The 2015 Firefox Trifecta

In many ways I hope I am wrong about this. Firefox is still a good browser (compared to Internet Explorer at least), but the Mozilla Developers continue to be indifferent towards the users. They have also deviated away from the original goals of keeping Firefox as small and lean as possible. In 2014, Firefox saw a drop in user base when the dramatic (and unwanted) user interface change known as Australia’s landed. Though most, if not all the changes made by this could be undone with The Classic Theme Restorer (CTR) add-on.

Fastforward a year later and Mozilla Developers are still doing things that go against the original goals of Firefox as well irking the users. The three things below have already landed in developmental/pre-release versions with the exception of the first which landed in the current Firefox 39.

  1. Pocket: ‘The Feature Nobody wanted’ – Landed in Firefox 38.0.5 – Mozilla committed a major faux pas with this. Not only did most users had never heard of Pocket, they did not want this feature. Worse, it was already an optional add-on (which it should have remained being a third party feature). Instead, Mozilla introduced a third-party feature by default into Firefox 38.0.5+ that snopes on its users.*queue X-Files theme music* Mozilla has claimed they are NOT getting any kickbacks from Read It Later (makers of Pocket)…monetary that is. Odd, then why was this service (that no one had heard of or wanted) integrated into Firefox 38.0.5+ and activated by default? At least users can remove from the UI and disabled Pocket…for now. Rumor has it Mozilla is going to remove the ability to disable Pocket via about:config, but still allow users to remove it off the UI. This to me sounds like Pocket will still be running in the background spying on the users, they just won’t know it. Still doesn’t address the question ‘What is Mozilla getting from Read It Later?”
  2. Removing browser.newtab.url preference – Landed in Firefox 41 (coming late September ’15). Mozilla claims that the browser.newtab.url preference in about:config is being abused and for the users protection should be removed. True, a lot of malicious add-ons have exploited this changing the page that appears when a new tab is opened. However, most anyone who has had this happen to them knows that they can easily go into about:config and change the browser.newtab.url preference back to what they want it to be.Instead Mozilla wants the user to find and install an add-on to adjust what happens when a new tab is opened. Further, Mozilla has made these changes in Firefox and left it up to the add-on developers to create an add-on to work with these changes. While this may not seem like a big deal, it is going to continue to add to the already growing frustration of Firefox users. What was a simple 10-second fix, now turns into finding and install an extension, restarting Firefox then using the extension to make the fix.
  3. Extension Signing – Landed in three phases Firefox 40-42 (coming August ’15 thru November ’15). Once again Mozilla thinks Firefox users can not protect themselves so they are going the route that only approved (signed) add-ons can be installed in Firefox. I supported this idea in the beginning because I have seen what a mess a rogue add-on can make in Firefox. Plus, Mozilla had tried other methods in the past to control add-ons from being installed without users consent, but those failed. I still support the principle behind this, but not the way Mozilla has this being implemented.Keep in mind ANY (as in including Search Hijackers) extension which is hosted on addons.mozilla.org will automatically be signed. Third Party extensions the developer is going to have to jump through several hoops to get the extensions approved (signed) by Mozilla. No, I don’t know what the process is as I am not an extension developer.

    What happens when a Firefox user attempts to install an unsigned extension depends on the version of Firefox they are using. In the current Firefox 39, unsigned extension installs just like any other extension. In Firefox 40, the user is given a warning and may continue to install the unsigned extension. In Firefox 41, the user is blocked from installing unsigned extensions, but they can disable this and continue with the install. In Firefox 42, user can not and will not be allowed to install an unsigned extension. No option to turn this off. This is for your own good and safety as an unsigned extension is an unsafe extension. Sounds a lot like Microsoft’s stance on mandatory Windows 10 automatic updates. Or may be it an extension the developer has not updated their extension in a while or does not want to jump through the various flaming hoops over a shark tank to get it signed.

    I get Mozilla is trying to protected Firefox user from unscrupulous extensions, but totally blocking the installation on an extensions because it is unsigned is too much. Google’s Android has a (buried) security option called Unknown Sources, which allows the user to install Apps on their device from outside of the Google Play Store (such as Amazon’s Appstore). Even Google’s safe browsing will allow you to continue into a ‘known attack site’ with a couple warning screens and clicks later. Mozilla should have left this feature the way it was at Firefox 41, but still require some extra action from the user to install unsigned extensions.

    So, Firefox users may not take the Firefox 41 or 42 update because they have an extension that is unsigned. Another problem with Extension Signing is this may only apply to the regular versions of Firefox. Future Firefox ESR builds may or may not have the same extension signing requirements. If it does, there will still be an option to override an install unsigned extensions (such as a company’s proprietary extension that they don’t want this hosted on AMO or for that matter Mozilla sticking their noses in).

These three things by themselves likely won’t drive users away from Firefox. However, implementing all three in such a short time period might just be enough for them to go to another browser. Mozilla seems to think it still 2004 when they entered the browser market which consisted of Safari for the Macs, a very out-dated Internet Explorer, Opera (still ad-supported), Netscape (AOL) and various little independent browsers mainly built off of Netscape. The market has changed dramatically in the last 11-years. Microsoft started updating Internet Explorer again and is releasing their own browser, Edge with Windows 10. Google Chrome enter (and took over) the market in late 2008/early 2009. Opera dropped the ad-support in 2005. Apple violated their own EULA and release a Windows version of Safari in 2010 (which is no longer supported). There has been open-source forks of these browsers including Firefox with Pale Moon, Chrome with Chromium and Opera with Vivaldi.

Time will tell, what these three things will do to the fate of Firefox. A couple years ago, may be not much. The user base was still loyal and had yet been betrayed by Mozilla with Australia’s. After Australia’s many Firefox users simply switched to another browser such as Chrome or Pale Moon rather than jump through hoops with userChrome changes or installing the CTR add-on. Still a little early to tell how badly Pocket has hurt Mozilla. For some users having the ability to turn it off and remove it was fine. Others this was the last straw and they have decided they want nothing to do with Mozilla Firefox any more.