As reported on Wednesday, Firefox has been experiencing strong gains in Europe, reaching an average of 27.8 percent of the European market (versus IE's 66.5%). All well and good, as I'd read reports before of Firefox's strong showing in the region. What didn't make much sense to me, however, were subsequent comments by Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe, that this would negatively affect Microsoft's hosted application / web services strategy.
Perhaps I have an odd perspective on this. I've long thought Microsoft should push .NET beyond the confines of Windows, either by working more closely with the folks at Mono or else creating a Microsoft-supported .NET runtime that runs on other platforms. I also think Microsoft should emphasize standardization (VC-1 is a good example), make its protocols as open as possible, and work very hard to use existing common standards in its own products.
Times have changed. Once upon a time, when computing was the exclusive domain of experts tending large water-cooled beasts using cryptic commands through monochromatic terminals, closed systems were somewhat acceptable. The effect was fairly confined to a very narrow business scope, and though vendor lock-in might be a nuisance, it wasn't something with which most people had to contend regularly.
These days, computing insinuates every aspect of our daily lives. We store our photos on them, create reams of documents - business related or otherwise - on them, store our home movies on them (making them available throughout our home), watch our television through them (set-top boxes) or we carry them on our person as cell phones, media players, or some other task specific device. The number of ways computing products are used continues to proliferate.
The increased importance of our computing infrastructure means more transparency is demanded. That means that past efforts to bind consumers to a particular product category, however common, are more likely to meet resistance, which would be the fact irrespective of whether there were large groups of free software advocates agitating for open systems.
Now, as regular readers will well know, being "open" to my mind doesn't require being open source (though proprietary companies would do well to release a lot more source code for their products than they do...I just don't think they have to release all of it). This is a nod towards the innovation incentives created as a result of the profits generated through proprietary software. Just as an all-public school system is not as good as a public school system that is forced to compete at some level with private schools (or each other), the opposing tension of proprietary and open source software forces both sides to paddle faster, raising the technology bar for both.
Given that understanding, it is my belief that the only way a Microsoft web strategy would make any sense is if it was designed, from the start, to work cross browser and cross-platform. Granted, the likelihood that that will happen certainly goes up with a Mozilla boasting credible market share, but irrespective of that, it should be part of Microsoft's strategy from the outset. Our SIP should be standard SIP, our RTP / RTSP / RTCP implementations should would with most RTP libraries, and our web applications should be designed to work with most conformant web browsers. That is appealing in its own right, and is another way to attract developers alongside great development tools and technologies.
That doesn't mean that Microsoft is confined to current W3C web technologies. It just means that Microsoft's Web 2.0 efforts need to be untertaken with cross-platform support in mind. Fortunately, that seems to be Microsoft's approach with Silverlight, which has intentions of Mozilla / Firefox support from day 1. All that remains is for Microsoft to be explicit about its intentions to support silverlight on Linux. I hope that happens soon.
Closed systems simply make no sense anymore, particularly for a company as large and dominant as Microsoft. Such companies should go out of their way to appear open. That way, their dominance is viewed with less concern.