The danger of closed marketplaces

Tristan Nitot

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Earlier this week, a very good article about closed app stores (aka marketplaces) was published by Seattle developer Casey Muratori: The Next Twenty Years: What Windows 8’s Closed Distribution Means.

This is a long, thoughtful article focused on the new Windows 8 app store that clearly demonstrates the dangers of app stores monopolies, pioneered by Apple with the iPhone then the iPad, with now Microsoft taking a page from Apple’s book and applying it to the tablet version of Windows 8.

Here is a part of Casey’s conclusion, which I fully agree with:

Experimentation on open platforms is one of the primary sources of innovation in the computer industry. There are no two ways about that. Open software ecosystems are what gave us most of what we use today, whether it’s business software like the spreadsheet, entertainment software like the first-person shooter, or world-changing revolutionary paradigms like the World Wide Web. It will be a much better world for everyone if this kind of innovation continues.

This is something that Mozilla is fully aware of. App stores (aka marketplaces) are interesting and useful because they help users discover applications and developers monetize them. But having a monopolistic app store is just really bad for innovation and more generally our freedom. Is is possible to have the positive things brought by app stores (discoverability and monetization) while avoiding the downsides of monopolistic app stores? Yes it is.

Yesterday, Mozilla released a preliminary version of such an open marketplace for Android. It enables users to install Web applications on their Android smartphone, and we’re already working on extending this to our upcoming Firefox OS mobile platform and Firefox on other platforms.

screenshot of the Firefox marketplaceThis may sound like a paradox, but one of the key features of Mozilla’s approach is to enable developers to bypass the marketplace if they want to by selling their application directly from their own Web site. Exactly for the the reasons detailed above: openness promotes innovation and freedom.

Like everything Mozilla does, this ecosystem is always open — users have choices and developers have control over their content, functionality and distribution.

If you are a developer, I’m sure you’ll want to know more about the Firefox Marketplace approach. Here are a few interesting links:

4 responses

  1. tom jones wrote on :

    “one of the key features of Mozilla’s approach is to enable developers to bypass the marketplace if they want to by selling their application directly from their own Web site.”

    well, this is not _exactly_ true, some (sensitive) device capabilities on FirefoxOS phones will not be accessible to web apps, unless they are: 1) packaged, 2) reviewed, and 3) distributed through Mozilla’s marketplace.

    and the innovation is often found exactly at those edges that push the boundaries that we may be uncomfortable with at first, instead on the beaten path. for example, if only standard HTTP calls are allowed to (unreviewed) apps, then things like p2p, bittorrent and skype can’t be “invented”, if they are not to the liking of mobile carrier that sold the FirefoxOS phone..

    i understand the tradeoffs with user security and system integrity, but you need to be upfront with things like this, or you risk being accused of hypocrisy..

  2. Tristan Nitot wrote on :

    Tom, you are absolutely right. Mozilla has no plans on distributing malware on its Firefox marketplace, of course. But Mozilla is not using its power on the marketplace to prevent competition or innovation.

  3. And wrote on :

    I’m not sure I understand the Mozilla marked place at all. It seems Mozilla have seen the success of the closed app stores and want to copy that. But it seems Mozilla didn’t realize that it had already won before it tried to play by the closed rules. That is, since web apps are just web pages (perhaps with some caching manifest), the app store of the open web is Google (or any other search engine) and the way you “install” and app is by bookmarking it. Maybe the bookmarking UX is bad, but then fix that instead of trying to push the web into a closed silo, and maybe Mozilla wants to whitelist/blacklist sites access to device apis, but that is already build into firefox as the SafeBrowsing functionality.

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