a limit as to what instagram can bring to Kodak. This is of course other than a lifeline. Kodak are no strangers of not seeing the bigger pictures. Despite being the first company to announce the invention of digital cameras they were one of the last major brands to get into the field and only underlined their mistake by later dominating said field.
It’s been speculated that the once iconic brand will in fact sell off all of it’s digital patents portfolio in a bid to stay a float. Which again would be a bad decision seeing as outside of a niche consumer audience, digital is the only viable business left. Rumours are floating around that Google is interested and this would indeed provide greater protection in the ongoing patent war they have with Apple.
But perhaps it simply is the end of an era for Kodak as we know it and perhaps it’s survival could actually be a means to an end. The company that would gain the most from acquiring a slight controlling share would be HTC. The business they done with Beats By Dre shows a bit of forethought. Despite growing popularity, they were becoming bogged down with audio criticism and so bought a chunk of one of the biggest names in audio today. They also have a problem with their cameras and this could be a much cheaper option than a deal with the likes of Canon or Nikon. After all, Samsung, Apple and even Nokia have been making good cameras for their phones for a while, a little help would go a long way.
No matter how I look at it, Kodak never managed to manoeuvre themselves into a position whereby they can grow in the mobile market and the hedged bets they made in regards to consumers all went horribly wrong. The issue is that one eye was always on sustaining the current business model and not enough was made on revolutionising the business. It’s a shame, but sometimes the mighty must fall in order to remind those around them of what mistakes not to make.