Monday, January 01, 2007

Firefox 2.0: the enterprise client OS for Web 2.0

This free software never ceases to amaze me. If ever there was an Enterprise desktop operating system that runs on web 2.0, this is it. There is no better client platform for delivering Enterprise applications that live in the web space.

Since I am not on any internal Firefox team, I can only speculate on the philosophical general direction they are taking the project, but let me say this... Firefox is become a more and more connected product. In the same way computers have gone from being described according to their function, to being described according to their role in the network, firefox is placing more and more importance on it's ability to relate to other systems. In the same way that an operating system integrates hardware with applications that in turn, pass on the hardware's functionality to the user, firefox is integrating Internet systems with the user via the applications that it ships with, but it allows you to build enterprise application[ client]s (preferably in XUL, but optionally [x]html).

Having set the context thus, lets just look at the list of NEW features (not including the already available SOAP or AJAX related milestones):
  1. Microsummaries are a reductive utility for mining existing content for simple and effective re-purposing of basic content to other systems. It uses the mature W3C technology of XSLT to achieve the mining as well as the power and versatility of the mature standard that is regular expressions for targeting. Microsummaries are all about integrating and connecting your existing content with your existing systems or the systems of your partners/customers.
  2. OpenSearch. A self explanatory name. An open standard for integrating search systems. This is supported by IE7 as well as Firefox 2.0. Firefox makes this so easy, a developer could well turn up to work at 9am, read this blog over morning coffee, click a few links for research, follow this tutorial, and have his company's intranet search facilities available as part of the firefox web OS by lunchtime. And that is being conservative :) (change control processes not withstanding).
  3. Javascript 1.7 is a major step in bringing the most misunderstood programming language up to speed with more conventional contemporary software technology. As a technology it was already in a league of it's own (for those who understand it), and now it's a whole lot better. This kind of ongoing commitment, by the mozilla team, to the core facilities of the developer, is what allows allows this product to lead the way in add-on functionality provided by other companies and individuals.
  4. Web applications are not new, and so it is no surprise that some group is attempting to standardise cirtain patterns by rudcing them to a high-level API which is incorporated into the existing W3C standard DOM API. Again, firefox leads the way and starts implementing parts of it immediately even though the standard is only in draft form.
  5. SVG still has a bigger role to play than anyone is giving it at the moment. I say this because it is a standards based technology based on the XML standard. This means that it should be easy to appropriate XML formed business data for complex visual representation without needing to create complex flash applications to fit in between your enterprise system and your web client. Firefox's ongoing commitment to SVG shortens the path. AJAX was based on technology which was there for a long time and then one day the world woke up and suddenly started to use it (after giving it a catchy name). I reckon SVG will have the same fate.
  6. Spellchecking with web forms - duh! Why has no one done this before? Anyway, it's done now, and Firefox is leading the way to consolidate itself as a applications platform. Shouldn't all applications, including web applications, have a built-in spell checker? Now it comes as part of the firefox web OS.
  7. Web 2.0 runs of a connectionless protocol commonly known as HTTP. This means managing user-sessions is an issue for enterprise applications. Finally we are getting some real help on the client-side now on this issue. Firefox gets down to brass tacks on this issue with the new session store API.
  8. There is now an API for utilising RSS feeds. OMG this is great. Sure, you could have rolled your own using AJAX, but now you don't need the overhead of debugging and maintaining that crap on the hostile environment that is HTTP. By standardising and streamlining the API into the Web OS, Firefox is going to encourage users to re-purpose syndicated content in ways they never would have bothered to before. Let me tell you, I think this one simple feature is going to underpin a great many of the most useful new browser extensions and XUL applications. Again, this technology focuses on integration - relationships. Enabling business to establish better relationships with their partners, their customers, and between systems within themselves.
  9. Remember how you could write windows programs with the ability to use MS Access .mdb files to manage data using SQL? Well that's what SqLite was designed to do for open-source. This is an efficient, proven technology now which is bundled with the latest PHP server technology. It is available for all the relevant modern languages and now it is available as part of the Web 2.0 OS. Effortless data management for anyone who can use SQL - now available to you via JavaScript. Oh happy day!
I've just reviewed the features mentioned on said announcement page. I haven't gone over existing features. Looking at the new stuff, it is clear that Firefox two is relationship focused, integration focused - enterprise focused.

Today, a large software company, by the name of Google, is finally giving another large traditional software company, by the name of Microsoft, something to think about. It's new office suite (gmail/calendar/spreadsheets/docs) is a fully online web 2.0 application. The myriad of supporting applications are going to help them be the first company to challenge Microsoft's seemingly unassailable dominance. At the moment, their web applications are HTML based. That's expensive, because there are high maintenance overheads associated with that fact, not the least of which is browser compatibility. HTML is a technology has always been a bastard child in the context of an applications platform. It's future in that capacity is extremely limited. This is where Firefox's XUL technology answers the call. Leveraging existing standards like JavaScrip/CSS/XML. Let me contend that as a business, you don't want to be supporting HTML applications. You also don't want to be delivering your home-grown business applications via the now ageing desktop operating system. You want the new platform - the Internet. But you also need the best desktop operating system for the Internet. You need Firefox 2.0.
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