Firefox maps its next moves

On the heels of the 1.0 release, Mozilla sets its sights on challenging Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser dominance.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
The coals are still hot from Tuesday morning's Firefox 1.0 release, but the Mozilla Foundation is already cooking up its next moves to challenge Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser dominance.

Now that it has the Firefox 1.0 milestone under its belt, the Mozilla Foundation has identified three areas for future growth and development: cell phone and small-device browsing, desktop search integration, and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) distribution.

"It's been a tremendous year, and we can't see anything but upside the way things are heading right now," said Chris Hofmann, the Mozilla Foundation's director of engineering. "We're just starting the planning for the initiatives that are going to be important in the coming year."

The first key initiative is Mozilla's Minimo project to create a stripped-down version of Firefox for use with cell phones, set-top boxes and other non-desktop computing devices. Minimo got a shot in the arm this year when Nokia invested in it.

Mozilla said Tuesday it had hired Doug Turner, currently a browser engineer with Time Warner's AOL unit who has volunteered with Minimo since its inception, to head up the effort starting Dec. 1. Turner will leave AOL to lead both engineering and business development, as Minimo tries to attract more sponsors like Nokia that want Mozilla to tailor its open-source software to their individual needs.

"In the next year, we hope to energize Minimo with Doug as the lead," Hofmann said. "We're going to have more dedicated resources for putting some effort into the project."

Hofmann declined to comment on Mozilla's partners on these future projects. Rumors have swirled about a possible collaboration between the open-source group and Google.

Hofmann said discussions were already under way with companies interested in Minimo-based releases, but he declined to identify them.

The second area Mozilla intends to explore with new versions of Firefox is integration with desktop search.

Companies like Google, Vivisimo and Copernic make search applications that comb through all the information on a personal computer. The way it is now, a browser's bookmarks, cache, history and e-mail reader present the desktop search application with a wide array of APIs (application programming interfaces) to negotiate.

Mozilla said it is in discussions with desktop search providers to simplify and standardize those tools to make them more easily searchable by search programs.

A key element in that engineering push will be security, Hofmann said.

"How can we create open standards around doing those kinds of operations, and how can we make sure they're secure from being exploited by rogue programs?" Hofmann asked. "There's a lot of research and investigation on how to provide the best access and the best protection at the same time."

Lastly, Hofmann said Mozilla was in talks with OEMs to get Firefox placed on the desktops of new computers. As of now, all of Firefox's distribution comes through downloads--a major hurdle for widespread adoption--while IE comes preloaded on the vast majority of computers.

OEM bundling presents a special challenge for a nonprofit foundation like Mozilla, Hofmann said. Normally software makers pay the OEMs for inclusion on the desktop. Mozilla is hoping that its comparatively positive security reputation, as well as recommendations from CERT and other security experts that Web surfers shouldn't rely exclusively on IE, will help sway the OEMs.

OEM bundling "is on our priority list," Hofmann said. "If we want to continue with the success we have had so far, we need to be a significant market share holder."