A Launch Party for Firefox that showed Mozilla provides inspiration as well as browsers

The winning Firefox 4 T-shirt designOutside a trendy workspace in London's Kings Cross on Thursday 21st April, a man in a fox costume ushers people greets people on their way to celebrate the launch of Firefox 4. Inside people are wearing party hats, enjoying decorated cupcakes and proudly wearing Mozilla T-Shirts in a good reminder to us all that open source software is something that we should both advocate and celebrate as a great opportunity. During the evening we get treated to some great presentations that show off what the latest version of Mozilla Firefox is capable of and also how HTML5 technology will redefine our expectations of what a web browser can do. However, there is much more to Mozilla than Firefox.

First up is William Duyck a Mozilla community volunteer. He gave us a great presentation about the background and present activities of the Mozilla Foundation. Apparently an amazing 40,000 people contribute to Mozilla projects now. The Foundation has a manifesto (located at: http://www.mozilla.org/about/manifesto.en.html) which promotes open technology and innovation on the Internet. In the bad old days when Internet Explorer 6 was the dominant web browser Firefox was a breath of fresh air. The first version I used was 0.8 and after that the only time I ever used Internet Explorer was when I had no choice. Today Firefox 4 brings new possibilities though support for HTML5 technology to desktops, laptops and mobiles through support for such things as video (including manipulation of video) and hardware accelerated graphics.

There is much more to the Mozilla Foundation that just Firefox. It runs a number of other projects and interestingly has an outreach project called Mozilla Drumbeat which aims to connect people who are interested in new and innovative ways to use the web. Mentioned in the talk were two interesting projects, the first popcorn.js, an HTML5 video framework designed to bring video and the web much closer together. It allows you to do things like synchronise the display of web content with a video. This could be used to display additional information for content shown in a video. Maps of where scenes are filmed can be shown, websites for locations and so on.

Screenshot of the remixing reality demo on Firefox4

Another very useful project that Drumbeat is involved in, along with the Participatory Culture Foundation, is Universal Subtitles, a service which aims to make it much easier to add subtitles to on line videos. It also provides facilities to enable people to add subtitles for other languages which could increase the global reach of a video. These projects are all possible without the installation of additional software other that the web browser which opens up the chance for more people to get involved without the need to locate or pay for software, or even worry about what operating system they are using.

Drumbeat is even helping to bring the open source model to the educational world though the School of Webcraft, a project run in association with the Peer 2 Peer University which enables people to teach and learn web developer skills. The courses are free and are mentored so you get some help as well. This looks a great idea. For developers this could be a great way to keep up with the latest skills that they need. For those who wish to become developers it could be a great way to gain skills they need for employment. All of this is of course even more of an interesting option now as traditional university education could become too expensive for many people.

He added that there are many ways to get involved with the Mozilla Foundation, as with all open source groups they welcome people with a wide range of skills, not just developers.

The second talk was by Christian Heilmann, a Mozilla Developer Evangelist. Despite his job title he mainly concentrated on HTML5 which he described as a “reboot of the web”, but also “a bit of a marketing term”. HTML5 is of course still a standard very much in development but I liked his characterisation of it as “a big debate club”. Certainly the web is being reimagined right now and web applications used for a wide range of activities that previously required desktop applications. He reminded us that the “web is the platform” and that we should not fall for the idea that a certain platform is best and just end up building for that (advise still very relevant in the mobile space too).

Lots of information on how to get the most out of Firefox for developers can be found on the Mozilla Developer Network.

The talk really gave us an idea of how powerful HTML5 technologies are. He gave us a demonstration of a video player that he had written, that works in a web browser, that allows the user to rotate and zoom into video. This could then be used to find hidden detail in movies, stray microphones and so on. Thanks to the technology it is possible to write such a video player without having to write too much code. He also showed us a couple of other demos that are worth checking out, a video injection demo, where in image is inserted into a video and manipulated and the Spirit of Indiana demo where a movie of Charles Lindberg's flight from New York to Paris in 1927 is overlayed with a Google Map showing the route being plotted. More demos can be found at the Mozilla Web O' (open) Wonder site and the MDN Demo Studio. Theses sites are well worth checking out.

One of the Web O Wonder demos - The Flight of the Navigator

A key point in Christian Heilmann's talk was the idea that developments in open web technology meant more people could get involved and create things. He linked the ideas of mashups and the old demo scene on Commodore 64s and Amigas. People are the key he said and explained his dislike for the term “rockstart developer”. Tools are available now to make web development much easier such as the form validation built into Firefox 4 and Javascript libraries such as D3.js which aims to make building visualisations much easier. He ended his talk by saying that the future of the web is a team effort.

At the end of the event we were all given Firefox 4 T-shirts, the design of which was created by Koen Hendrix as part of a competition (and is shown in the picture beside the first paragraph) and we took part in a photo of everyone there. The event was really well organised and I have to say that even though I am not really a part of the active Mozilla community I felt very welcome and the crowd were friendly. It was a fun evening. For web developers of course our dream is that web browsers will react to the same code in the same way! However this looks unlikely over the next few years as the ideas around HTML5 push the boundaries. It is an exciting time on the web; Mozilla's work is inspirational and I feel we must not forget their key role in making the web what it is today.

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