The Uncomfortable History of Firefox

I have been using the Mozilla Firefox web browser since the beginning, going back to the days of the original Phoenix and before that, Netscape.

Despite a one-time peak in popularity, through the years news reports indicate the Firefox user base continues to decline. This ongoing saga of this slide is sad.

At the core of this slide is there have been many questionable decisions about designing Firefox. Often the development seems like little more than a personal playground rather than address user needs and wants.

Firefox is overwhelmingly the default web browser in many Linux distros. Traditionally, Linux users tend to be a bit more computer savvy than most computer users. Yet a casual browsing of the web indicates many computer savvy users have abandoned Firefox.

From my observations the downward slide began with the Australis overhaul. As the years passed, for many users Chrome proved to be a snappier web browser. Tech savvy users grew weary of waiting for Firefox to improve and shifted to Chrome, despite the data mining and tracking overhead.

A major overhaul was introduced with Firefox 57. Those changes improved Firefox performance but alienated many Firefox users by killing favorite extensions and add-ons. Probably the most popular lost add-on was Tab Mix Plus, which to this day many features have yet to be reintroduced into the new Firefox design. Sadly the Firefox developers just do not seem to care.

Firefox was the web browser king-of-the-hill with respect to customizing. Sadly a trend with much software these days is to discourage customizing. The past many releases of Firefox confirm this trend with users being able to customize less and less. Such changes irritate the existing user base. Incredibly though, Firefox remains the most customizable of the web browsers. Yet adding wine to the septic tank does not change the contents of the tank.

The latest divisive interface overhauls introduced in version 89 contributes to losing more faithful users. A common theme and complaint in respective forum discussions is how the Firefox developers ignore users.

Firefox financial support primarily is through search engine contracts. For years the default search engine for Firefox has been Google or Yahoo. This revenue dependency creates an obvious conflict of interest. The Firefox team seems to want Firefox to be privacy oriented web browser, but this conflict of interest discourages packaging a default Firefox in a truly privacy friendly manner. Changes are needed to provide revenues that do not create obvious conflicts of interest.

Important is that without Firefox the web becomes a Google playground, where the Google folks can do whatever they please. They pretty much do already so perhaps the point is moot.

Firefox always has been a tech savvy user’s web browser. Irritating and angering those users contributes to the downward slide. Trying to target Firefox to non tech savvy users does not help, especially at the expense of losing tech savvy users who are the best way to advertise the browser. “Dumbing down” never is a good strategy unless advanced features remain available, even if hidden to some degree.

Perhaps the Firefox team should return to original roots. Stop catering to the masses and advertising revenues. Create a web browser that tech savvy users enjoy. Create a web browser that truly protects privacy with no conflicts of interest. Win back the tech savvy users and the masses might follow.

Or perhaps the time has arrived to fork Firefox.

Posted: Category: Commentary Tagged: Firefox

Next: Disaster Recovery Testing — 6

Previous: A Handy NFS Export Trick