April 28, 2004 4:00 AM PDT

Mozilla, Gnome mull united front against Longhorn

As Microsoft focuses on merging its Web browser and operating system software, open-source competitors are mulling a proposal to join forces and beat the software giant to the punch.

Representatives from two open-source foundations, Mozilla and Gnome, met last week to consider a joint course of action aimed at keeping their respective Web and desktop software products relevant once Microsoft releases the next major overhaul of its Windows operating system, known as Longhorn.

Microsoft now has "a single team for Web and native desktop rendering," noted one participant, according to meeting minutes posted on the Gnome Web site. "Gnome and Mozilla need to align to counter this."


What's new:
Representatives from Mozilla and Gnome meet to figure out a common plan of attack as Microsoft's tightly integrated Web and desktop technology looms.

Bottom line:
Open-source developers worry that when Microsoft's Longhorn launches, standalone browser and desktop applications may find themselves consigned to the computing paradigm scrapheap.

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Mozilla is an open-source browser development project. Gnome, which stands for GNU Network Object Model Environment, is an open-source user interface for use with Linux and other Unix systems.

The April 21 meeting, attended by veteran Mozilla and Gnome organizers including JavaScript inventor Brendan Eich and Ximian co-founder Nat Friedman, is but one manifestation of the open-source community's Longhorn jitters. Microsoft has promised that Longhorn will fuse Web browsing and desktop computing to an unprecedented degree.

Microsoft said last year that it would discontinue standalone versions of its Internet Explorer browser to focus development energies on Longhorn.

Competitors fret that when Longhorn launches, standalone browser and desktop applications may find themselves consigned to the computing paradigm scrapheap.

The open-source developers may have time on their side. Microsoft earlier this month said it won't release Longhorn until at least the first half of 2006, having decided instead to focus this year on getting out a major security upgrade, known as WindowsXP Service Pack 2, for its current operating system.

Microsoft also faces unknown fallout from a decision last month by the European Union to force the software maker to supply a version of its Windows operating system without its Media Player software. Microsoft has appealed the ruling, and a final decision could be years away. But it could set a precedent on how the company builds its software that could affect Longhorn, which will introduce many new features.

While Microsoft has delayed Longhorn's release repeatedly, the company has advanced vital components and related technologies, including the Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML), the Avalon graphics and user interface technology, and the .Net Web services framework.

A dangerous combination
Taken together, that arsenal is costing open-source competitors sleep.

"What makes Longhorn dangerous for the viability of Linux on the desktop is that the combination of Microsoft deployment power, XAML, Avalon and .Net is killer," Ximian co-founder Miguel de Icaza wrote in a recent blog posting. "It is what Java wanted to do with the Web--but with the channel to deploy it and the lessons learned from Java's mistakes. The combination means that Longhorn apps get the Web-like deployment benefits: (You can) develop centrally, deploy centrally and safely access any content with your browser."

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A key weapon in any planned counterattack could be Mozilla's Extensible User Interface Language (XUL), a 5-year-old scheme for building desktop applications' user interfaces out of lightweight Web markup languages like XML (Extensible Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).

The original impetus for XUL was to make the Mozilla browser itself lighter and faster by creating its interface with Web standards. But out of the resulting technology Mozilla developers speculated they could spark a "programming revolution."

So far, XUL has failed to catch on, and Microsoft questioned whether Mozilla's technology would do much to help Gnome ward off Longhorn's promised threat.

XAML, Microsoft warned, is more potent than XUL in its ability to reflect exactly what's in the operating system.

"XUL is not the multipurpose declarative language that Gnome probably wants," said Ed Kaim, product manager for the Windows developer platform. "People say that when all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the same way, people are trying to figure out how to crush XUL into an OS it really wasn't designed for. The browser is great for a lot of things, but when it comes to robust client side applications, it's not the best."

Another trick will be in reconciling XUL with Gnome's existing user interface technology.

"There are ways to marry them," said Bruce Perens, an open-source consultant who serves as executive director of the Desktop Linux Consortium, a marketing organization. "But it's very difficult to get the two teams working in the same direction. They both went on a several-year tour of technical creation where they sat down and created everything they needed to do GUI (graphical user interface) applications--and they didn't create the same thing. Now to get them together it would take some number of years to resolve the technical diversions."

Gnome already relies on some Mozilla software and produces a Mozilla-based browser called Epiphany.

Mozilla also produces a version of its Firefox browser for Linux and Gnome, and one of the points of discussion between the two groups is to produce a browser that combines the native Gnome interface elements of Epiphany and the cross-platform capabilities and 200 extensions or plug-ins that come with Firefox.

But it is the development framework that poses the greater challenge and holds the higher stakes.

"As we look at the challenges coming our way, we must remain competitive and retain an aggressive agenda to provide a rich user experience on all platforms," said Mozilla spokesman Bart Decrem. "XUL has come a long way since it first came out, and the combination of Gecko and XUL is a great starting point for delivering rich applications to the desktop."


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Web > Desktop fusion is only 1/2 the story
I think that if this is being touted as a web to desktop fusion then the effect of Longhorn is really being missed. The other side is that the OS is going to have the power of an app server and database and document management embedded right in. This combined w/ the web/dekstop fusion really takes the OS to the next level of being a true platform for distributed applications far beyond what Java ever imagined. It is tremendous because the infrastructure needed to support these new distributed applications by a central entity should be cut b/c more and more of the processing will exist on the desktop/client where the cycles are basically "free" and "cheap". Right now all the cycles are being burned on the server side and this is very expensive. So once you combine a true distributed (AND RICH; lets not forget the Flash worries in Longhorn as well) application platform with a very robust app server engine you have quite a platform for the future of networked applications. -- dave
Posted by (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My only problem with Microsoft is...
Most of this stuff being talked about for long horn I fear is going to turn to be like some of the stuff Microsoft touted with Windows 3.1, Windows 95, etc. Things like Drag and Drop which aren't used any where near as much as they should and isn't even implemented as a standard feature from program to program. So, I find it hard to get excitted about these things that Microsoft says will change out life forever when in the end they are just gimicks that are counter intuitive. Maybe I wrong, only time will tell.

The three things that bother me most about Microsoft is that it takes them far too long to get major versions of Windows out. By the time Longhorn ships (which I doubt will be in 2006) Windows XP will be over 5 years old, if not older. This is just too long for users to wait for the next generation of OS. Most of will have bought and junked 3 or 4 computers during that time. Not to mention that the Macintosh will have had far more updates than Windows. I really think the problem is that Microsoft has let the major flaws in Windows linger so long that now they are having to fix things and improve things that should have been fix a decade ago. Things that Apple took care of long ago. I also thing Microsoft took far to long to dump DOS from Windows. In many ways Windows is still near a version 1 program. We shouldn't have all of these security holes and probably wouldn't if Microsoft had done the job right from the start.

The other thing that bothers and I am sure to some it is minor, but it isn't to me and that is Windows interface keeps getting more and more hideous. If the interface style of Office 2003 is any indication Longhorns interface is going to be the worst of all. I wish Microsoft could design an interface that was functional and attractive.

The last thing that bothers me is now thanks to all of the security problems with Windows we are having to wait longer than ever for Longhorn and now they are saying that when it finally does ship it isn't going to have all of the new features it should because they are too busy having to waste time fixing pot holes in the road that is Windows security. I don't know about anyone else, but this just isn't write. 6 or 7 years for a major update only to have turn out to be more like an .5 update than a full version update. And, I am sure we won't see a price cut because it is lacking some of the features promised either. Someone here is getting ripped off and I don't think it is Microsoft.

The one thing the PC needs is a second OS option and unfortunately at this time Linux isn't it.

Just my opinion.

Posted by (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Longhorn I wonder how much of it will be vapor ware?
All the things I have read and seen sound to good to be true. We all know that when something sounds to good to be true . Its probibly not good or true.
I bet it all goes up in a puff of smoke and we get XP bloated. Remember ME?
Posted by Kilz (85 comments )
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Where's KDE ?
Where's KDE in this ?

XUL is great (not ideal, but it's very nice), I've started some development work based on it. It makes me happy to think that my work would have better interface (than standard browser) in all platforms that's served by Mozilla.

And if Gnome started to integrate XUL on its desktop, I think that'd means replacing my KDE desktop with Gnome.
Posted by (9 comments )
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