ZMI ALPHA:What happens at Mozilla’s new Ideas platform at Crowdcity? Not much

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ZMI ALPHA:What happens at Mozilla’s new Ideas platform at Crowdcity? Not much

The fundamental problem with Firefox is that there is little technical reason to use it. It is inferior to Chromium in many respects, namely:

– security
– web compatibility
– performance
– average time until new web standards are implemented
– enterprise support
– web dev tools
– range of extensions

Extensions used to be a strong reason to use Firefox, it really had some amazing extensions like Tab Mix Plus or DownThemAll! or Roomy Bookmarks Toolbar in the past, but ever since Mozilla switched to WebExtensions (essentially Chromium’s extension APIs), those extensions are gone and Firefox is now no better than Chromium, except the selection of extensions is worse. That reason to use it is a goner.

Privacy used to be a strong reason to use Firefox, and it probably still is superior to Chrome or Edge in that regard, but there too, it has started to lose ground to Brave. Over the yearsm Mozilla has introduced tons of telemetry into the product, still thinks it needs a backdoor into every Firefox installation (FF Experiments), and overall, doesn’t provide a product that protects privacy BY DEFAULT. And defaults matter, stupid, because that is how most people use their browser! “Use Firefox for your privacy, but you first have to change 1,308,754 settings first!” doesn’t sound very compelling, because it in fact isn’t very compelling!

So what remains, if there is little technical reason to use Firefox? The main reasons I hear are ideological these days, the central one being “We need to prevent the Chromium / Blink monopoly!”. However, this too doesn’t hold much water upon closer inspection: First, the question of whether or not a 3% market share browser can shift the balance, any balance really… Personally, I think that web devs could safely and justifiably drop support for a browser with that kind of minuscule market share, so based on power and influence alone, I already doubt that the Firefox users even can be the change they aspire to be. Setting this aside, Google’s power doesn’t rest solely on the browser they develop, it also comes from their services – they can leverage those at any time. For example, if Google introduced a user-hostile new web standard (like their proposed Web Bundles: https://brave.com/webbundles-harmful-to-content-blocking-security-tools-and-the-open-web/ ), and started using it on YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps, Google Docs, GMail etc., other browser developers would have little choice but to support that web standard, no matter their rendering engine, because not supporting it would mean that their users would be excluded from Google-run services. Given the popularity of Google’s services, this seems highly unlikely, so I am not sure in how far Firefox having its own engine is even meaningful in any way, if Google says “Jump!” they would only ask “How high?”… Moreover, Blink-based browsers aside from Google Chrome itself may also decide not to support a certain web standard by disabling it by default. That being said, they would face the same issue as Firefox or Safari in that scenario; if Google makes use of said web standard on their popular services, they would have little choice but to enable it.

In my opinion, Firefox having its own rendering engine is not solving anything, all in all because:

– Its market share is ridiculously low and doesn’t shift any balance. It is a mere nuisance.
– Google can leverage its web service empire at any given moment if they really wanted to push through any given web standard.

The first might be fixable (however, not without providing a technical, non-ideological reason to use Firefox), but the latter seems very hard to do. Google’s services are very easy / convenient to use and nobody else offers EVERYTHING coming from the same provider. Google gives their users a whole suite of tools to use for free (those tools are also being advertised on the most visited website ever, Google Search), and registering with a whole range of different providers to replace any given tool is not very compelling. Plus, if the alternative is to be privacy-respecting, it is a paid service more often than not. Companies have to make money somehow, if the product is handed out for free, then you are the actual product. If you don’t want to be the product, pay. So you’d have to give up convenience and some money if you really want to drop Google, and I don’t see it happening with most people. However, if the “Google services” angle isn’t tackled at the same time, switching people to a different browser engine will do nothing to improve the health of the web, in my opinion. And even then, I fail to see how Firefox not implementing a nefarious web standard is considered superior to a Chromium-based browser removing or disabling said nefarious web standard. What’s the difference? Can’t even argue with the open source angle because Chromium-based browsers can be open source, too.

If there is little if any technical reason to use Firefox, and if the ideological reason is also built on quick sand, the current 3% market share (which is still declining) will be the consequence. Firefox needs some credible commitment to user privacy (mainly by enabling privacy-enhancing settings by default), and desperately needs a unique selling point (like getting paid for browsing – Brave – or strong customization abilities – Vivaldi). Plus, they need to catch up with all the points I mentioned above, i.e. security, performance etc.
Don’t see it happening – if anything, Mozilla seems more interested in becoming an Internet activist organization even more so than they already are. Even on their website, one can see more more and more commitment to what basically amounts to activism, even political activism. I feel that their recent endorsement of political Internet censorship (“We need more than deplatforming.”) will deliver the final blow to their product, and their image of being a somewhat neutral organization having the Internet’s best interests at heart. What good is software freedom if the same people want to take away our actual freedom?

I think we are dealing with a failing product here that has very little, if any, hope of recovery. I expect the future to be a duopoly between Apple’s WebKit (there is no reason to think that they will be switching to Blink as long as their devices achieve strong sales) and a whole family of browsers all derived from Chromium (akin to different Linux distributions all using the Linux kernel), I think especially Edge and Brave have potential to eat into Chrome’s market share, going by their growth stats. I don’t see Mozilla being a key player in the future, all things considered.

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