Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mozilla's web developer tools

Mozilla are best known for their browser Firefox but they're creating a steady stream of great web development tools, the latest of which was unveiled last week. Bespin is a new web-based extensible code editor with integrated command line. Although it's a very early version and lots of kinks remain (including too much inaccessible HTML5 Canvas usage), the team have already accomplished one of their first objectives, which is to prove how capable browsers now are. Could web development tools one day provide the second 'arm' of Mozilla?

Other development tools managed by Mozilla include:

  • Firebug, for inspecting and editing CSS, javascript and HTML
  • Bugzilla, for release planning and maintaining issues lists
  • Mozilla Developer Center, for documenting web standards such as HTML and the DOM
  • jQuery, a javascript library for cross-browser web development

Tools for web development fit naturally into Mozilla's goals for extending the reach of the open web. In fact it seems strange that Mozilla don't have more competition in this area - there is a surprising lack of offerings from Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon and even Google, especially considering how tools can be used to bind developers towards vendors.

I hope that Mozilla's plans for Bespin are ambitious, because I see it as the centrepiece for all their development tools. Imagine if you while editing your code you could click once to find help in Mozilla Developer Center, again to visualise the results via Firebug, another time to track your bugs in Bugzilla and finally to resolve DOM issues using jQuery. In this way, Bespin can integrate all Mozilla's tools together.

I would also add additional tools to the slate, all of which should integrate back with Bespin. For example:

  • Version Control System (e.g. hg, git) integration - create a fork or merge at the click of a hyperlink
  • Validation / Best Practices - automatically check all your code against standards or best practices such as jslint
  • Web design - online tool for visualising and editing site design
  • Security - automatic checks for common flaws such as XSS

Such a suite would constitute a second 'arm' of Mozilla. It would perhaps also provide a second source of funding for the organisation, with the support of web companies that use the tools. It could certainly improve the productivity of hundreds of thousands of web developers, while spreading standards and best practices. It's a very ambitious goal, but Mozilla has already proven capable of delivering great tools like jQuery and Firebug that now dominate their markets.

I believe it's time for Mozilla to take a step up and treat development tools as a priority alongside Firefox itself.

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