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Interview with Aza Raskin, Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs

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What´s cooking in Mozilla´s labs? We decided to make some questions to Aza Raskin, user interface guru, son of the great Jef Raskin, founder of Humanized Inc., music search engine Songza and above all Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs.

First of all, can you tell us something about your-self?

If you open any newspaper to the comic section, you´ll find at least one comic with a guy swearing at his computer. Sometimes it´s a girl. Sometimes it´s a mobile device. It´s always being sworn at. It´s funny because the frustration is a universal experience. My mission is to create a world where those comics don´t need to exists.

You have posted a screencast for Fennec mobile browser UI. A very interesting concept was spatial view. Can you tell us something more about that feature and the semantic placement?

The screencast for the Fennec mobile browser is actually a concept video, meaning it represents a set of ideas rather than a committed set of features that will be in Fennec. With that considered, imagine a large sheet of glass on which your tabs sit. You can move close to the glass to see and manipulate one tab, or you can standfar away from the glass to see them all in context.

Just likes pieces of paper on your desk, you can move them around and group them together in a way that makes semantic sense to you (although unlike your desk, tabs cannot overlap). If you have a couple pages open to your email, and a couple pages open to some vacation planning material, you can place the similarly-themed sites physically together. This makes excellent use of our spatial memory
and muscle memory: finding where you put a page on two-dimensional plane is remarkably swift and requires little cognitive load. With the addition of semantic placement, it´s even better.

Spatial view uses space in a near optimal fashion?all pages are displayed at once in near maximum size so that extraneous interaction is not required to browse through your open pages.

Devolping Fennec UI is a key factor to exporting Mozilla on future mobile platforms. Do you think that Fennec will be successfull on the iPhone as well?

While Firefox on the iPhone is often requested, the terms and conditions of the iPhone SDK are too limiting, currently, for it to happen. For example, Apple prohibits prevents application developers from including embedded scripting language. In other words, you could create a web browser that would compete with Safari, but it wouldn´t be able to render JavaScript, which would severely limit its utility. We look forward to a more open device.

As Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs you are also involved in Weave, an extension to connect browsers with on-line services. Can you tell us something more about its future development plan?

The future involves the ability for web developers to leverage Weave as a platform. What does this mean? This means that because storage, identity, and securely-delegated access to browser metadata is provided by Mozilla and Firefox, creating next generation websites like and Twitter becomes as easy as a little bit of Javascript and HTML. Weave lowers the barrier to being generative at scale. That´s something to be super-excited about.

In a post you said that the new Tamarin JavaScript VM and SquirrelFish will bring a new wave for JavaScript development. Could you tell us something more about this new generation and your ContextFree.js project?

Almost any nine year old with a computer can create a page on the net, share it, and by doing so become a generative force with the same reach as a major organization. That´s the power of the Internet, and a language which is accessible enough to have become the lingua franca of computing. Javascript and HTML have progressed significantly since its inception, however the general perception of what these technologies enable do not. It took the Web 2.0 revolution to dispel the view that Javascript and Dynamic HTML were mainly useful for form validation and making annoying websites. For text and basic interaction, Javascript has shorten development from weeks to days.

The next generation of Javascript will enable that same contraction of development for movies, sound, graphics, and complex interactions. ContextFree.js is two things. First, it is a demonstration of how a small amount of code can enable a large number of people to be graphically generative. Second, it helps push people´s thoughts: Canvas and Javascript are more a powerfully expressive tool than most developers realize.

"The Network is the Computer" is a famous Sun motto. Do you think that we should be expecting a future Mozilla-based operating system?

It´s not about Mozilla. It´s about the web becoming a mature platform. Who needs an operating system, in the classic sense, when you never have to leave the web browser? You´ll wake up one day and realize that you can´t even tell what operating system your running because the web is your world. It will be a silent revolution.

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