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Will Explorer bridge the Firefox and Safari divide?

Apple and Mozilla show very different approaches to product development, with pluses and minuses in both approaches.

Apple recently redesigned the tab system for its Safari 4 browser, placing tabs at the very top of the browser screen. As an occasional Safari user, I find the new tab placement confusing. Half the time I forget that the tabs are even there. It seems like much has been given up for very little benefit. Apparently, I'm not alone in my complaints and confusion about the updated tab placement.

Even more confusing to me, however, is why Apple decided to change tabs in the first place. Did you request it? I know I didn't.

This, however, is the point. Apple doesn't ask. Sometimes, this is a very positive thing as Apple has a good track record of redefining the industry standard (e.g., iPhone's touch screen).

But sometimes it's a negative, as here.

Now consider the open-source alternative, Mozilla Firefox. Mozilla is also considering changing the way it does tabs, but it's going about it in a very un-Apple-esque fashion:

It's asking its user community to conceptualize the next generation of tabbed browsing in Firefox.

The Mozilla Labs Design Challenge 2009 is focused on answering the question, "Reinventing Tabs in the Browser - How can we create, navigate and manage multiple web sites within the same browser instance?" It's an important question, given the central role Web browsers play in computing today, and it's equally important that Mozilla wants to improve the tabbed-browsing experience by looking to its community base, rather than assuming the full burden of design and development itself.

Mozilla, in some ways, is the antithesis of Apple. The open-source bazaar competing against the Apple cathedral, and doing quite well.

Intriguingly, Microsoft probably will fall somewhere in the middle. Microsoft has always been fairly community-oriented, with a thriving partner ecosystem. As Microsoft seeks to revive its sagging (but still strong) browser fortunes, I suspect it will bridge the divide between Firefox and Safari by keeping Internet Explorer (IE) closed, but encourage a community of extensions--open source and proprietary--that will make for a richer browser experience.

This is the approach Microsoft is now taking with its CRM and SharePoint products, and I believe it's a strategy Microsoft will increasingly adopt as it seeks to embrace the best of both open-source and proprietary worlds.

Safari, the ultimate proprietary browser. Firefox, the ultimate open-source browser. And Internet Explorer, the ultimate mixed-source browser?

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.