Firefox to go head-to-head with Flash and Silverlight

Flash vs Silverlight vs Cairo: can Mozilla take animation and video open-source?

Firefox 3.0 includes a new graphics rendering engine codenamed “Cairo”: a tantalising hint that Firefox might be moving into territory owned by Adobe Flash and being greedily coveted by Microsoft? The answer is yes actually… Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker says graphics and video rendering are absolutely part of her future plans for Firefox.

Dan Warne (APC): Another thing that I saw in the Gran Paradiso notes was some mentions of Cairo rendering engine and as far as I have read about it it’s a sped up good quality rendering engine for scaleable vector graphics.

Mitchell Baker: Yes 2D graphics at this stage.

Dan Warne (APC): So this might be a long shot but I wondered if that at all will come into competition with Flash and Silverlight?

Mitchell Baker: Well clearly graphics is an area where the web could be better and so we’re all focused on it. We are focused on it with really open technologies and of course Silverlight is completely proprietary and clearly Flash also proprietary though Adobe is making some roads towards openness.

So we actually – and I think Brendan and his roadmap – has been suggesting to Adobe even more moves towards openness that we might do together and we would love to see an open version of Flash but that’s Adobe’s decision not ours.

So I guess in the sense we’re all looking at graphics yes and ultimately I guess if Flash were to remain as proprietary as Microsoft technology then we’d have to continue to try and develop graphics in an operable way.

But Flash is clearly dominant in the graphics’ space.

Dan Warne (APC): One does wonder why Microsoft would bother with Silverlight when it is so late into the game.

Mitchell Baker: But it is so critical I mean we’re doing the same thing and we’re doing the same thing because Flash – yes it’s proprietary so to us that’s kind of a problem but why does it really matter? Well it doesn’t live – it is on the web but not of the web it’s not searchable it doesn’t share all the features of the browser you can’t operate it it lives in a little box.

I imagine there are probably efforts to move it out of the box but to really integrate with the rest of the web some of those capabilities ought to be in the web client which is the browser. And so we continue to hope on that front but also to develop graphics capabilities ourselves.

Dan Warne (APC): That’s really cool. Would that encapsulate any video capability as well?

Mitchell Baker: We’re looking at that so there are a couple of things. One is clearly the text‑based web that browsers grew up looking up is changing and video is going to be increasingly important.

Dan Warne (APC): It’s really boomed in the last sort of six months to a year hasn’t it?

Mitchell Baker: Yes once capabilities are there there’s an easy mechanism. So there are a couple of them there is the question what should a browser do to support that and both at the application level that human beings see and on an underlying technology level.

So we are looking at both of those to try and figure them out. It turns out that once you get into some audio but video things there are a lot of complexities.

Dan Warne (APC): Is there ever. Endless combinations of CODECs …

Mitchell Baker: You have to work your way through; some of these things are clearly patented so you have to work your way through some of those things. So we are looking at it but we haven’t made our way through all of those things yet.

Dan Warne (APC): Do you run into that very often; run into like we have an idea we would like to do something but then realise “oh crap someone already has a patent on that?”

Mitchell Baker: Well it’s constantly in the background. We haven’t struggled with it too much.

Read more of the interview with Mitchell Baker: