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03 July 2009, 13:22

Mozilla CEO: The browser has a long way to go

The future of Firefox

Mary Branscombe

Now that Firefox 3.5 is out, The H talked to Mozilla CEO John Lilly about HTML 5, Chrome, the mobile Web and the future of Firefox and he says the war is far from won

John Lilly
John Lilly, Mozilla CEO
Firefox 3.5 is one of the self-proclaimed 'modern browsers' based on HTML 5 – but what does that actually mean and what is the real status of HTML 5 as a standard? To Mozilla CEO John Lilly, it’s more about stepping stones and building blocks than one over-arching standard. "When I talk about 'modern' browsers, it’s fast JavaScript, it’s sophisticated graphics, it’s offline storage, it’s all the same things Google have said. Geo[location] – I’m not sure geo is required to be a modern browser, although we like it. I think that we've got a bunch of these standards now and when you start to put them together, you get a really powerful package. We prefer smaller, more fundamental building blocks as standards. Canvas is a great one – it’s a standard but it’s not on the '65%' browser, on IE."

So where does that leave HTML 5, which Google often talks about as though it was already approved? "I think HTML 5 is more of a collection of things that have gotten traction for a little while and gotten good consensus through WHATWG (which is probably the most effective Web working group). You do the best to try to figure out what the fundamental building blocks are going to be and implement systems and then standardise as you go, or standardise a little afterward. I think that we now have a set of standards that are coalescing into HTML 5. But I think HTML 5 as a thing, as a whole entity, that’s a pretty long time coming."

There are many different opinions about both the contents of HTML 5 and how you approach creating and implementing a standard like this; Lilly thinks that’s unavoidable. "The reason you're getting a lot of different answers is because I think no-one actually knows what the perfect standards-based world looks like. There's no really great way to do this; it’s this balance between a lot of things."

Part of that is the tension between innovation, which means experimenting and taking risks, and standardising, which means locking things down. And part of it is the impact of open standards on commercial interests and companies who have been innovating ahead of standards. "If you look at things like video, mostly it wasn't a standard that made video work, it was the ubiquity of Flash. Now we want to make video completely standard and open - and Adobe feels like they’ve made all these innovations and we’re trying to throw them off the side of the bus and go to open video and say you don't need Flash any more."

Next: On Google and Mobile browsing

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