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Mozilla coders join Palm, apparently jabbing Apple

Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith now lead developer relations at Palm. Will their work on mobile Web applications help developers bypass Apple's control?

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Two prominent Web-based programming advocates have left Mozilla for Palm, arguing that the time has come to use browsers to bypass Apple's controlling role in mobile applications.

Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith, who help run the Ajaxian site for elaborate Web interfaces and who worked on Mozilla's Web-based Bespin tool for collaborative programming, announced their move to Palm on Friday.

Palm is a logical place for them to go. The Palm Pre has won accolades as a competitive mobile phone, and its foundation for applications is a WebKit-based browser, meaning that Palm programs are essentially Web programs.

"I will be joining Ben, my best friend, partner in crime, and fellow Ajaxian, as we take a new role as directors of the Palm Developer Relations team. We will have the responsibility of the developer experience with Palm. We will be trying to create a rich connective tissue between the company and the Web developer community that we love," Almaer wrote on his blog.

Web-based programs are typically slower and less capable than alternatives that run natively on a computing device. But they have one big potential advantage: written once, they can run on any device with a browser and hardware up to the task.

Although Galbraith and Dalmaer are excited by the possibilities of Web applications and the new era of mobile computing ushered in most notably by Apple's iPhone, Galbraith appears to be concerned about the control Apple exercises over the applications people can use on their phones.

"Clearly, a revolution in hardware is taking place, and it doesn't take a prophet to work out that the future of computing lies along this new trajectory," Galbraith said. "However, my enthusiasm for this amazing new world is tempered by some unfortunate decisions made by some of the players in this space. It seems that some view this revolution as a chance to seize power in downright Orwellian ways by constraining what we, as developers, can say, dictating what kinds of apps we can create, controlling how we distribute our apps, and placing all kinds of limits on what (we) can do to our computing devices."

He didn't mention Apple by name, and I don't want to put words in his mouth, but who else besides Apple could Galbraith be referring to? The programmers and Apple didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Apple exerts its control to try to give iPhone users a simple, stable, and useful experience. But that control can be at odds with what programmers and users want, as was most clearly illustrated in Apple's rejection of the Google Voice application--though Apple said it hasn't actually rejected the application.

Meanwhile, as it did with its Latitude location application for the iPhone after Apple rejected a native version of that software, Google is working on a Web-based interface for Google Voice. It also offers a Web-based Gmail application for the iPhone.

What's curious is that the Palm Pre, the Google Android operating system, and the iPhone OS all use a browser based on the WebKit project, and Apple is among those working hard to advance the state of the art for Web application programming through its WebKit work. So there is some philosophical agreement along with the differences.