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Longhorn to Mozilla: Can't We All Get Along?

Microsoft's technology evangelist is offering "friendly" suggestions to Mozilla open source browser groups and calling for more discussion about how the two sides can benefit from upcoming enhancements in Longhorn, the next version of Windows.

"We're working underneath on the foundation. Longhorn will let you make a new awesome browser that [would] blow away what you're doing today," Microsoft's Robert Scoble said in an interview with internetnews.com and wrote on his blog.

Scoble's latest comments came after the desktop development platform group GNOME Foundation and the desktop application group Mozilla Foundation recently discussed how the two open source communities could join forces to fight what they see as a proprietary onslaught from Longhorn.

Mozilla should talk with Microsoft and it need not worry, Scoble said. Longhorn will play nice.

Scoble told internetnews.com that he is a user of Mozilla's next generation FireFox browser and thinks it's great, but could also be so much better.

He offered a few friendly suggestions to the Mozilla team about Longhorn enhancements that he said should not be viewed as threats.

"On XAML [a new markup language for building graphical user interfaces in Longhorn], if you look at the platform, it allows you to do completely new things that are not possible in any platform today. Why aren't we talking about making use of that platform technology in Mozilla?" Scoble told internetnews.com.

"There's a new database file system WinFS," Scoble said of the file storage system in Longhorn that also deploys relational database functions of Microsoft's next SQL Server database application.

"Why don't we talk about new ways of making use of it in the browser? Is the browser that we have today the end of it? Can we not come up with a better way to do things?"

His comments echoed some of the sentiment on his blog, where Scoble recently wrote of the Mozilla/GNOME concerns: "You don't take advantage of Avalon," the new graphics subsystem that serves as a foundation for Longhorn's shell.

"You don't take advantage of WinFS. These things are not threats to you. They are platform-level investments we're making for you to use. If you don't use them, I'm sure some other browser will (Opera?) and I'll switch to that."

For months now, discussion groups in the open source community have raised concerns about Longhorn, especially over whether the next-generation Windows platform might break legacy applications, a charge that Scoble vehemently denies.

"First of all, Longhorn has a mission not to break existing apps. If we broke existing apps, we'd be hurting our customers, our partners and ourselves," Scoble told internetnews.com.

"If you look at what we're doing in Longhorn, we're investing so much in the platform so that people can build new kinds of applications, Internet connectivity, and services. We're putting them in for developers, and I don't mean just Mozilla. I want all developers to talk to us about what we're doing and try to figure out how to make their applications better for their use," he continued.

"What I'm looking for is new ways for making customers' lives more productive and if Mozilla wants to help in that effort, I'm all for it," Scoble said.

But Brendan Eich, a member of Mozilla Foundation's board of directors and chief technology officer, said it's unlikely the group will take Microsoft's evangelist up on his offer.

"Mozilla integrates with Windows already, and will continue to do so," Eich told internetnews.com. "However, Mozilla applications and code are mostly cross-platform, and we try to maximize functionality on all operating systems. We especially avoid integrating too much with one operating system when that would lead to non-standard code, protocols, and formats leaking onto the public Internet."

Eich, who helped create Javascript while working with Netscape, pointed out that Microsoft has already established a precedent of leaking non-standard formats into the mainstream.

"This problem has already occurred with the non-standard IE DOM [Document Object Model] and Windows-only Active X," Eich told internetnews.com. "It has resulted in a broken Web experience for Mac and Linux users on too many sites, even today."

However, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently approved DOM Level 3 Core and Load and Save specifications as official W3C recommendations, a move that stamps out vestiges of the browser wars and makes way for Web interoperability. The specification means that developers will be able to deploy scripting for programs that can interoperate with different browsers.

Mozilla is likely not to be in a rush to take advantage of Longhorn platform improvements as suggested by Scoble. Eich said the open source foundation has other, more immediate issues, to deal with on its technological roadmap.

"The challenge for Mozilla before Longhorn ships is not to spend our time trying to take advantage of WinFS or Avalon. Longhorn's version of IE no doubt already is well-integrated with those proprietary technologies," Eich told internernews.com.

"Mozilla's challenge is to continue refining our great applications such as Firefox, while working with other open source and open standards supporters to build a compelling platform on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows."

Still, glimmers of dialogue are appearing about the issue.

According to Eich, there may still come a time when Mozilla makes use of Longhorn technologies. "If, when Longhorn is closer to shipping and we have more information about what is in it, we can make good use of some of its components without risking their spread onto the Web, we may do so."