I’ve got to tell you: If I would be working at Mozilla, I would have been sad, disappointed, maybe even somewhat angry that Mozilla’s leadership wasn’t able to ‘sell’ the Firefox engine to replace Microsoft’s Edge technology. Why is it that Mozilla seems to be unable to compete against Chromium?
Let me get the basics out of the way. Mozilla is a non-profit organization. The Mozilla Foundation was created back in 2003 to continue the development of the Netscape Communicator after AOL (remember?) scaled back it’s involvement. It started as a 3 or 4 person team and grew into a multi-million Dollar venture. Mozilla’s revenues in 2017: Almost 600 Million Dollars (Wikipedia). That’s a lot of dough.
But even with all that money, the market share of the Firefox browser hovers around 10% – with the trend curving downwards. Which is a double whammy as it is not only bad for the browser environment, but also for Mozilla’s future revenues. They make most of their money from search royalties, that is the web-searches submitted through the installed default search engine. And with falling market share percentages you’ll lose more any more royalties. But that’s not all the bad news: Mozilla’s current search-engine partner is .. Google. Tough to compete against a company that pays you the lion’s share of your income.
So – what’s wrong with Mozilla?
To be fair – they have the same problem as Microsoft: No foothold in the mobile markets. But that’s just half of an excuse because the market share on desktops is not significantly better. Here’s the thing: As long as there’s no real reason to install a different browser (on the phone or desktop), why bother? Mozilla lost it’s way to be “cool”. They stopped competing with “the others” – because they started to become like them. They are not the free spirited heroes any more, sadly they morphed into corporate technologists. Maybe that’s just the way things go. But the results are saddening. Because along the way they lost all real distinguishing features that would make normal users, developers or geeks say “wow – that’s why I want Firefox”. Or was it just the lack of serious commitment to the user and developer communities that made people turn away?
Is there any way to recover?
Not if they continue their business as usual. Not if they continue to want to be the “better” Google. First they have to earn back the trust and spirit of the developers. Remember when they screwed us when they decided to dump Sync 1.0 in favor of their “improved” version? Right . Thanks a lot. Instead of chasing Google – why not take the lead? Force Google to react by creating features that won’t break standards but are cool and helpful. First for developers, which will trickle down (I hate that term but in this case, it’s appropriate) to corporate environments and users.
Here are a few examples from my perspective. I am sure others have their own ideas, but here are mine:
FIRST AND FOREMOST:
Talk to users and developers: Step down from your Silicon Valley ivory tower and listen to what your users and developers have to say. I mean: Seriously. We live in Berlin, Moscow, Mumbai, Houston, Peking – all around the world, in big cities and in small communities. We don’t want you to throw big city parties or events – just the feeling that we are an integral part of you again. We are the ones that are developing for or are using Firefox (or not anymore). Talk to us. Listen to us. Work to re-earn our trust.
SOME TECHNICAL SUGGESTIONS:
Natively resolve .local addresses: With more and more devices added to WAN or LAN environments, it would help to have a browser that knows how to talk to them using mDNS. And while we are on the subject: It would also help if a browser would find a way to accept self signed certificates within a WAN or LAN environment.
Bring back a way to easily sync to a local servers: It was an error to dump the much loved and used “old” syncing protocol. Yes, yes, one can -technically- still sync to local servers. But one needs an MIT degree in advanced juggling to be able to do that. Nobody really bothers.
Did I mention “talk to users and developers” ?
So here it is. Mozilla has to make tough decisions sooner or later. They wanted our support and money back when they started. I followed the call (still waiting for the promised poster) and was among the many, many people who were advocating and almost religiously using the Firefox browser. But the love grew cold when their urge to be “main stream” overcame their desire to simply be “better” – in technology as well as in philosophy. Now – I am not saying that Firefox is a bad browser – quite the opposite – but there’s just no special relationship anymore. The flame of love is still flickering in many of us, it’s up to Mozilla to nurture it so that maybe, maybe it’s going to be bright and warm again.
About the author:
Michaela Merz is an entrepreneur and first generation hacker. Her career started even before the Internet was available. She invented and developed a number of technologies now considered to be standard in modern web-environments. Among other things, she developed, founded, managed and sold Germany’s third largest Internet Online Service “germany.net” . She is very much active in the Internet business and enjoys “hacking” modern technologies like block chain, IoT and mobile-, voice- and web-based services.