DT Note: This article was initially published on Tuesday 8th September 2020 UTC+8. The author subsequently received feedback regarding some inaccuracies and has therefore resubmitted the article with corrections, We reproduced that here and have withdrawn the original.
Freddy is an amateur writer covering privacy, security and open-source development. He is also a team member at PrivacyTools.io
A lot has happened in regard to Mozilla lately. Hundreds of staff in important positions have been laid off. Tough questions are being asked about the future of the '' and whether it is time to 'ditch Firefox'. There are even those who have gone as far as to claim that Mozilla is dead. So what actually happened? Why are people angry and do you need to switch?
The Covid-19 pandemic has had many ramifications, even in the online world. Cliqz, the privacy focused search engine, shut down, and now Mozilla is the latest victim. They are laying off roughly a quarter of their workforce (250 people), having previously laid off 70 employees in January. The new focus will on more profitable services, such as Pocket, their VPN and other ventures such as their 'VR hubs'.
Specifically, Mozilla's research team, Servo and their security team are heavily effected along with their Developer Network (MDN), described as the 'essential bible for web devs' by one publication, is reciving cuts to its funding. All of these are core teams within Mozilla.
Why are people angry?
If Mozilla is trying to create new revenue streams, then why did they renew their $400 to $450 million a year deal with Google? It would make sense if it was only to provide immediate income to survive, but this deal is for years. On Mozilla's 'about' page they state that they are pioneers of the open web. Considering how many privacy respecting search engines exist, it seems as if they are doing this, understandably, for profit.
While Mozilla is not-for-profit, the Mozilla Corporation, which is in charge of Firefox along with all of the above mentioned products, is a for-profit company. Its CEO is must grow the company and increase revenue and profit. Thats how buisness's work.
Unfortunately, Mozilla's 'more profitable ventures' might not actually be that profitable. Many have major flaws, or are solutions for problems that don't exist. Of all the aspects to cut down on, it would seem as if Mozilla has chosen the wrong ones. The Firefox VPN is made in partnership with Mullvad, however it lacks Mullvad's best features. Pocket is ranked in the top 1000 Alexa sites, but serves adverts by default when you open a new tab. Firefox Voice was a nice idea to implement voice search into a browser, but what's the point when a simple search does the trick? Focusing on these products rather than the likes of Thunderbird and Firefox seems misguided. Thankfully, Thunderbird is not impacted by the layoffs, why can't this be said for crucial parts of the Firefox team?
Do you need to switch?
Realistically, not that many. If you're switching to a chromium based browser, you're strengthening Google's monopoly. If you're switching to a Webkit-based browser, you're only shifting that monopoly. Just because Mozilla has bad management doesn't change the fact that Firefox is the most viable option for the open web. From this perspective, our anger at Mozilla is likely misplaced, or at least out of balance. While there have certainly been some poor decisions at an executive level, Google is just as much to blame.
Because Firefox is open source many forks exist, most notably Tor. Without Firefox actively being developed, it is unlikely that Tor or any other fork would be able to continue. Unless you have something similar to Mozilla maintaining Firefox, you can't have any forks either.
Others propose more radical solutions: instead of switching browser, why not change protocols entirely? The likes of Gopher and Gemini were having something of a resurgence lately, and the recent events have only increased their popularity. Lists of browsers are emerging, all designed for this very reason. This will be a solution for those who don't require images, however a text based web simply won't work for most people.
The main issue seems to be mismanagement of the organisation. The wrong people were fired for the wrong reasons. This can be what happens when the people in charge of the buisness don't understand the technology. However, it wouldn't make sense for someone who didn't understand buisness to be in charge either.
If Mozilla is to survive, we must continue to use Firefox. If Firefox is to improve we must also continue to use it. We are in the unfortunate position where one of the two best privacy focused browsers relies on the other.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of decentralize.today or PrivacyTools