Don’t save Mozilla

Psy-Q wrote about donating to Mozilla to prevent them from being mostly reliant on Yahoo! for funding. His post titled, “To defend the free web, you must save Mozilla“, suggests that large companies as well as individuals should donate more money so that Mozilla doesn’t go the way of the dodo.

He makes some good points about why we should prevent Blink/Webkit from becoming the dominant browser engine and the dangers of Chrome’s steadily growing marketshare. Where his article falls short is that he fails to realize how screwed up Mozilla really is.

I cannot find proof to back this up but I’m pretty sure companies are already donating to Mozilla, not to mention the revenue it makes off of Amazon and Ebay search deals (which might be small in comparison), not just Yahoo.

And I sincerely believe Mozilla has not been allocating resources effectively the last 5 years, and their poor strategic decisions haven’t helped, like the crude copying of Chrome’s release cycle, FirefoxOS, and the overall lack of innovation and improvement on Firefox over the last 5 years. FirefoxOS was and continues to be a failure, largely in part in my opinion contributed by the fact that Gecko is such an ageing and decrepit rendering engine that FirefoxOS is not a smooth experience like other mobile OSs, nor is it innovative, as well as the fact that Mozilla doesn’t have the money or the backing to really sell the idea of Firefox OS to manufacturers. People were also angry at Mozilla for their obvious copying of Chrome’s UI in Firefox 29, just as they did before with Opera and Firefox 4, and let’s not forget how Mozilla forced Pocket integration and a video calling client called Hello onto their users.

Psy-Q makes this statement:

But now the sad news: Firefox’s browser market share has been steadily dropping for years. Google’s aggressive marketing for Chrome has made it so that their HTML renderer and JavaScript engine are now the dominant ones in the world. If this continues, we might see a repeat of the situation during the 90s browser wars, with pages that only work properly in Google Chrome or its derivatives.

Yes Google markets aggressively, but I believe it is partly Mozilla’s fault for Chrome’s ballooning marketshare. Firefox has been stale and ridden with performance issues for years, and people are fed up. Ads for Chrome come at a very opportune time when users want a faster and better performing browser they don’t have to mess with.

Psy-Q also lists some consequences of Chrome being the dominant browser:

Google will be a dominator and gatekeeper to the browser extension market, not only for Chrome but also for Vivaldi and other browsers that implement the Chrome extension system and use the Chrome extension repository exclusively. This means Google alone decides which extensions get published. They can start refusing to host extensions that e.g. block advertisements or protect your privacy. They have done similar things before, and Apple, a similar gatekeeper, has a long history of censoring items in their app store.

I don’t know of any browsers that actually use Chrome’s extension repository, but I know Opera is fully compatible with Chrome extensions, being as it is a Chrome clone now. So Psy-Q’s doomsday estimate that Google will start controlling extensions in forks of Chrome is completely unfounded and is not happening.

And while it could be possible for Google to do all that and then some (block adblock and privacy extensions) we still have yet to see that. And his remark that Google has “done similar things before” is referring to Google’s prevention of local extensions being installed in Chrome easily. This was to counter malware and adware from hijacking Chrome and its users. You can still install local extensions by enabling developer options in Chrome, it’s really not that hard.

His point about Apple though is spot on.

  • Services that compete with Google’s will suddenly not work so well in Chrome.
  • Google’s own services will always work best with Chrome. As soon as a critical mass of this is reached, Google can easily pivot the market in their favor.
  • Google will ultimately be the one company who tells us how we see the web. And since they make money by learning about you, creating psychological profiles and knowing how you see the web, this is a far too powerful position.
  • Google will introduce functions into Chrome that spy on you, since data about you is one of the most valuable commodities in advertising, and Google is an advertisement company.
  • Web pages will slowly stop working in Firefox, Konqueror or Microsoft Edge. Tech support departments will then tell people to switch to Chrome instead and Google’s dominance will be complete.

These are all valid points that could happen and some of them are happening right now, I’ll give him that.

Currently Mozilla Firefox is a genuinely free browser, but it might not exist for long if main sponsor Yahoo! pulls the plug on their sponsorship and Mozilla can’t find a way to finance its development. A group of companies genuinely interested in a free and independent browser and a large number of individuals donating money could solve this.

But things could perhaps be more efficient. In my opinion, Mozilla are wasting effort by pursuing features like Pocket integration or the Hello video chat system. Two integrations which appear to have polarized the user base with quite a number of discussions both in Mozilla’s feedback system and on outside forums. It appears like work is invested in features that a large proportion of users did not ask for and does not welcome.

Additionally, not preinstalling this does not mean you can’t have Pocket integration or video chat. If people want Pocket, they can install the add-on themselves. If people want a video chat system that works in the browser, they can find Hello, Talky, Jitsi and others on their own. Mozilla should instead focus on their core values of making truly free, user-focused applications.

These are also good points, but I don’t think Yahoo is going to pull the plug anytime soon. And a lot of individuals and companies already donate to Mozilla.

I hope they will carry through with their recent plans to strip Firefox down to be the healthy, lean and fast thing it used to be. But I believe some action from us users will also be necessary. If you dislike something about Firefox, don’t just drop Firefox and switch to Chrome. Let Mozilla know instead. Give them the chance to improve, and give them the money they need to change things.

This paragraph is what bothers me the most. I and many other users have let Mozilla know about things we dislike, and over 5 years hardly any of them have been addressed, and the things we dislike keep piling up. Firefox has only marginally improved in the areas I believe need the most work, and has drastically fallen in others. Performance and UI responsiveness is still clunky. The UI is copied from other browsers. Firefox for Android is trash. Mozilla is switching over to Chrome-like extensions soon and taking away the last thing that made Firefox great, which was the very in-depth extensions.

So Mozilla has been given a chance to improve, and they haven’t. They’ve only gotten worse and the upper management seems to not care or is the reason why. Mozilla also has the money to improve, but they keep spending it on terrible projects like Firefox OS, instead of on things people actually want like Firefox and Thunderbird (which by the way, that was a really stupid decision to discontinue it).

Bottomline is, while Psy-Q believes more money will help Mozilla and seems to paint Mozilla as the victim of aggressive marketing, he fails to see that Mozilla dug themselves into their own hole, and only they can get themselves out of it.