Firefox 3: the Google browser?

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Mozilla have announced that Firefox 3 is to provide support for using web applications offline — despite, as developer Mark Finkle admits, most users not needing it.

The development of offline apps is awarded a higher priority than some other features I would have thought more desirable — fuller SVG support, for example — so why the emphasis on a feature that is only of interest to a small proportion of users of a small proportion of the browser market?

I suspect the reason might be that it’s a request from their closest business partner: Google. It’s no secret that Google and Firefox have an unofficial relationship, and last year Google announced their business office suite.

I don’t think you have to make a great leap in imagination to see the benefits to Google of having a browser which can use those apps offline; it might be the final incentive for a lot of offices to finally think about ditching Microsoft’s desktop products and start using Google’s free alternative — with the extra advertising revenue that generates.

It looks like Firefox 3 could be the long-rumoured Google browser in all but name.

4 comments on
“Firefox 3: the Google browser?”

  1. What one developer says about a Firefox feature is gospel to you? Where specifically does Mark “admit” “most users not needing it”?

    Most users I know use at least one web app regularly, whether that’s webmail, calendar, or something else, I think many, if not all, of them would benefit from being able to read and add information offline.

    Google’s got no more to do with our off-line plans than any other web service provider. Our initial offline app reference and test implementation happens to be on Zimbra and not Google. Maybe we’re in bed with them and Firefox 3 is actually the long-rumored Z‑browser.

    I get the feeling that you’ve got some SVG sour grapes here or something. If so, it’s worth noting that the people working on offline storage have never had and probably never will have any involvement in implementing SVG in Gecko. Developers are not interchangeable like that, no matter how much the advocates of a particular feature wish. If you’d like to see SVG moving forward faster in Gecko then you could help by putting up some code or some money to fund a dedicated SVG hacker. I’m sorry but there’s still no such thing as a free lunch.

    Asa Dotzler [March 15th, 2007, 01:55]

  2. Add in the fact that Firefox will improve it’s printing and exporting capabilities as the Cairo rendering engine gets tied in more and more…and you suddenly have offline office capabilities that can produce PDF’s and print very professionally. The browser will then become a cross between browser and office suite. I don’t think Microsoft realizes that making their own Office Suite’s XML an open standard, will work in Google’s favor here.…big favor.

  3. Hi Asa,

    Many thanks for the response. Let me just say up front there’s no sour grapes from me, and I think you may have misinterpreted my tone. I was just surprised to see such emphasis being put onto offline apps; I can see how it might come in useful in a very limited set of circumstances, but for a home/work user such as myself I can foresee very few such circumstances.

    The benefit comes, as far as I can see, for two users: frequent travellers, and offices who want guaranteed backup in case of connection failure. And it’s the latter group who would be in the majority, I think.

    I agree that Mark Finkle’s comment is not necessarily representative of the Firefox team, but he does make my point:

    “One of the most frequently cited reasons for organizations not adopting Web applications is the lack of offline availability. Even if most users don’t need it, offline support removes a barrier to Web application adoption.”

    And perhaps Zimbra is being used for the testing, but even so it’s obvious that Google, already the most high-profile online office apps provider, will stand to benefit.

    Obviously you know better than I but, given all of the above, I don’t think my deduction was necessarily that strange.

    Peter Gasston [March 15th, 2007, 08:24]

  4. Mark isn’t saying that most users don’t need it.

    He’s responding to an odd and somewhat confused question from the article’s author. The author asks “what about the majority of users who don’t try to access online applications from anywhere but the comfort of their own home?” Mark could have responded with something like “um, well, the reason they don’t now is because they can’t,” and challenged the author to present some evidence that if they could, they wouldn’t. Implicit in the author’s question, though, seems to be the suggestion that because they don’t now, that they won’t when given the opportunity.

    Mark’s response doesn’t validate or challenge that assertion. He basically side-steps it. I read Mark (and I’ve actually spoken with him about this and I think we’re seeing it similarly) as saying “even if [as the article’s author seem to be suggesting] most users don’t need it, offline support removes a barrier to Web application adoption.”

    Now, I’ll concede that it’s easy to read it a few ways, but I think that if you focus on the second part of that sentence, you’ll see that what Mark’s getting at is something like my proposed “um, well, the reason they don’t now is because they can’t.” The barrier to those people being able to adopt offline Web applications is that there aren’t any and Firefox/Gecko offline capabilities will remove much of that barrier… or something like that.

    Or to put it more simply, Mark doesn’t admit, as you claimed, that most users won’t use or don’t need offline Web applications.

    Take care,

    - A

    Asa Dotzler [March 17th, 2007, 00:00]