Matt Mullenweg On Ads

Ran across this quote today which I just had to blog from WordPress.com’s Matt Mullenweg since I found it funny:

“We decided to show ads only on certain pages, only to the people who were sort of random drive-by visitors…if you use Firefox, you’ll never see an ad, no matter what, mostly because I like Firefox.”

Also kinda interesting from a business perspective. There’s been some suggestion over time that Firefox users are prone to ignore ads. Partially because of extensions that block ads (though products to block ads on the OS level, and in IE exist too btw), but partially because they are said to be more technical.

I wonder if a practice like this actually provides a higher click through rate. Because they only show ads in certain places, it’s not about total impressions (they control that by picking where to show ads, and when). They control how many impressions they run in a given period. By targeting those more inclined to click on ads, theoretically your ratio should be higher.

I’ve heard of quite a few different ways to target ads over the years, but this is a new one.

Public Domain vs. Open Source

Ok, I promise to slow down on the use of X vs. Y on this blog, but after this post. CNet has an interesting blog post by Stephen Shankland essentially asking is public domain software open source? A very interesting question.

This little bit of information from Richard Hipp, founder of SQLite, I found to be particularly interesting:

“…The consensus there seems to be that ‘public domain’ is valid and is a proper subset of ‘open source’–except in France and Germany where the concept of ‘public domain’ is not recognized…”

In my opinion, as long as the project stipulates that all contributions be released as public domain (defined as intellectual property not owned or controlled by anyone, and available for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction) for perpetuity, I think that in itself is an open source license. It’s also the cleanest and most easy to read.

Apple’s API Advantage

Vlad wrote about his work on improving Mac OS X performance (which is awesome by the way), and his findings from looking at WebKit code. To summarize WebKit utilizes some undocumented API’s (ironically from the same company that makes Mac OS X 😕 ) that give it an advantage over other software which can’t use them. This is pretty anti-competitive, and Microsoft-like in behavior. For a company that built it’s modern OS on an open source core, and it’s flagship browser (which is key to their mobile initiative) on an open source rendering engine (KHTML), you would think they would be a little more understanding about crippling platforms. Then again, look at the iPhone controversy regarding it being a closed platform (though that’s supposed to change next week, and I’ll be sure to blog about that).

Robert O’Callahan’s got a got a great blog post on some of his observations of things Mozilla would likely make good use of. He also mentions one thing worth quoting:

It’s worth reflecting that if Microsoft was doing this, they’d likely be hauled before a judge, in the EU if not the US. In fact I can’t recall Microsoft ever pulling off an undocumented-API-fest of this magnitude.

This is a very valid point which I 100% agree with. Microsoft wouldn’t get away with this.

Safari developer David Hyatt (former Mozilla developer from when Lizards roamed the earth) commented about this issue. Essentially he justifies the decision based on it not being a good practice to use some of these methods, and other aren’t even used anymore. This of course raises the question: Should Apple be deciding what other software developers can do, when they themselves can’t follow the same standards? I’d say that if WebKit feels it has to use it, there’s likely others out there in the same situation regardless of “best practice”.

See, I’m not too much of an Apple fanboy to criticize them 😉 .

The Winner For Most Embedded Is: SQLite

So the format war of Blue-ray vs. HD-DVD is over. There are still several other rather significant battles going on in the tech world right now that aren’t Microsoft vs. Apple or Yahoo vs. Google. For example:

Adobe Air vs. Mozilla Prism vs. Microsoft Silverlight

Google Gears vs. HTML5 Offline support

Android vs. iPhone SDK vs. Symbian

Ruby On Rails vs. PHP

Not every case will have a true “winner”. That’s not really a bad thing. Choice is good. In some cases they will merge to form one standard, such as what’s likely for offline web applications.

What is interesting is that SQLite really dominates right now. Adobe Air, Mozilla Prism, Google Gears, Android, iPhone SDK (likely through Core Data API), Symbian, Ruby On Rails (default DB in 2.0), PHP 5 (bundled but disabled in php.ini by default). It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore that SQL survived the transition from mainframe to server, and now is going from server to client.

No longer is the term “database” purely referring to an expensive RAID5 machine in a datacenter running Oracle, MySQL, DB2 or Microsoft SQL Server. It can now refer to someone’s web browser, or mobile phone.

This has really just begun to have an impact on things. The availability of good information storage, retrieval, and sorting means much less of these poorly concocted solutions and much better applications. Client side databases are the next AJAX.

Edit [2/27/2008 9:14 AM EST]: Added Symbian, since they also use SQLite. Thanks Chris.

New Java Plugin

There are a few goodies in the new java plugin that will be available for Firefox 3.0 and later that I’m really glad to see:

  • Improved reliability. The JVM running the applet is isolated from the web browser at the operating system level. If something should go wrong while running the applet, or if an uncooperative applet refuses to shut down, the new Java Plug-In detects and handles the error condition gracefully; the web browser is unaffected.
  • Improved user experience. The new Java Plug-In starts applets in the background, so the web browser always remains responsive. Applets appear on the web page as they become ready to run.

A major criticism of java applets has always been their impact on browser performance. This should do a lot to remedy the problem. Another great addition is that you can now use an animated loading gif by using a new image param such as:

<applet archive="large_archive.jar"
          code="MyApplet"
          width="300" height="300">
    <!– Use an animated GIF as an indeterminate progress bar
          while the applet is loading –>
    <param name="image" value="animated_gif.gif" />
    <!– Turn off the box border for better blending with the
          surrounding web page –>
    <param name="boxborder" value="false" />
    <!– Center the image in the applet’s area –>
    <param name="centerimage" value="true" />
</applet>

There’s other great stuff, but these are my personal favorites as they resolve long time gripes. You can find the above plus more in the release notes.

[Hat Tip: Henrik Gemal]

0.5 Billion Served

As mentioned elsewhere, 500+ Million downloads have been reached! That’s one hell of a milestone. I love the idea of plugging a good cause with the celebration. I heard of FeedRice, but didn’t try it until tonight. I might need to try and make a habit of playing that at least once a week. Seems like a good cause and improving vocabulary isn’t such a bad idea. 500 Million grains of rice is an achievable goal.

Also be sure to digg it to spread the word.

What better way to celebrate a monumental goal than to help your fellow man?

How To Steal A Credit Card

I said a while back RFID credit cards still have to prove themselves. Today I saw this interesting story on CNet:

As part of his presentation Wednesday, Laurie asked for someone from the audience to volunteer a smart card. Without taking the card out of the volunteer’s wallet, Laurie both read and displayed its contents on the presentation screen–the person’s name, account number, and expiration clearly visible.

You can find a ton of information including code and the hardware necessary to duplicate this his website RFIDIOt.

Another real potential issue is companies using RFID for security badges. Considering how easy it is to read and duplicate, potentially anyone who can get close to someone walking into an office can capture the data necessary to produce their own ID card. In this case only matching the photo stored by the company on their computer system (not the one on the badge) to the person’s face is security. So for those offices who don’t have security staff doing this, anyone could theoretically get in.

The best security mechanisms are the most simple and discrete. Credit cards are naturally pretty secure if used correctly. Nobody can abuse a credit card unless they know the number. Nobody can read it through a wallet. The wallet in this case is a great security feature. To read it you need to either visually inspect it for the numbers, copy it, get an impression of it, or swipe it through a reader. All things that require intimate contact with the actual card. Impressive security for some old technology isn’t it?

I’ll stick with swiping a credit card for the foreseeable future. Your only not liable for a stolen credit card if you and your credit card company mutually agree it’s stolen or being misused. Otherwise you may be on your way to an expensive dispute. Regardless it may have hit your credit, and you’ll spend a lot of time sorting it out and getting it corrected. Bad credit costs you money. Some individuals make it sound like it’s just a phone call and your done, but people who have had their credit card stolen sometimes spend several months fighting to save their credit.

Microsoft’s Open Source Decoy

So Microsoft will open up with information on many protocols/formats, and provide a “covenant” not to sue open source developers. Note the exception. Microsoft reserves the right to sue companies who commercially distribute such implementations. They need to get a license. As Microsoft put it in their principles:

Open Source Compatibility. Microsoft will covenant not to sue open source developers for development and non-commercial distribution of implementations of these Open Protocols.

As far as everyones reaction to this, Arstechnica wins with the best quote:

“Instead of offering a patent license for its protocol information on the basis of licensing arrangements it knows are incompatible with the GPL—the world’s most widely used open source software license.”

It may settle some curiosity in regards to how close certain reverse engineered implementations are to the actual protocol, but beyond that I don’t think it will make any difference. I think this caveat would limit most projects ability to utilize the information. I don’t think any major project is willing to utilize code subject to that limitation.

For example I mentioned just the other day that Exchange compatibility would bring about the most corporate adoption to Mozilla Thunderbird. Well this could potentially help make that a reality, except Mozilla’s commercial arm would be subject to trouble come release time. Not to mention any downstream commercial distribution that includes it (including many Linux distributions) unless they include a version without this code.

It may however be possible for a company to sell a product and offer a GPL licensed open source “plugin” or “addon” that adds the functionality. So for example Thunderbird would ship as usual via Mozilla Messaging and various Linux distributions. If you wanted exchange compatibility you would need to go to mozilla.org and download the addon for it. Similar to the current process for the provider for Google Calendar. However this adds a nasty extra step for users. It’s far from ideal.

The other notable thing in my mind is this part of their principles:

Industry Standard Formats. Microsoft supports many data formats promulgated by standards bodies in its products today. We will apply Principle II with respect to any standards-based data formats in our high-volume products. We will incorporate customer advice from our Interoperability Executive Customer Council and our ongoing community and customer engagement efforts to give us guidance to prioritize which standards we support in any given product release.

We want OpenDocument.

So despite all the media attention, I don’t think open source gained much today. There’s potential (OpenDocument getting priority would be nice), but really no big win. I just don’t see projects giving up GPL, and I’m pretty sure this agreement would violate GPL.

Mozilla Messaging

As some may remember, Mozilla’s plan for Thunderbird was to form a new (then unnamed) company owned by the Foundation. Mozilla Messaging has now launched. I’m a fan of this approach as I think it allows for the most synergy between the projects, which are really more fraternal or conjoined twins than sister projects. It also allows for more dedicated resources and focus that Thunderbird wasn’t receiving before.

David Ascher has a great post on what’s to come. There are a few things I’d like to touch on though.

…Specifically, Thunderbird 3 will build on the great base that is Thunderbird 2 (and the work already performed in trunk by the current and past contributors), and add some key features, such as:

Presumably meaning it’s based on Mozilla 1.9, though I’m not 100% clear on this.

  • Integrated calendaring (building on the great work done by the Mozilla Calendar team and their Lightning add-on to Thunderbird),

Awesome. This is something that was missing from long ago. Though I wonder how far it will go without the server side being as available, robust and tested. Exchange compatibility would bring about the most corporate adoption, though that could be difficult to engineer. Google Calendar is supported via an addon. It’s still lacking in a few places, though rapidly improving. I believe it also works with Zimbra (can anyone confirm?), which is a good start.

  • better search facilities,

I’m curious what this entails. Search is always tricky. Google Desktop has proven a good solution for many who need better search with their email client.

  • easier configuration,

Cool. Enough said. I’ve had thoughts on that for a while.

  • and a set of other user interface improvements.

Hopefully this will result in some native skinning similar to what Firefox 3.0 is doing.

Address Book is also about 4 years overdue for an overhaul. Personally I think it should be replaced entirely and use a mozStorage backend. Perhaps even look at the possibility of some data sharing with services like Facebook, Plaxo and LinkedIn. Obviously being careful to avoid causing a Scoble by scraping data. For something like this data portability will be critical.

Personally I’d like to see some standard emerge where closed messaging services can essentially be interfaced like an IMAP account. So one could plug in their account info and interact with their account via any tool they choose. Obviously sending would be limited to within the provider’s walls. Contacts, data, etc. can be sync’d between both providing a seamless experience.

…Another strength is that we already have a complete web technology stack built into our mail client, and as a result, we can consider deep integration with both websites and web services which other solutions can only dream of.

Extensions are powerful. But this is really where the strength is. It’s a rather complete platform, and constantly expanding to keep up with the latest. It’s far from a hacked together parser that does a subset of html.

I suspect 3.0 will be somewhat of a quieter release. Change won’t come overnight. Those expecting a radical new approach to email by 3.0 will likely be disappointed. 4.0 is where things will become a more disruptive. I’d assume this will correspond with Mozilla2, which might work out to be an advantage.

As a final note, for any who don’t realize Scott MacGregor and David Bienvenu (no idea where his new blog will be) aren’t working for Mozilla Messaging but will still be involved with Thunderbird. They haven’t said too much on their plans yet.

That’s about all of my thoughts on the topic for now.

Thunderbird is dead, long live Thunderbird.
Email is dead, long live Email.