Disclaimer: I’m not a current or former Mozilla employee and have no other affiliation with Mozilla. This is my own analysis of the publically-available information surrounding Mozilla’s decision to radically downsize in a way that seems to further threaten Firefox’s future.
A lot of people are very angry at Mozilla’s management for their decision to restructure the foundation, which is not unreasonable. But seen in context, I think most people would, if in their position, make the same decision.
Why is Mozilla cutting staff on its most popular product (Firefox) and refocusing on things that look like unsuccessful stunt projects? Because they’re about to lose the revenue from it. Google is to blame for not renewing the contract that gives Mozilla a share of the ad revenue from the Firefox search bar. The web browser market has been walking on thin ice since 2008 when Chrome came out, because with Chrome available and under its own control, Google no longer had a reason to support the ecosystem with revenue-sharing deals. Now it seems like Google wants to see just how thin it can make the ice before Mozilla goes under.
And why are they focussing on products nobody uses? Because they can make money by selling VPN subscriptions and premium bookmarking accounts without depending on the (obviously limited) goodwill of their competitors.
What can you do about this? Here are some suggestions:
- Buy one of Mozilla’s other products. It might seem like validating the bad decision made by Mozilla management, but it is reasonable to hope that income from, say, Mozilla VPN might be enough to keep a rag-tag Firefox team going.
- Just straight up donate to Mozilla. Remember, Mozilla is a non-profit organization. While Google is developing Chrome to strengthen its bottom line and pay out more to shareholders, Mozilla’s interest in the Web platform is actually public-spirited. They fought against DRM in HTML and the mandatory use of patent-encumbered technologies on the open web, and when these efforts failed (largely for the same reasons Google is now able to crush Firefox entirely) they adopted laudable compromises, giving their users a genuine choice about using these technologies. And more than that — they’re actively participating in projects to create new, widely-supported and superior alternatives to these problematic technologies for the future. The web would be a worse place without Mozilla, and for that they deserve your goodwill.
- Write to your lawmaker urging an investigation into Google’s anti-competitive practices in the web browser and web markup space. This could be particularly effective if you live in the EU and write to your European Parliamentarians. Google is probably counting on the Trump administration not caring about their blatant repeat of Microsoft’s anti-trust violations — but other major jurisdictions which still have functioning regulatory systems can make a difference.
- Actually use Firefox, or one of its derivatives like the Tor Browser. One reason Google feels able to do this is probably because of Firefox’s shrinking market share. But Firefox is a vital part of the browser ecosystem, not least as the only major browser left that isn’t based on a WebKit-derivative engine, and as a hackable open-source browser that’s a vital component of equally-vital privacy projects like Tor. And Firefox still has really great features, especially for web developers. Switch back to Firefox — especially if you’re on Chrome!
- Switch away from Google products as much as possible. I know that other web search engines are still embarrassingly bad — I’m not here to guilt-trip anyone into using DuckDuckGo. But if you use Gmail, stop. There are fantastic alternatives out there which, yes, filter spam just as well as Gmail does these days. Use Apple Maps or OpenStreetMap or Yelp instead of Google Maps. Run an ad blocker that blocks YouTube ads, and support your favourite YouTubers directly over Patreon instead.