Mozillians of Europe, Unite

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Mozilla Europe was kind enough to invite me to give a talk at its EU MozCamp 2009 on Saturday. It was an inspiring experience – not my talk, of course, but being among 180 of the top free software coders in Europe, along with other key people from the Mozilla project.

Aside from the almost palpable energy that you would expect from having so many bright – and generally young – people brought together in this way, the other thing that struck me is just how incredibly successful Mozilla is today.

One statistic mentioned was that by some measure (details necessarily vague), there have been one billion Firefox downloads. Firefox is also on course to reach 25% global market share, and has already attained over 50% market share in several European countries such as Germany and Finland.

These are incredible figures for any product, but truly trail-blazing for free software, which finds itself well on the way to dominating an end-user market for the first time (Apache, of course, has dominated the Web server sector for nearly a decade).

Moreover, the team has no intention of resting on its laurels. Mike Beltzner, Mozilla's Director of Firefox, spoke of his wish to keep Firefox development on a steady six-month release cycle. This, combined with a slightly different development approach, will allow new features to be brought in much faster.

Interestingly, he did not see the main competition coming from Internet Explorer or Google Chrome – although he acknowledged that both of these would be working hard to gain market share. Instead, he made an good point about how these – and other software companies like Adobe – take a standards-compliant browser foundation for granted, and then add proprietary lock-in on top (through Silverlight, Flash etc.).

I think that's true, and confirms the gradual commoditisation of the browser stack from the bottom up, just as the enterprise software stack has been commoditised by GNU/Linux from the bottom.

One of the important ways of fighting things like Flash and Silverlight is by making Firefox's support for open video through HTML 5 excel. Beltzner showed a few quick demos that highlighted the power of this approach, and I was glad to see Mozilla throwing its considerable weight behind HTML 5 and associated open standards like Ogg Theora: I really think it's crucial for the project to become even more evangelical here.

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