Anil Dash is a man after my own heart in his latest post, The Case for User Agent Extremism. Please go read this awesome post:
One of my favorite aspects of the infrastructure of the web is that the way we refer to web browsers in a technical context: User Agents. Divorced from its geeky context, the simple phrase seems to be laden with social, even political, implications.
The idea captured in the phrase “user agent” is a powerful one, that this software we run on our computers or our phones acts with agency on behalf of us as users, doing our bidding and following our wishes. But as the web evolves, we’re in fundamental tension with that history and legacy, because the powerful companies that today exert overwhelming control over the web are going to try to make web browsers less an agent of users and more a user-driven agent of those corporations. This is especially true for Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Apple Safari, though Mozilla’s Firefox may be headed down this path as well.
So so right… except for the misinformed inclusion of Firefox in that list. Anil: Firefox is the User Agent you’re looking for. Here’s why.
In a few days, I’ll be joining Mozilla.
[I want] to work on making the browser a true user agent working on behalf of the user. Mozilla folks are not only strongly aligned with that point of view, they’ve already done quite a bit to make it happen.
Like Anil, I believe browser add-ons/extensions/user-scripts are critical for user freedom, as I wrote more than two years ago, before I even joined Mozilla:
Browser extensions, or add-ons, can help address this issue [of user freedom]. They can modify the behavior of specific web sites by making the browser defend user control and privacy more aggressively: they can block ads, block flash, block cookies for certain domains, add extra links for convenience (i.e. direct links to Flickr’s original resolution), etc.. Browser extensions empower users to actively defend their freedom and privacy, to push back on the more egregious actions of certain web publishers.
Again, like Anil, I saw, in that same blog post, the threat of mobile:
Except in the mobile space. Think about the iPhone browser. Apple disallows web browsers other than Safari, and there is no way to create browser extensions for Safari mobile. When you use Safari on an iPhone, you are using a browser that behaves exactly like all other iPhone Safaris, without exception. And that means that, as web publishers discover improved ways to track you, you continue to lose privacy and control over your data as you surf the Web.
This situation is getting worse: the iPad has the same limitations as the iPhone. Technically, other browsers can be installed on Android, but for all intents and purposes, it seems the built-in browser is the dominant one. Simplified computing is the norm, with single isolated applications, never applications that can modify the behavior of other applications. Thus, no browser extensions, and only one way to surf the web.
To Anil’s concerns:
- Firefox Sync, which lets you share bookmarks, passwords, tabs, etc. across devices, is entirely open-source, including the server infrastructure, and if you don’t want Mozilla involved, you can change your Firefox settings to point to a Sync server of your choosing, including one you run on your own using our open-source code. PICL (Profile in the Cloud), the next-generation Sync that my team is working on, will make it even easier for you to choose your own PICL server. We offer a sane default so things work out of the box, but no required centralization, unlike other vendors.
- Mozilla Persona, our Web Identity solution, works today on any major browser (not just Firefox), and is fully decentralized: you can choose any identity provider you want today. This stands in stark contrast to competing solutions that tie browsers to vendor-specific accounts. Persona is the identity solution that respects users.
- Firefox for Android is the only major mobile browser that supports add-ons. Anil, if you want “cloud-to-butt”, you can have it on Firefox for Android. You can also have AdBlock Plus. Try that on any other mobile browser.
the unlocked browser
Anil argues that we should talk about unlocked browsers. I love it. Let’s do that. Here’s my bet, Anil: write down your criteria for the ideal unlocked browser. I bet you’ll find that Firefox, on desktop, on mobile, and in all of the services Mozilla is offering as attachments, is exactly what you’re looking for.