In Memoriam - Mozilla

Published 2016-05-11 on Drew DeVault's blog

Today we look back to the life of Mozilla, a company that was best known for creating the Firefox web browser. I remember a company that made the web better and more open by providing a browser that was faster and more customizable than anyone had ever seen, and by making that browser free and open source.

I expect many of my readers will be older than I am, but my first memories of Firefox are back in high school with Firefox 3. I fondly remember my discovery of it. Mozilla gave us a faster and more powerful web browser to use on school computers. The other choice was Internet Explorer 6 - but with a flash drive we could run a “portable” version of Firefox instead. Using tabbed web browsing was a clear improvement for usability and I loved installing all sorts of cool add-ons and I’m sure I’ve spent at least a few hours of my life browsing persona themes.

Mozilla continued to improve their web browser, and I loved it. As I grew up and learned more about techology and started making my way into programming I loved it even more. I remember a time when I would tell my friends that I’d gladly appoint Mozilla as the steward of the open internet over the W3C. Firefox continued to evolve and allow for even more customiziability. Firefox truly became a hacker’s web browser.

Eventually a new player called Chrome arrived on the scene. It was slick and new and very, very fast. Firefox, on the other hand, appeared to become stagnant. I made the switch to Chrome for a few years. However, to my eventual delight, Mozilla didn’t quit. They kept making Firefox better and faster and continued to win on customizability and continued to fight for the best internet possible. One day I tried Firefox again and I found it to be just as friendly and hackable as it once was, only now it was a speed demon on par with Chrome. I returned to Firefox for several happy years.

Chrome adopted a versioning scheme that made Mozilla nervous. They didn’t like being Firefox 4 next to Chrome 11. They made the first of many compromises when they switched to bumping the major version with each release. Mozilla died in April of 2011.

In Mozilla’s place, a new company appeared and started to build a new browser. This new company had good intentions, but has completely lost the spirit of Mozilla. This new browser is a stain on Mozilla’s legacy - it ships with unremovable nonfree add-ons, removes huge swaths of the original add-on API, includes a cryptographically walled garden for add-ons, and apparently now includes an instant messaging and video conferencing platform.

The new company has been suffering as well. They have sunk enormous time and effort into projects that are doomed from the start. They tried to make a mobile phone OS whose UI was powered by technology that’s been proven to produce an inferior mobile experience (HTML+CSS+JS) using the slowest rendering engine on the market (gecko) on the lowest powered phones on the market. When this predictably failed, they turned their sights towards running it on even lower powered IoT devices. This new company has also announced several times that they are killing off another well established and well loved project (Thunderbird) from the old Mozilla. They also recently struck a deal with another dying company, Yahoo, to make their search engine the default for this “neo-Firefox”.

To the new company that calls itself Mozilla: you do an injustice to the memory of Mozilla. I hope that one day we’ll see the Mozilla of the past return.