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Facebook Snaps Up Firefox Founders' Startup Parakey

Facebook Snaps Up Firefox Founders' Startup Parakey

Facebook made its first acquisition, picking up Parakey, a startup founded by Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt, a pair who created Mozilla's Firefox browser. Although specifics about what exactly Parakey is are few, it is described as a way to bridge the gap between desktop applications and Web functions.

By Fred J. Aun
07/20/07 11:42 AM PT

You can't label it a Web operating system. Don't refer to it as a simple platform or a bunch of applications. Yes, you can accurately call Parakey "acquired."

The hard-to-describe startup, created by Mozilla Firefox cofounders Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt, is now owned by Facebook. The deal is the first acquisition for the social networking utility based in Palo Alto, Calif.

Ross and Hewitt, the two men who've become famous for creating the Firefox open source browser, are now employees of Facebook.

Widgets on Steroids?

Financial details of the acquisition were not revealed; nor were technical details about Parakey, other than a vague description of it being "a platform bridging the gap between information on the Web and the desktop."

On its Web site, Parakey is described as being "both a platform and a set of applications," written in Python, C++ and JavaScript, that "offers a means of building applications that merge the best of the desktop and the Web."

When Ross initially revealed Parakey in an interview with IEEE Spectrum Online writer David Kushner, he said that he was designing a way to unify the desktop and the Web to radically simplify filing, storing, publishing and accessing material.

"Like desktop apps, these apps work offline, offer more privacy than pure Web sites, run quickly, and integrate with the system," reads the Parakey Web site. "But like Web apps, they are also more creative, visually alluring, accessible from anywhere and potentially accessible by anyone. In short, Parakey apps are designed to be both useful and social, a combination that is too rare today."

Fit Right In

In a tongue-in-cheek entry in his blog, Ross revealed his and Hewitt's thoughts about joining Mark Zuckerberg's young-at-heart company.

"When making the important decision about whether to join Facebook, Joe and I weighed the key socioeconomic aspects of the company that the media has been investigating, such as: What sort of footwear does Mark prefer?" wrote Ross. "When we got the answers we hoped for ('sandals,' respectively), we knew we'd found our place."

Zuckerberg, in announcing the acquisition, noted Ross and Hewitt "fit right in" at Facebook. "Blake and Joe built the Firefox web browser and then turned to the developer community to build on top of the foundation they'd established, not unlike what we've done with Facebook Platform," Zuckerberg said.

What It Isn't

Parakey is "a Web operating system that can do everything an OS can do," Kushner quoted Ross as saying. However, in a November 2006 blog entry, he backed away from that description.

"I will say that Parakey is not any of the three concepts that tend to fall under the loose banner of 'Web OS' these days," he wrote.

Ross portrayed Web operating systems as being either "portals that aggregate information from multiple sources into a grid of draggable boxes" replicas of the "desktop metaphor, windowing model and all" or "Web-based versions of Windows Explorer."

Parakey basically turns a home computer into a local server, according to Kushner's article.

The Facebook acquisition means Parakey can now possibly turn a home computer into a revenue generator, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Always On

"It's the idea that you an connect a Web property directly to your computer and use the resources on your computer regardless of where you are," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "In theory, now with the acquisition, you would see a much harder connection between Facebook and PCs and, probably, other devices."

While it's unlikely people will be booting up computers with a Facebook/Parakey "operating system," they will have few reasons to use any other application once their systems are up and running.

"You might log into Facebook in the morning and you might stay in Facebook throughout the day," said Enderle. "They'll kind of own your overall experience. If you can actually live in the property, it becomes the platform and from within it you can do almost everything you want to do."

Meanwhile, he noted, Facebook will be serving up advertising. "So, the more face time you give them, the more money they make," Enderle said.


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