When Preston Gralla’s alarmist blog entry about Firefox security being in dire straits popped up on the O’Reilly Network, I just let it slide. But this latest entry from Preston titled Good News for the Firefox Ecosystem is so out of touch I couldn’t keep from commenting. Consider the opening line:
One major advantage that Internet Explorer has had over Firefox is the ecosystem of add-ins and developers that have sprung up around it.
OK, I came into the Firefox camp fairly late in the game, like a year and a half ago. Even I know that Firefox has had a rich API for developing extensions, themes, and plugins from the start. As soon as you stroll around the menu bar, you quickly find that Firefox extensions are ready and waiting for you to utilize. When you consider the age of Internet Explorer versus the age of Firefox, IE’s extended functionality offerings pale in comparison, even with a decade-long head start. Also, how many non-ad-generating toolbar add-ins for IE come free-of-charge with open source code? Throwing those parameters in really widens the gap between the two.
The thrust of the entry seems to be that the Firefox can now “stand a better chance of thriving”, because a company, Round Two, is going to develop and support Firefox extensions.
I disagree. The reason that Firefox is thriving, and will continue to grow, is not because a company has decided to get behind Firefox extensions. It is because the Mozilla project has already proven the value of open source and low barriers to entry for new developers, and they have ensured that Firefox has been imbued with that set of values. Even a quick search on O’Reilly Network itself shows that extension development has been flourishing for a while and isn’t fraught with barriers to entry. While companies can greatly affect the market for open source software and fuel its adoption in the workplace, they would have nothing without the foundation provided by open development and collaboration.
Preston seems to be eager to adopt Firefox, but as I survey his entries since July 2004, he seems to vacillate between enthusiastic support and dire concern for Firefox’s viability. I acknowledge that it is quite a mind shift to embrace open source products at first; the typical questions pop up in our heads – how will it handle security issues, how will it ensure continuity, etc. As one who defected from the Microsoft VB and SQL Server world, I have gone through more than a few of those gyrations, at times vacillating myself. But, there are plenty of examples that prove out the viability of this approach, both positive and negative. There are successful open projects that enforce what to do and brilliant open project failures that illustrate what to avoid.
It’ll be alright, Preston and others. It has been alright for some time; the real pioneers cleared the way for us quite a few years ago.