It’s not Apple’s release of a Windows version of its Safari Web browser that concerns Mozilla COO John Lilly. It’s Apple founder Steve Jobs’ apparent view of a Web browser market shared, for the most part, by two companies: Apple and Microsoft.
In a “John’s blog” entry published last Thursday, Lilly expressed unhappiness with Jobs’ comments at the recent Apple World Wide Developer Conference, particularly the part where the man from Apple uses pie charts to illustrate the browser scene.
Jobs, Lilly said, was probably “close enough” to accurate when his first pie chart showed Microsoft Internet Explorer having 78 percent of the browser market share, Mozilla Firefox having 15 percent, Apple Safari with 5 percent and all other browsers — such as Opera — owning about 2 percent. What really bothered Lilly was another pie chart that shows Internet Explorer, Safari and no other browsers.
The graph, Lilly suggested, “betrays the way that Steve, and by extension Apple, so often looks at the world … Fantastic! Dream big! Imagine a world of … wait for it … access to the Web controlled by two companies — and why not just go with the two dominant operating system vendors in the world.”
Jobs is pushing for a “duopoly,” Lilly, suggested, with the duo being Apple and Microsoft. While Lilly said he has no problem with Apple releasing a browser to compete with Mozilla’s and all the others out there, he said he is concerned that the company is trying to stomp out open source programs and a Web not dominated by powerful vendors.
“This world view that Steve gave a glimpse into betrays their thinking: it’s out-of-date, corporate-controlled, duopoly-oriented, not-the-Web thinking,” wrote Lilly, adding that such a stand by Jobs’ comment “betrays at best a blurry view of the real world, at worst an explicit intent to bring more of the world under directed control from Cupertino.”
To those who would suggest Jobs’ WWDC comments were an oversight, Lilly said, in essence, “get real.” Apple’s founder is not prone to making internationally-distributed speaking mistakes, he noted.
“But make no mistake: This wasn’t a careless presentation, or an accidental omission of all the other browsers out there, or even a crummy marketing trick,” wrote Lilly. “Lots of words describe Steve and his Stevenotes, but ‘careless’ and ‘accidental’ do not. This is, essentially, the way they’re thinking about the problem, and shows the users they want to pick up.”
An effort by Apple to halt the free-Web movement by attempting to squash Firefox and all other browsers except IE would probably fail, he suggested. However, just the fact that Apple envisions such a world should be cause for concern, he contended.
“Even if we could somehow put that movement back in the bottle — that a world of just Starbucks and Peet’s, just Wal-Mart and Target, just Ford and GM — that a world of tight control from a few companies is good, it’s the wrong thing to do,” Lilly asserted. “It destroys participation, it destroys engagement, it destroys self-determination. And, ultimately, it wrecks the quality of the end-user experience, too. Remember (or heard about) when you had to get your phone from AT&T? Good times.”
While Jobs hasn’t publicly reacted to the blog entry, not all of Lilly’s blog readers were supportive.
“You all are really over-thinking and overreacting to this,” wrote one reader. “Safari is an OK browser — Firefox is really good — IE stinks. Safari won’t replace either IE or Firefox … Just relax everyone.”
Added another: “Shouldn’t you be happy there is another player in the market now? … I don’t think Steve sees you as the enemy. You make your Web browser for three platforms, but no one accuses you of trying to take over the world. Lighten up and don’t freak out …”
Lilly assured his readers he is happy there are more browsers, including Safari, in the world. “I’m just highlighting a problem in approach,” he explained. “And it’s one that’s been there at Apple for a long time. When I worked there in the ’90s, certainly, but really throughout their history. I can love their products and have issues with their view of the world (not to mention their strategy and tactics), and I’m just highlighting the problem for everyone, as I think it’s a little bit subtle.”
It might be “silly” for Jobs to believe Safari will eradicate Firefox, said Web browser expert Geoff Johnston, an analyst at Visual Sciences. “Maybe he’s just promoting his dream,” Johnston told LinuxInsider. Nobody knows if Safari for Windows will steal more market share from IE or from Firefox, but Johnson tends to think Microsoft will bear most of the brunt.
Browser War to Browser Snore
Gone are the days of the so-called browser war that pitted Netscape against Internet Explorer, said Johnston. Even though Firefox and Safari are making dents in its dominance, IE still controls nearly 80 percent of the market.
These days, despite Lilly’s concerns, browser choice isn’t a big issue for people, he added.
“My general take is most people are not dissatisfied with their browsers,” said Johnston. “That’s the biggest obstacle facing any new browser coming to the market. There’s a certain apathy. People don’t fix things that aren’t broken.”
Firefox, he said, “launched at the right time with the right technology,” bringing tabbed browsing and tight security ahead of IE. That, combined with “a certain animosity” for Microsoft, helped Firefox succeed, he added. “Certain people just don’t like Microsoft,” he added.
Adhering to Standards
“John is taking exception to the Apple view that they can eliminate all of the IE alternatives and get people to used the Safari Browser instead,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider. “As COO of Mozilla, you can understand why he would be against this change and likely think it impossible. However, Mozilla and the derivative products including Navigator and Firefox don’t enjoy Apple’s marketing budget, and no one enjoys Apple’s marketing excellence in this space, so there is some risk that Steve could be right.”
The Web is built around standards, said Enderle, “and Apple, traditionally, has not been that good with them.” Safari does appear to be having some “initial teething problems and has been known to have compatibility issues,” he added. Nevertheless, Enderle said, “In the end I do think Apple can take significant share. Holding it and growing it will depend on their doing something they aren’t good at, and that is cooperating with standards groups and supporting the related standards. “