See that little login window on the top right of this Web page? Mozilla, through Firefox, wants to do away with it—for all the best reasons. Mozilla's plan will simplify how you log into sites because, lets face it, IDing yourself should be easier.
The information comes directly from Mozilla's User Experience chief Aza Raskin's personal blog, and it starts with the lofty suggestion that "Identity will be one of the defining themes in the next five years of the Web." Hard to argue with that, given the explosion in user interactivity that the Web 2.0 phenomenon kicked off, and the fact that, as Raskin points out, "Nearly every site has a concept of a user account, registration and identity."
"Where's the problem with this?" you may well ask, since that seems all pretty natural to someone reading/interacting on the Web these days, what with endless blogs to comment on and social networking sites to update with your status. Well, logging into sites it's a problem that you may not have thought about, and it's one that's going to get worse as more sites demand ID-keyed entry. Every individual site is responsible for its own login and user registration process, which means every site follows a different path through the process—which has been a problem even since the days of Matthew Broderick's login problems with the NORAD computer in the classic movie War Games. (His character was trying to log in to a games computer.) Systems like Facebook's Connect go some way toward simplifying things by allowing you a single login identity, but they don't cover the whole UI issue.
Which is where, according to Raskin, your browser maker has been letting you down so far. Except for some "basic auto form-filling" and clumsy iframes, popups, and redirects to login/register pages, your browser does nothing to help with this process. What if there were a unified way to do all this, perhaps a simple UI or even a single button that would key in your identity automatically? Enter Firefox. Raskin reports that Mozilla Labs has been working on ways to integrate identity systems directly into the browser. At its heart it's a simple tweak as a superimposed "login to this site" button that sits on the browser URL bar—much the same way the page reload button does in the current Safari version. Clicking on the button takes care of all the login data handling for you rather than requiring you to find where the site's individual login section is. But behind the browser button there's clever code that also recognizes if this is your first visit and switches on a registration process, while warning you at the same time to verify you're not being phished.
Why put this in the browser? It seems to be the natural place—your browser is your window onto the online world so it may as well be a sophisticated key-holder and identity guardian too. Raskin notes that while Facebook's solution is a partial fix, "your identity is too important to be owned by any one company." Well, that may be true—and I, for one, am wary of potential hack threats that Facebook Connect could facilitate. But Mozilla is, I'm afraid, just one company too...would you trust it to be the keyring that holds your ID key to every single site you access? Admittedly you kind of already do, with the auto form-filling and password-remembering powers already built-in. Still, this is way more sophisticated.