Sunday, November 20, 2011

Still using Firefox because privacy matters

I am still using Firefox as my number one browser, occasionally switching to Opera, and occasionally trying out Chrome (on my Laptop). Why am I so stubborn, some Chrome fans will ask? And why am I not using the default Android browser on my slate? And why did I not end up buying an iPad?

It all boils down to two points: The browser ecosystem and the browser ethos.

The web is more important than apps

Sometimes I hear people say it's all about the apps. I disagree. The web is the only one truly open and life changing platform. I did not chose Android over iOS because of usability or design concerns. I'd say it is still slightly – but only very slightly – behind. My new phone is a Nokia N9. Neither Android or iOS, but Meego! And yes, it has a few hundred apps, including a Dropbox client and a Google Reader.

(By the way, the user interface on the N9 is just fantastic, it beats both the iPhone and Android!)

However, both the Android Tablet and the Meego Phone lets me run Firefox. And that is nowadays a sine qua none for me when choosing a device.

Every major browser has an ecosystem nowadays

Of course all browsers can surf the web and in that regard the web is their ecosystem. But in addition to that they come with additional features.

  • Internet Explorer's ecosystem is that of corporate intranets, Windows and the occasional web site that still requires ActiveX. I know of few people who enters this ecosystem by choice, except gamers, but it is easy to get support. And all your games are playable on the hardware that is far cheaper than anything from Apple. And Windows does really have the best graphics drivers and infrastructure for sound.
  • Chrome's ecosystem is of course Google products: G-mail, G-cal, G-reader, G-docs and G+. You're at least considering getting an Android phone and think that Chrome OS has a lot more potential than it has shown so far. You are obviously not so concerned with the privacy of your data.
  • Safari's ecosystem is of course the Apple products. If you are into Apple, you're using a Mac, and every program in sight that starts with an i. You had an iPod and now have an iPhone and you will get an iPad, not because you need it, but because its made by Apple. In short, you enjoy the shiny prison of being locked in to Apple. Censorship and authoritarian control of the platform be damned – the bars are golden!
  • Opera thrives on the mobile and on devices. They have managed to make web surfers out of millions of people who never could afford a modern smart phone. In some ways though, they struggle since the entire web universe basically is their ecosystem – except for sites made by incompetent developers that shut Opera out for no good reason. There are things like Opera Link and Opera Unite, but they have not got the buzz they so rightfully deserve. The fact that Opera pioneered many things now common to all browsers, like tabs, and have always been a true champion of standards, even before Mozilla appeared, makes them worthy of tons of respect.

So, what makes Firefox ecosystem so special? It boils down to one thing. Firefox is everything!

  • It is not the oldest champion of web standards among browser vendors, as that honor goes to Opera, but they are a good runner up, and it was Firefox that de facto wrestled the web away from Internet Explorer, providing room for all other browsers to exist as well. Firefox paved the way for both Safari and Chrome!
  • It is not the true speed king, as that title goes to Chrome or perhaps Opera, that are faster on most – but not all – benchmarks as far as I can tell. But it is fast enough. And it championed the cause of being lean – once upon a time! Even today it consumes far less system resources than most other browsers.
  • It is, however, the true champion of add-ons. And it has the best add-ons for my needs.
  • Firefox has the best sync. First of all it is client side encrypted, meaning no data mining opportunities for Google or anyone else. But what makes it stand out is the syncing of tabs. It's a time saver and a life improvement factor! I sue it all the time, moving between computers, my phone and my tablet.

The right focus for the future

The economy of the future in IT is data driven. In a world of ubiquitous computing stewardship of our data in the cloud is the main prize for all big players to fight about. Through pads, tabs and boards data will be accessible in lots of places. But whoever is in control of the cloud is the winner of the future.

But will cloud stored data be accessible to all? Or only a select few that use the right brand?

And will it be inaccessible to anybody except those that I chose to share my data with? Or will the host continually mine my data and in the worst case scenario share it without my consent?

In this regard, Apple's guiding principles fail totally. The company shows close to zero interest in interoperability and since the margins go down when selling cheap devices this becomes a global problem. By building digital walls around the data in the richest countries, we are once again failing all non-western countries.

By the way, the Arab spring was not brought to the world by Apple, but by Nokia…

Google might not have failed yet. Interoperability is high on their agenda and so far their data mining seem to be mostly anonymized. But when one single entity sits on too much data and control the complete surrounding ecosystem, we are providing someone with enormous temptations. Sooner or later that temptation will become too strong!

Therefore we need truly anonymized cloud technologies. We need user owned and controlled data. We need stuff like browser id to replace the usage of id-solutions provided by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft or Apple.

In short, we need what Mozilla and Opera are championing. And for me personally that means that if you see me using a browser for anything but testing, that will still be Firefox for the foreseeable future, unless I change to Opera!

1 comment:

  1. I use Chromium instead of "Google" Chrome because of OpenSource and I can skip Google's EULA etc..