Faced with competition from Apple, Microsoft, and Google to win the hearts of browser users, Mozilla can't rely on spreading Firefox by bundling it with an operating system or posting a link on the world's most popular search page. It has to make Firefox so compelling that people want to download it, install it, and use it.
To do so, Mozilla has to continue to innovate, and it's doing just that as it tries to transform Firefox from a presentation tool for Web pages into a platform for cloud-based services.
On Wednesday, Mozilla Labs engineer Dan Mills offered an update on Weave, a project that aims to allow Firefox users to synchronize data across devices and connect to online services through a server in the cloud.
Think of it as Mozilla's attempt to build infrastructure through which it could integrate services similar to Apple's MobileMe or Microsoft's Windows Live ID. Think of it as the Mozilla cloud, where not only Mozilla but users themselves will be able to set up and run their own services.
In a video, Mills demonstrates Weave's identity component, which provides automatic or single-click login at sites that allow saved passwords and at sites using the OpenID federated identity system. With Weave installed, a Firefox user can enjoy a simple single-sign-on experience.
And thanks to Weave Sync, a user's identity information and other personal data, like Web page history, can be synced across devices. Thus, mobile phone users could launch Fennec, the mobile version of Firefox, and see the Web pages they'd been browsing at home, for example.
While that may seem like a relatively minor convenience, keep in mind that the personal information Mozilla wants to corral in its cloud -- passwords, bookmarks, browsing history, customizations, preferences, contacts, and the like -- is the basis for social networking. Social computing begins with identity.
Looking ahead, Mozilla could provide many of the services of Facebook, or at the very least Xmarks, through Firefox, facilitating communication with friends and making content available to interested parties through the browser itself rather than Web pages.
With at least 270 million users worldwide, Firefox already has the users. As Weave matures, perhaps Mozilla can find a way to connect them.
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