Neat thing of the day: Mozilla Sync

I've long wanted something like Mozilla Sync, so it came as something of a surprise to me that it exists in fairly polished and working form. I haven't seen much news about it, which is surprising, especially from such a well-oiled project as Mozilla; is it in some kind of stealth mode?

Anyway, Mozilla Sync does something very useful in a very good way. It synchronizes your browsing history, bookmarks, tabs, stored passwords (if you have any) and so on across multiple Firefox instances (or other supported apps, I think Seamonkey works too, didn't really look). This is just great if you rely heavily on the awesomebar history like I do - I can be sure all the latest pages I've visited will be stored no matter which system I'm using. Also nice to be able to see what tabs I had open on my desktop when I'm using my laptop.

An equally nice thing about Sync is that it demonstrates how well the Mozilla project has its head screwed on when it comes to openness and privacy. Sync is based on something called Weave, which is a fairly ambitious system for allowing Mozilla products to store data into 'the cloud' (ptooie).

Now, imagine if, oh, Google - no, worse, Apple - was providing this service. You can bet you'd get exactly one choice of server - Apple's server. The protocol wouldn't be open, so you couldn't write your own server. If you actually bothered to read the terms of service before signing up, it'd be full of disclaimers about how Apple or Google could use the info on the sites you visit and so on to spam you with ads. It'd probably have a worryingly vague privacy policy that made ambiguous references to 'anonymising' data.

Not with Mozilla. Nope. When you set up Sync, it asks you for an account username and password then for a separate passphrase, which it uses to encrypt all the data before sending it to the server. If you choose to use Mozilla's server, all they get is an encrypted blob of data. They haven't a clue what's in it. They couldn't use it to profile you if they tried. If you still want to run your own server, you can install Weave on your own server. If you really wanted to, you could write your own separate implementation, since they're very careful to document how everything works. The full-fat Weave is a big complex thing, so one Mozilla guy - Toby Elliott - has even created a minimal Weave server implementation which is a tiny little thing you can run on just about any web server which provides enough functionality for a basic Sync setup.

Huge kudos to the Mozilla folks. It's great to have a big body in the rough and tumble online services world that really Gets It.


Jon Pritchard wrote on 2010-06-12 01:03:
I can only agree with everything you've said in support of Mozilla Sync / Firefox Sync / Weave (I preferred the name Weave, as it's not Firefox exclusive as you've pointed out.) It really is one of the best innovations that Mozilla is pushing right now. With an increase in the mobile space and using Mobile Firefox on more mobile phones, this can only increase in its usefulness. On the point of openness, I had a "wow" moment recently. Where I wanted a commandline client where I could access my saved password. There was already a great one built in Python.
Colin Guthrie wrote on 2010-06-12 11:55:
Looks interesting. I've heard of the name before, but not really played with it much. Looks like there could be a working Weave client for Chromium too (tho' without running it, I cannot comment on how well it works!):
Drakedalfa wrote on 2010-06-13 05:06:
Shame on Firefox / Mozilla it a copy of the services of Opera: Opera Link Opera Unite Innovation where is just a copy like always, first the tabs now this. Firefox is a bad browser now i see its also a copycat.
adamw wrote on 2010-06-13 06:27:
Well, a), it's a fairly obvious idea (as I said I'd already thought 'wouldn't it be nice if there was a service which did exactly this'), and b), where did I or Mozilla say it was 'innovation'? I just said it was a good service, not that it was something no-one else had done. Are you saying that Mozilla shouldn't offer such a service just because someone else happens to have done something like it before? That's a bit of an odd suggestion.
Drakedalfa wrote on 2010-06-13 15:29:
Read the first comment for innovation.
adamw wrote on 2010-06-13 16:51:
Jon isn't speaking for me or Mozilla, he's just a commenter on my blog, so why all the talk about 'shame on Firefox / Mozilla'?
drakedalfa wrote on 2010-06-15 19:05:
I didnt say you say innovation. Shame because it copy and dont say the real autor, firefox do the same with tabs. I didnt say "Mozilla shouldn’t offer such a service just because someone else happens to have done something like it before".
Patkos Csaba wrote on 2010-06-15 21:40:
Yes .... unfortunately, one more highlight for a thing Opera invented ... Imagine a World without Opera ... ... no tabs (copied by all modern browsers) ... no memory caching (copied by some browsers) ... no speed dial (copied by Safari and some FF plug-in) ... no syncing stuff (already discussed) ... no .... a lot of other things. What makes me sad is the fact that most of the time Opera is ignored and others take the fame. Still, I have one joy too, most of the developers and/or packagers and/or sysadmins and/or powerusers on 64bits Linux systems recognize / acknowledge that Opera is the best browser for them and they use it. PS: I one of them.
adamw wrote on 2010-06-15 21:56:
Again, I think 'invented' is really rather overstating the case. It's a pretty bleeding obvious idea, and one I and thousands of other people have had entirely independent of Opera implementing it (just Google around a bit). Applying one well-known and mature technology (synchronizing user data) to a particular application (a web browser) doesn't really constitute an 'invention', IMO. It's that kind of bloody trivial 'invention' that causes us so much patent grief... Opera's fine, I'm not knocking it. I don't use it, though. Doesn't seem any better than Firefox in any way to me.
Gen Kanai wrote on 2010-06-16 06:02:
Mozilla's Asa Dotzler provides history on tabbed browsers and shows that NetCaptor had tabs first and that Mozilla had tabs before Opera did.