Mozilla backs move to decriminalize iPhone jailbreaking

Firefox unwelcome on the iPhone, says CEO, who says 'choice shouldn't be criminalized'

Apple includes a version of its own Safari browser on the iPhone, and decides which third-party applications can be downloaded from its App Store online mart, the only authorized distribution channel. In the past, Apple has rejected programs it says duplicate its own iPhone software, a notion that is reportedly spelled out in the iPhone's software development kit (SDK) licensing agreement. So far, no major rival to Safari has been offered to users through the App Store.

As things stand now, Mozilla would be unlikely to craft a version of Firefox for the iPhone, said Lilly. "The SDK is very clear, that Flash and Firefox and other runtimes are not welcome on the iPhone," he said. "Given the choice, would we work on a platform where the sole company controlling it makes us unwelcome, or would we work on a platform, like Linux, where we are welcome? The answer is going to be easy for us."

Mozilla is currently working on a mobile browser based on the same code that drives Firefox. Codenamed "Fennec," the browser is in the preliminary stages of development. The first build for Windows Mobile-powered phones, for instance, was released only last week.

Although he declined to get into product development specifics, Lilly said he doubts Mozilla would venture into the iPhone even if the Copyright Office grants the DMCA exemption over jailbreaking.

Opera Software ASA, a Norwegian company noted for its mobile browser, has come to the same decision. According to CEO Jon von Tetzchner, Opera considered, then abandoned development for the iPhone when it realized that Apple's SDK license barred other browsers.

Mozilla wasn't the only technology company or developer who weighed in on the side of the EFF. Skype Communications, the eBay subsidiary known for its voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) software, for example, also backed the exemption request. "Copyright law should not interfere with a user using his or her phone to run Skype and enjoy the benefits of low- or no-cost long-distance and international calling," Skype said. So did Jay Freeman, the developer of Cydia, the open-source application installer that acts as an App Store substitute for jailbroken iPhones.

Claiming that his program is installed on 1.6 million iPhones worldwide, a quarter of them in the U.S., Freeman wasted no time blasting Apple's software restrictions. "They have denied competing mail applications, competing camera applications and competing mapping systems," Freeman said in comments he submitted supporting the EFF request (download PDF) . "They also have exerted control over what they [feel] to be acceptable content, sometimes vacillating (first denying any application using the word 'fart,' then allowing one in, which rapidly becomes the #1 most popular application in the store."

The danger of a gatekeeper like Apple on the iPhone is that innovation is stifled, Lilly argued. "These vertical silos don't enable innovation," he said. "And technology diffusion takes much longer, if it ever happens."

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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