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We're not Obsessed with Web Standards Says Google

Web standards aren't as important as what developers want browsers to support, according to a Mozilla executive.

Mozilla's Firefox 4 browser is set to arrive within weeks, bringing with it support for HTML5 - the next generation spec from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which isn't actually being finalised until 2014.

We spoke to Mozilla's vice-president of products Jay Sullivan to find out his thoughts on web specs, HTML5, open app platforms and more.

Q. Do you think it's important for Firefox to match W3C standards, when the spec is eventually finalised?

A. What I think about is what do web developers want to do - and we talk to them, we don't just guess.

Then we try to work with other vendors to do the same stuff in the same order. So, for example, people want geolocation, people wanted 3D graphics, people want to read and write files locally.

Some of those things happen to be in the spec, some are separate specs..I don't really care where the spec lives, the thing for us is pragmatic: what do web developers want first?

Do we still need a standards body?

A. Standards bodies are helpful; it's good to be able to sit together, and have a forum to get these specs agreed. I think it's helpful, but I don't like gold-plating a document.

I think leading with code is what actually moves stuff forward. But I think we [brower makers] are pretty aligned. We all want 3D, we all want geolocation, we all want file reading and writing. There's not a lot that one browser vendor really believes that the others don't. We all listen to the same web developers.

Q. Apple and Google Chrome have their own app stores, what's your take on the future of web-based apps?

With HTML5 you're going to be able to develop all this cool stuff, but that's not really enough. What developers want to know is how people are going to find it, review it, buy it. People want a web market, but they don't want to have to do it all in one place, say through the Chrome store, which is one market for one browser, all run by one company with one payment model.

They want it to be more like the real world, where there are multiple stores. I want to go to a gaming site to buy games; I might want to buy my web apps through Amazon, because it has my payment details and it works really quickly, and don't give me hell when I want to return something.

We're promoting a way for any website or app developer to easily wrap their website into an app. They can also self-publish. If I go to your website, why can't I get your app from you? Why do I have to go all the way to Apple to get your app? We're promoting a more open approach.

For 2011, that's one of the more important things we're going to do: take that last mile from being able to technically do it, to making it into a whole experience with payments and ecosystem.

Q. You've noted one unique aspect to Mozilla is that it only makes browsers - it has no other business unlike your major rivals, which sell software and ads. Was that planned from the beginning or has Mozilla evolved as an alternative to that?

Mozilla was, from the get-go, defined by a mission. Our charter has always been to support openness, choice, innovation, and be on the user's side.

Every once in a while, it sounds cheesy, I'll go back and look at our manifesto. It helps us actually make decisions.

Those principals haven't changed. The challenges that arise in the industry are different, but the mission is consistent. At the time it was pop-up ads that were annoying, but now it's about what's happening to my data, who's using my location, who has access to my stuff in the cloud, are app models going to choke off openness and innovation?

The set of problems are new, but the mission is consistent.

Q. You're also releasing a mobile version of Firefox 4, but it sounds like it will need a relatively high-powered smartphone to work. Are you focusing on the cutting edge instead of lower-powered handsets, and leaving that to Opera?

A. For lower-end phones and slower networks at the moment, people are probably going to revert to proxy browsing [such as Opera Mini uses]. I think it's a short-term solution, and we're going for the full web.

The plus side is smartphones are quickly becoming the new feature phones. We're going to miss part of the curve, but we're investing for the long run, so for us, that's okay.

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