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How Mozilla Will Blend Desktop and Weave

Mozilla stays competitive with Google, Microsoft with its Weave framework for Firefox.

Mozilla stays competitive with Google, Microsoft with its Weave framework for Firefox.

With the launch of its Weave project late last month, the non-profit Mozilla Labs threw some kindling onto the recently cooling fires of the browser wars.

Mozilla says Weave is focused on the merger of the desktop and the Web that results from a deeper integration of the browser and online service. The project aims to find "ways to enhance the Firefox user experience."

New Dev Options Planned for IE8

Microsoft wants to make sure that the upcoming version of its ubiquitous Web browser won't break the billions of Web pages currently generated harmoniously on earlier versions -- not to mention other browsers.

To deliver both intra-browser-version compatibility and inter-browser interoperability, Internet Explorer 8, due later this year, will allow developers to invoke three rendering modes: the "quirks mode," which allows the browser to display non-standard content, and the arguably misnamed "standards mode," which supports more standard content. Both were part of IE7, and developers will continue to use the doctype switch to choose between them. The third IE8 option will allow developers to insert a <meta> tag to specify that a page should use the behavior of a specific browser version.

This last approach is meant to provide the best standards support, according to Microsoft. Using a simple <meta> declaration, Web developers will be able to specify which rendering engine IE8 should use.

Microsoft's IE platform architect Chris Wilson in a recent blog posting explains the reason for the three modes: "We believe this approach has the best blend of allowing Web developers to easily write code to interoperable Web standards, while not causing compatibility problems with current content."

IE8 will be the first major browser update since Microsoft released IE7 in October 2006, and the company says it is determined to improve its standards conformance. An early version of the pre-beta code for IE8 has successfully passed the Web Standards Project's (WaSP) Acid2 browser compatibility tests (see "IE Passes Acid Test," Jan. 15). (IE7 did not pass that test.) Microsoft has been working with the WaSP on interoperability issues.

-- J.K.W.
Still in its infancy, Weave 0.1 is an open, extensible framework for service integration. The early release prototype comes with a basic framework, server-side components for trying out the Weave concepts and some authentication features. The initial release gives users a taste of the concept with a feature for bookmark and browser history synchronization to the Mozilla server from multiple clients-users store this data online. Weave protects the data with client-side encryption by default.



This first version is very light on features; it comes with a Web service designed to sync Firefox bookmarks and history with an online service, pushing bookmarks, customizations, passwords, histories, preferences and other browser metadata into the cloud. Mozilla plans to add a basic set of optional, hosted services designed to allow users to set up their own services with freely available open standards-based tools. Mozilla Labs clearly wants to attract developers to the project. According to the Labs Web site, Weave will "provide new opportunities for developers to build innovative online experiences" -- essentially, to create hosted services that use Weave to share user data. Although not available in this early prototype release, tools and APIs designed to extend this framework are expected in upcoming versions.

The next version, Weave 0.2, is due at the beginning of next year. That release is expected to include the Web service APIs for developers.

'Interesting offering'
Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jeffrey Hammond sees Weave filling a role between two Web-oriented products/services: At the atomic level, it's about the movement of metadata into the cloud, which brings the community-based Web site Digg, and the social bookmark manager del.icio.us to mind. At a higher level, it's reminiscent of Amazon.com Inc.'s Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a Web service designed to provide resizable compute capacity in the cloud.

"This capability seems to fall between the two," Hammond says. "It'll be attractive to users because it's very easy to use and integrated with the browser. And the encryption piece makes it very reassuring. It's an interesting offering that developers should keep an eye on."

But he sees little impact on developers in the near term unless the promised APIs are browser independent.

Mozilla Labs hopes Weave can help keep Firefox competitive with expanding offerings from Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft, which is preparing to release its newest browser, IE8 (see sidebar, "New Dev Options Planned for IE8").

How competitive? "I don't see a significant shift unless Weave is adopted by an ecosystem of high-traffic sites," Hammond says. But Firefox shouldn't be underestimated, says Forrester analyst Thomas Mendel. The open source browser has one of the strongest developer and add-on communities of any software project, and Forrester expects Firefox usage in the enterprise to continue growing in the medium and long term.

Weave is licensed under the MPL/GPL/LGPL Tri-License. The Weave early prototype is available now for download and requires the latest beta of Firefox 3.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on ADTmag.com, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at john@watersworks.com.


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