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Is Microsoft Trying To Trap a (Fire)Fox?

Here in the molasses-slow days of August, this is what passes for news: Microsoft has invited developers of Mozilla's Firefox browser to work with the Redmond giant so that Firefox will work properly with Vista.

Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, it probably is. But that didn't prevent some open-source fans from postulating that Microsoft is somehow trying to lure Firefox developers to Redmond in order to weasel secrets out of them, or recruit them, or... something.

There is a little tidbit from this story that adds a mild level of intrigue to the discussion: "Firefox already runs successfully on existing Windows, Linux and Macintosh operating systems. Testing by sister site ZDNet UK found it also runs well in Vista beta 2, so it's not clear why Mozilla would need help from Microsoft."

Have these people ever actually used Firefox in Windows? I have, and while I've found it to be a fine browser, I have had some problems with it in the Windows environment. Maybe I'm alone there… but I don't think so. So, in that sense, there probably is some work to be done in making non-IE browsers like Firefox more compatible with Windows. And, in a broader sense, this serves as a veiled admission on Redmond's part to the well-known fact that third-party software doesn't always work as well in Windows as Microsoft's own home-cooked apps do.

But, why does Microsoft care about making an IE competitor more compatible with the world's dominant OS? Is this just an elaborate ruse to steal secrets (and devs) form Mozilla? Is it a case of Microsoft relenting that proprietary technologies are giving way to open-source alternatives (as one Ars Technica poster suggested, citing "the embrace of RSS, the Open Source lab, XML and royalty-free access to OpenXML")? Is this, ultimately, the beginning of the end for IE?

Any of those factors could be behind this move, but it's likely that none of them is. In fact, this looks more than anything else like a feel-good public relations move aimed at making Microsoft look a little less rigid and proprietary and a little more willing to work with open-source technologies and developers. And, if whatever collaboration does happen leads to improvements in IE, Firefox and browsers in general, that's all the better for users.

Still, the Firefox folks would be wise-as would partners working with Microsoft on development-not to reveal too much about their applications or their strategies. Guarded collaboration, at most, should be the order of the day. There's no need for Mozilla to help set a trap for Firefox in Redmond, especially if Microsoft doesn't seem to be in the hunting mood.

Have any Firefox experiences? Do you think Microsoft is up to no good with Mozilla? Share your thoughts here or at [email protected].

Posted by Lee Pender on August 22, 2006