What Mozilla's Bespin Bespeaks


One of the most interesting developments in the open source world is the way that Mozilla has changed in recent years. What started out as a (slightly shambolic) attempt to hack a decent browser out of the wreckage of the Netscape Communicator code, has turned into arguably one of the two or three most important forces in free software today (you can draw up your own list).

That's largely down to the success of Firefox, which did three things. It re-invigorated the entire project, made the Mozilla brand powerful in its own right, and – perhaps most crucially – brought in scads of dosh thanks to the search box deal with Google. The money side has meant that Mozilla has gained both independence from external forces, and the ability to range widely in its activities.

One area where we are seeing a new Mozilla is in the field of lobbying. The organisation has become a torch-bearer for what it calls the “Open Web”. One knock-on consequences of this welcome focus on supporting and promoting open standards is that Mozilla's top people have become increasingly outspoken on related issues.

The most recent example of this came from Mitchell Baker, whose strong opinions on the European Commission's investigation of Microsoft's activity in the browser sphere have provoked a lot of comment, much of it negative. I can't agree: this is precisely the kind of area where Mozilla should be making itself heard, for the simple reason that there aren't many that can speak with such authority here. In particular, I think the following is exactly what Mozilla should be doing:

I’d like to offer Mozilla’s expertise as a resource to the EC as it considers what an effective remedy would entail. I’ll be reaching out to people I know with particular history, expertise and ideas regarding these topics.

Clearly, though, advocacy is not the only thing, or even the most important thing, that Mozilla should be occupying itself with. It is fundamentally an organisation for producing high-quality open source code that promotes its aims. Against that background, the announcement of the Bespin project is significant, because it represents a further broadening of Mozilla's reach and ambitions:

Bespin is a Mozilla Labs experiment that proposes an open, extensible web-based framework for code editing that aims to increase developer productivity, enable compelling user experiences, and promote the use of open standards.

You can see that Bespin is ticking all the Mozilla boxes, but what's also striking is that this is a Web-based project: Mozilla is entering the cloud. It's a further shift to viewing the Web as a platform for doing, well, just about anything. Clearly, against that background, open standards are even more important. And not only for the code: another issue that Mozilla will need to start addressing publicly is that of open data. As more stuff moves into the cloud, it become imperative to establish minimum standards for access to the data that is held there. I look forward to hearing Mozilla's views on the subject.