Microsoft offers helping hand to Firefox

Mozilla welcomes Redmond's efforts to ensure interoperability between Firefox and the Vista operating system.

Mozilla has accepted Microsoft's offer of help toward ensuring interoperability between Firefox and the upcoming Vista operating system.

Microsoft's offer to help came on Saturday when Sam Ramji, director of the company's open-source lab, posted an open letter on a blog used by Mozilla developers. Microsoft offered to open up a new open-source facility at its headquarters in Redmond, Wash., to Mozilla software engineers, including giving them one-on-one time with Microsoft workers. The offer includes help with Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail client.

In reply, Mike Beltzner, a "phenomenologist" for Mozilla and the company's spokesman on this issue, said, "Yes, we'd definitely be interested in getting some one-to-one support."

But Beltzner pointed out that Mozilla had already "been testing on Vista" with Firefox and Thunderbird "as well as working to ensure that we take advantage of the new 'Default Program' infrastructure."

Default Program is a new feature Microsoft has added to Vista to avoid the problem of applications taking over common functions, such as playing music or browsing the Web, from each other. Rather than letting competing applications fight, it will give the user a single interface for deciding which programs should do which jobs. More details are available in a document, released by the Microsoft Windows Application Experience Group earlier this month.

Beltzner wrote on a blog posting that there were many areas that the Firefox and Thunderbird teams could usefully explore with Microsoft's help, including the "effects of running in the new application security mode, interacting/integrating with InfoCard, integration with the common RSS data store and services (and) integration with the Vista calendar and address book."

Beltzner said he was also excited at the prospect of the new "Microsoft Windows Vista Readiness ISV Lab" as described by Ramji in his original message. "The facility and program that you describe should really help to ensure that we get the proper integration issues looked at for Firefox 2 and Thunderbird 2," Beltzner wrote.

He also warned that one of the main issues for Mozilla was support for third-party software developers. "Do you know if there are any spots for other open-source groups that are using Firefox/XULRunner as a platform such as Songbird and Democracy, or Flock?" Beltzner asked.

"Something like a checklist of the most common OS integration points that have changed from Windows XP would be extremely useful," he pointed out, adding that it's important that this is "accessible to organizations that can't afford to send people to Redmond."

Both Microsoft and Mozilla appear keen to bury the idea that the two are warring tribes when it comes to open source. This recent move by Microsoft to openly welcome Mozilla and its browser, even though Firefox is the principle competition for its own Internet Explorer, appears to be part of a new trend for the company.

For example, at Microsoft's Tech Ed conference in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday, Frank Arrigo, a development evangelist with the company, was quick to extinguish any suggestion that Microsoft's browser-based "Live" services would not work as well--or at all--with browsers other than Internet Explorer.

"I know for a fact that the Live team themselves spend a lot of cycles on the non-IE browsers. I don't think there is a conspiracy theory saying we are not going to support other browsers," Arrigo said.

The Firefox team has shot down one conspiracy theory. Last Saturday, Ramji wrote that he had posted his invitation online "in case their (Mozilla's) spam filters are set to block @microsoft.com e-mail addresses."

"Heh," Beltzner replied. "No such blocking exists, I assure you."

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK Rupert Goodwins reported from London. ZDNet Australia's Munir Kotadia contributed to this report.

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