Why an open Web is important when sea levels are rising

Cory Doctorow speaking on episode 221 of the excellent Changelog podcast:

“[t]here are things that are way more important than [whether in the internet should or shouldn’t be free]. There’s fundamental issues of economic justice, there’s climate change, there’s questions of race and gender and gender orientation, that are a lot more urgent than the future of the internet, but […] every one of those fights is going to be won or lost on the internet.”


Local man previews Firefox OS

My friend and occasionally-quadrennial conference co-organizer, Peter Rukavia, is writing about his experience with a developer-preview Firefox OS phone.

His perspective is particularly interesting as it doesn’t come from inside the Firefox/Mozilla world. He’s just your average run-of-the-mill kind of alpha-geek that would pre-order a semi-functional developer preview device from Spain to try out an unproven operating system. Keep us posted, Peter.

If you’re wondering why Mozilla is working on building a mobile operating system, when the market is already maturing to two(ish) leaders, see former Mozillian, Asa Raskin’s article on why Mozilla is at its best when being a “fast second follower”.


Live from Mozilla: A Brief History of Mozilla.com (and .org)

Reporting today on location in sunny Mountain View, California and the lovely Mozilla headquarters.

A Brief History of Mozilla.com (and .org)

I’m doing a talk in the Mozilla lounge about the history of the mozilla websites called A Brief History Mozilla.com (and .org) today (April 12, 2011) at 12:30PM Pacific time (4:30pm Atlantic time for those back home on Prince Edward Island). The talk will be streamed live from the Air Mozilla website. Come watch.

The slides for the presentation are available in a few different formats. The video will also be archived – I’ll update this post with links when the video is available.

A Brief History Mozilla.com (and .org)

Update: Video of the talk is now available download or watch directly (if you have Firefox 4+ or Chrome): A Brief History Mozilla.com (and .org) – 14Mb Ogg Theora file (35 min). The lighting in the video favours the slides, so you can’t really see me. Just picture someone handsome and dynamic in the dark to the left of the slides.

You can also download the slides in OpenOffice.org Impress format, PowerPoint format, or as a PDF.


The Apple-ication Tax

Imagine for a moment that you are a brilliant person. Are you with me so far? Ok, now imagine that you’ve created a software application that everyone wants. Maybe it’s Lotus 123, or Mathematica, Doom, or a screensaver with flying toasters.

Imagine then, that as you went to sell your application, Microsoft charged a tax for it to run on Windows (or Apple for it to run on Macs). Given the freedom we have to install whatever we want on our personal computers, this situation sounds absurd and unacceptable.

This is pretty much how it works for iPhone applications. In order for anyone to actually use your brilliant new application, you have to give Apple a 30% cut of the purchase (Palm plans to do the same the Pre, and Google for Android phones, but more on that later).

Of course, Apple has the right to charge for this distribution service. They provide bandwidth, quality control, visibility, and do most of it quite well. The problem arises, though, when Apple intentionally precludes any alternative distribution methods for iPhone applications.

If Microsoft (or Apple) decided tomorrow that the only way to install applications on Windows was through a Microsoft owned and controlled distribution system (let alone take a 30% cut), we wouldn’t accept it. There would be overturning of cars.

The trouble isn’t that Apple charges for their application distribution system. The trouble is that it’s the only means of distribution for iPhone applications. It seems unclear if Palm is going to make the same mistakes with their Pre/WebOS platform as Palm’s position on “home-brew” applications isn’t yet clear (even the term “home-brew” is a bit troubling, as it seems to imply negative connotations to non-Palm-distributed apps).

Google can do whatever they want with the Android marketplace, because you don’t have to use it – you can install applications on Android phones without using the centralized marketplace system.

Why do we accept this system for phones when we wouldn’t for our laptops?


Firefox at the State Department

In what sounds like the worst meeting ever, the US State Department’s Town Hall Meeting to Announce the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) (that’s really what it’s called), a State Department staff member asked this question:

Can you please let the staff use an alternative web browser called Firefox? I just – (applause) – I just moved to the State Department from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was surprised that State doesn’t use this browser. It was approved for the entire intelligence community, so I don’t understand why State can’t use it. It’s a much safer program. Thank you. (Applause.)

Senator Clinton responded “Well, apparently, there’s a lot of support for this suggestion. (Laughter.) I don’t know the answer.” and passed the question on to under secretary Patrick F. Kennedy.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: The answer is at the moment, it’s an expense question. We can —

QUESTION: It’s free. (Laughter.)

The discussion went on to cover how it’s not actually free to switch a major application in a large organization, which is fair enough.


The Creepy Canyon

John Gruber suggests that the common Linux desktop interfaces of Gnome and KDE fall into the uncanny valley – similar enough to Windows for you to expect similar behaviour, but different enough to be problematic:

By establishing a conceptual framework that mimicks Windows, they can never really be that much different than Windows, and if they’re not that much different, they can never be that much better.

A fair criticism. In my house, we refer to the uncanny valley as the “creepy canyon”, because we’re all about alliteration.


Technology Freedom in Metaphor

If Twitter were a phone company, you could only call people who used the same phone company as you.
If the iPhone were a desktop computer, you could only install applications approved by Microsoft (or Apple).
If DVDs were books, you couldn’t read a book from Europe while in North America (oh, and you also need secret decoder glasses).

See identi.ca for an open alternative to Twitter.


Firefox 3.5

Firefox 3.5 icon

As with every major release of Firefox since 1.0, I’ve had the privilege of working with Mozilla on their website updates for the new Firefox 3.5 release.

If you care about web browsers, you already know why it’s awesome, and if you don’t care about web browsers, all you need to know is that it’s better.

Even though there are loads of significant new features (audio/video, downloadable fonts, big performance improvements), my favourite feature so far is stupidly simple. When you View Source on a page, you can now click on the links to CSS and JavaScript files to view them right in the source viewer. This had made my life 0.000.1% better, which isn’t bad for a web browser.