Why did the Microsoft Engineer Tweet about an Open Web? Because they are now on the other side.

January 28, 2019 - General Computing

Recently, a Microsoft engineer had this to say with regards to Mozilla and Firefox:

Thought: It’s time for @mozilla to get down from their philosophical ivory tower. The web is dominated by Chromium, if they really *cared* about the web they would be contributing instead of building a parallel universe that’s used by less than 5%?

As written this naturally got a lot of less-than optimistic responses. Here are some follow up tweets wherein they explain their position:

I don’t neglect the important work Mozilla has contributed, but here’s a few observations shapes my perspective:

1) The modern web platform is incredible complex. Today it’s an application runtime comparable to the Java or .net framework.

2) This complexity it’s incredibly expensive to implement a web runtime. Even for Google/Microsoft it’s hard to justify such investment that would take thousands of engineers in multiple years. The web has become too capable for multi engines, just like many frameworks.

3) Contribution can happen on many levels, and why is it given that each browser vendor has to land their contributions in *their own* engine? What isn’t the question what drives most impact for the web as a holistic platform?

4) My problem with Mozilla’s current approach is that they are *preaching* their own technology instead of asking themselves how they can contribute most and deliver most impact for the web? Deliver value to 65% of the market or less than 5%?

5) This leads to my bigger point: In a world where the web platform has evolved into a complex .application runtime, maybe it’s time to revise the operation and contribution model. Does the web need a common project and an open governance model like fx Node Foundation?

6) What if browser vendors contributed to a "common webplat core" built together and each vendor did their platform specific optimizations instead of building their own reference implementations off a specification from a WG? That’s what I mean by "parallel universes".

7) I believe Mozilla can be much more impactful on the holistic web platform if they took a step back and revised their strategy instead of throwing rocks after Google/MS/etc.

8) I want the web to win, but we need collaboration not parallel universes. Writing specs together is no longer enough. The real threat to the web platform is not another browser engine, but native platforms, as they don’t give a damn about an open platform.

That’s a lot to take in, however, my general “summary” would be “Why have these separate implementations of the same thing when there can be one” which is pretty much a case for promoting code reuse. However, that idea doesn’t really hold fast in this context. This may be why the statement was so widely criticized on Twitter.

In an ideal world, of course, the idea that we could have as they describe, a single, “common webplat core” that every vendor can freely contribute to and for which no one vendor has any absolute or direct control or veto power over, is a good one. But it is definitely not what we have nor is it something that seems to be in development right now. That “common webplat core built together by every vendor” is most definitely NOT Chromium, or the Blink engine, so it’s sort of a red herring argument here. Chromium is heavily influenced and practically “under the control” of Google, an advertising company. Microsoft- another company that has a large advertising component, has now opted to use the same Blink rendering engine and chromium underpinnings that are used in Chrome, via a re-engineering of the Microsoft Edge browser. That’s two companies that are shoulder deep in the advertising and marketing space that have a history of working in their own best interests rather than the best interests of end users with a hand on the reins of Chromium. Not exactly the open and free ‘common webplat core’ that they described!

Given this, Mozilla seems to be the only browser/rendering engine vendor that is committed to an open web, The idyllic scenario they have described only makes sense if we were to start with an assumption that all Open Source software is inherently free of any sort of corporate influence, which simply is not the case. Furthermore, the entire point of Open Source projects is to provide alternatives, not to provide a single be-all end all implementation- The entire idea of Open Source is to provide choices, not take them away. There is no single Desktop Environment, Shell, Email Server,  Web Server, text editor, etc. Think of a type of software and the Open Source community has numerous different implementations. This is because realistically there is no “be all end all” implementation for any non-trivial software product, and implementations of an Open Web fall under that umbrella. Suggesting that there be only one standard implementation that is used for every single web browser is actually completely contrary to the way Open Source already works.

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