My Frustration with Mozilla

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.

–jeremy

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.

Random LQ Stats – Browser Update

I like to post random LQ stats every once and a while, and with the recent release of Firefox 3, now seems like a good time for a browser update. Here are the stats for July:

Firefox 66.05%
Internet Explorer 20.86%
Mozilla 4.98%
Opera 4.28%
Safari 2.07%
Konqueror 1.59%

Now, breaking down the Firefox numbers:

3.0 56.52%
2.0.0.14 18.02%
2.0.0.15 12.66%
2.0.0.6 1.59%
1.5.0.12 1.37%
2.0.0.11 1.34%

I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised, but quite impressed with the uptake up Firefox 3. To have well over 50% of the Firefox market share that rapidly is a remarkable feat. If they’d just fix the CSS overflow bug that makes LQ code tags scroll horizontally, it’d be even better ;)

–jeremy

Some LinuxQuestions.org Stats

Every once and a while I like to post a quick update that includes some stats about LQ. Here are a couple for the month of October 2007.

Browsers
* A total of 277 distinct Browsers visited LQ last month. Those with more than 1%:

Firefox 61.99%
IE 24.14%
Mozilla 5.50%
Opera 4.29%
Konqueror 2.18%
Safari 1.53%

Operating Systems
* A total of 23 distinct Operating Systems visited LQ last month. Those with more than 1%:

Windows 52.99%
Linux 43.09%
Macintosh 3.10%

Browser and OS combo
* The top 5 Browser/OS combos are:

Firefox / Linux 33.24%
Firefox / Windows 26.66%
IE / Windows 23.84%
Mozilla / Linux 5.33%
Opera / Linux 2.30%
Konqueror / Linux 2.30%

RSS feed
* The RSS feed with the most subscribers is LQ Latest Threads. RSS readers with more than 1%

Google Feedfetcher 77%
Google Desktop 10%
Firefox Live Bookmarks 3%
Firefox Live Bookmarks (Version 1) 2%
Bloglines 1%
MyYahoo 1%

Random
* 95.51% of visitors had Java support
* 88.29% of visitors had Flash support
* 97% browse with a screen resolution 1024×768 or greater

LQ is certainly not representative of the web as a whole, but interesting nonetheless. Enjoy.

–jeremy

Mozilla Prism

It looks like Adobe AIR and Microsoft Silverlight are going to get some competition from Mozilla. From the announcement:

Mozilla Labs is launching a series of experiments to bridge the divide in the user experience between web applications and desktop apps and to explore new usability models as the line between traditional desktop and new web applications continues to blur.

Unlike Adobe AIR and Microsoft Silverlight, we’re not building a proprietary platform to replace the web. We think the web is a powerful and open platform for this sort of innovation, so our goal is to identify and facilitate the development of enhancements that bring the advantages of desktop apps to the web platform.

The first of these experiments is based on Webrunner, which we’ve moved into the Mozilla Labs code repository and renamed to Prism.

Prism is an application that lets users split web applications out of their browser and run them directly on their desktop.

refracting.png

At least for now, this doesn’t look quite as robust as Adobe AIR (and I’ve not looked at Silverlight too closely) but it does seem like a natural progression for Firefox. You have to wonder how many of these environments developers are going to embrace. I’d guess there will be a small number of players that remain standing after a shakeout. AIR and Prism both plan to support Linux, Mac OS X and Windows.

–jeremy

Email Call to Action

Mozilla recently made this announcement regarding Thunderbird.

Mozilla has been supporting Thunderbird as a product since the beginning of the Foundation. The result is a good, solid product that provides an open alternative for desktop mail. However, the Thunderbird effort is dwarfed by the enormous energy and community focused on the web, Firefox and the ecosystem around it. As a result, Mozilla doesn’t focus on Thunderbird as much as we do browsing and Firefox and we don’t expect this to change in the foreseeable future. We are convinced that our current focus – delivering the web, mostly through browsing and related services – is the correct priority. At the same time, the Thunderbird team is extremely dedicated and competent, and we all want to see them do as much as possible with Thunderbird.

We have concluded that we should find a new, separate organizational setting for Thunderbird; one that allows the Thunderbird community to determine its own destiny.

Mozilla is exploring the options for an organization specifically focused on serving Thunderbird users. A separate organization focused on Thunderbird will both be able to move independently and will need to do so to deepen community and user involvement. We’re not yet sure what this organization will look like. We’ve thought about a few different options. I’ve described them below. If you’ve got a different idea please let us know.

I agree with this post by glyn the more I think about it:

What’s worrying about this is that it seems to demonstrate a tunnel vision, where Firefox (and making money from it) are foregrounded above everything else. The fact is, email is a critical application, even if more and more people use Web-based mail (as I do – but I still use Thunderbird too). Moreover, Mozilla is a foundation, and that implies looking at the bigger picture, not concentrating – as a company might – on the success of its main “product”.

The open source world needs Thunderbird – indeed, the wider software community needs it. Although I accept that it lacks the community that Firefox has generated, that is not a reason to jettison it, and hope for the best. On the contrary: the very difficulties that Thunderbird has in firing up a community and in moving forward are precisely why the Mozilla Foundation should keep it under its wing.

It’s not the Firefox Foundation, but the Mozilla foundation. The Foundation having a big picture view is an important thing. It’s clear that Firefox and Thunderbird are much different beasts. The email space has way more competition than the web browser space. Add in the proliferation of web-based email and things get even more complex. It’s still not clear to me that completely dropping the project from the foundation is the best course of action though. It seems like something a corporation would have to do, not the Mozilla Foundation. Mitchell has outlined several options in her blog post. It will be interesting to watch which way the community leans as this moves forward.

–jeremy

Michael Dell Uses Ubuntu and Firefox

I was surprised to see that Michael Dell Officially uses both Ubuntu and Firefox on his home laptop. Not surprised that he uses it, mind you…just surprised that it’s so authoritatively posted. Great to see!

–jeremy

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