I recently decided to stop using Firefox as my main Browser. I’m not alone there. While browser statistics are notoriously difficult to track and hotly debated, all sources seem to point toward a downward trend for Firefox. At LQ, they actually aren’t doing too badly. In 2010 Firefox had a roughly 57% market share and so far this year they’re at 37%. LQ is a highly technical site, however, and the broader numbers don’t look quite so good. Over a similar period, for example, Wikipedia has Firefox dropping from over 30% to just over 15%. At the current rate NetMarketShare is tracking, Firefox will be in the single digits some time this year. You get the idea. So what’s going on , and what does that mean for Mozilla? And why did I choose now to make a switch personally?
First, let me say it’s not all technical. While it’s troubling that they have not been able to track down some of the memory leaks and other issues for years, Firefox is an incredibly complex piece of software and overall it runs fine for me. Australis didn’t bother me as much as it did many, nor did the Pocket integration. I understand that the decision to include EME was a pragmatic one. I think the recent additional add-ons rules were as well. Despite these issues, I remained an ardent Firefox supporter who actively promoted its adoption. Taking a step back now, though, it is surprising to see just how many of the technical decisions they’re making are not being well received by the Firefox community. I think part of that is due to the fact that while Firefox started as the browser of the early adopter and power user, as it gained in popularity Mozilla felt pressure to make a more mainstream product and recently that pressure has manifested itself in Firefox looking more like Chrome. I think they’ve lost their way a little bit technically and have forgotten what actually made them popular, but that was not enough for me to stop using Firefox.
On a recent Bad Voltage episode, we discussed some of these issues (and more), with the intention of having someone from Mozilla on the next show to give feedback on our thoughts. After reaching out to Mozilla, they not only declined to participate, they declined to even provide a statement (there is a fair bit more to the story, but it’s off record and unfortunately I can’t provide further details at this time). This made me step back a bit and reassess what I thought about Mozilla as a whole. Something I hadn’t done in a while to be honest. Mozilla used to be a place where you were encouraged to speak your mind. What happened?
For context, I held Mozilla in the highest regard. It’s not hyperbole to say that I genuinely believe the Open Web would not be where it is today without what Mozilla has been able to accomplish. I consider their goals and the Mozilla Manifesto to be extremely important to the future of the web and it would be a shame to see us lose the freedom and openness we’ve fought so hard to gain. But somewhere along the line it appears to me Mozilla either forgot who they were, or who they were changed. Mozilla’s mission is “to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web”. Looking at their actions recently, and I’m not just referring to the Bad Voltage-related decision, they don’t appear willing to be open or transparent about themselves. Their responses to incidents like the Pocket one resemble the response of a large stodgy corporation, not one of the Open Source spirited Mozilla I was accustomed to dealing with.
Maybe part of the issue is my perception. Many people, myself included, look at Mozilla as a bastion of freedom; the torch bearer for the free and Open Web. But the reality is that Mozilla is now a corporation, and one with over 1,000 employees. Emailing their PR department will get you a response from someone who used to work for CNN and the BBC. As companies grow, the culture often changes. The small, scrappy, steward of the Open Web may not exist any more. At least not in the pure concentrated form it used to; I know there is a solid core of it that very much burns within the larger organization. But this puts Mozilla in a really difficult position. They are not only losing market share rapidly, but doing so to a browser that is a product of the company that used to represent the vast majority of their revenue. With both revenue and market share declining, does Mozilla still have the clout it needs to direct the evolution of the web in a direction that is open and transparent?
I am a firm believer that the web would be a worse place without Mozilla. One of my largest concerns is that it appears many higher level Mozillians don’t seem to think anything is wrong. Perhaps they are too close to the issue, or so focused on the cause that it’s difficult or impossible to take a step back and assess where the organization came from, where they are and where they are going. Perhaps the organization is a little lost internally… struggling with decreasing market share of their main project, less than stellar adoption on mobile, interesting projects such as rust and servo taking resource and internal conflict about which direction is the best path forward. Whatever the case, it appears externally, based on the number of people leaving and the decreasing willingness to discuss anything, that something is systemically culturally amiss.
Or perhaps I’m wrong here and everything really is fine. Perhaps this is simply the result of an organization that has seen tremendous growth and this new grown up and more corporate Mozilla really is the best organization to move the Open Web forward. I’m interested in hearing what others think on this topic. Has Mozilla lost its way and if so, how? More importantly if so, how do we move forward and pragmatically address the issue(s)? I think Mozilla is too important to the future of the web to not at least ask these questions.
NOTE: We also discussed this topic on the most recent episode of Bad Voltage. You should listen to the entire episode, but I’ve included just the Mozilla segment here for your convenience.
PS: I have reached out to a few people at Mozilla to get their take on this. Ideally I’d like to have an interview with one or more of them up at LQ next week, but I don’t have any firm confirmations yet. If you work or worked at Mozilla and have something to add, feel free to post here or contact me directly so we can set something up. We need you Mozilla; let’s get this fixed.
Update: Gerv from Mozilla agreed to an interview with LQ, and a couple other Mozillians have reached out.