Mozilla, Gecko Archive

Goodbye, EdgeHTML

Mozilla's response to Microsoft adopting Chromium.

Microsoft is officially giving up on an independent shared platform for the internet. By adopting Chromium, Microsoft hands over control of even more of online life to Google.

This may sound melodramatic, but it's not. The "browser engines" - Chromium from Google and Gecko Quantum from Mozilla - are "inside baseball" pieces of software that actually determine a great deal of what each of us can do online. They determine core capabilities such as which content we as consumers can see, how secure we are when we watch content, and how much control we have over what websites and services can do to us. Microsoft's decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us.

The question is now how long Firefox will be able to survive. The cold and harsh truth is that Firefox usage hasn't exactly been trending upwards, and with even Microsoft throwing its full weight behind Chromium, even more web developers won't even bother to test against anything other than Chromium and Apple's WebKit. How long can Mozilla and Firefox survive this reality?

Firefox Nightly now with experimental Wayland support

As of last nightly (20181115100051), Firefox now supports Wayland on Linux, thanks to the work from Martin Stransky and Jan Horak, mostly.

Before that, it was possible to build your own Firefox with Wayland support (and Fedora does it), but now the downloads from mozilla.org come with Wayland support out of the box for the first time.

The transition to Wayland seems to be taking its time, but with how big of an undertaking this is, that only makes sense.

Firefox removes core product support for RSS/Atom feeds

After considering the maintenance, performance and security costs of the feed preview and subscription features in Firefox, we've concluded that it is no longer sustainable to keep feed support in the core of the product. While we still believe in RSS and support the goals of open, interoperable formats on the Web, we strongly believe that the best way to meet the needs of RSS and its users is via WebExtensions.

With that in mind, we have decided to remove the built-in feed preview feature, subscription UI, and the "live bookmarks" support from the core of Firefox, now that improved replacements for those features are available via add-ons.

I would assume most RSS users already use more capable RSS readers and/or browser extensions, so it makes perfect sense for Firefox developers to remove this functionality from the browser so they no longer have to maintain it.

The effect of ad blocking on user engagement with the web

Web users are increasingly turning to ad blockers to avoid ads, which are often perceived as annoying or an invasion of privacy. While there has been significant research into the factors driving ad blocker adoption and the detrimental effect to ad publishers on the Web, the resulting effects of ad blocker usage on Web users’ browsing experience is not well understood. To approach this problem, we conduct a retrospective natural field experiment using Firefox browser usage data, with the goal of estimating the effect of adblocking on user engagement with the Web. We focus on new users who installed an ad blocker after a baseline observation period, to avoid comparing different populations. Their subsequent browser activity is compared against that of a control group, whose members do not use ad blockers, over a corresponding observation period, controlling for prior baseline usage. In order to estimate causal effects, we employ propensity score matching on a number of other features recorded during the baseline period. In the group that installed an ad blocker, we find significant increases in both active time spent in the browser (+28% over control) and the number of pages viewed (+15% over control), while seeing no change in the number of searches. Additionally, by reapplying the same methodology to other popular Firefox browser extensions, we show that these effects are specific to ad blockers. We conclude that ad blocking has a positive impact on user engagement with the Web, suggesting that any costs of using ad blockers to users' browsing experience are largely drowned out by the utility that they offer.

I, too, use ad blockers on all my browsers and devices - and I can safely say that if ad blockers didn't exist, I'd be spending a lot less time reading websites online. Note that this study was performed by Mozilla employees.

Firefox 62.0 released

Earlier today, Mozilla pushed Firefox 62 for desktop and Android. With the release, Mozilla has introduced an UI refresh for the new tabs page as well as several dialogs like for adding or editing a bookmark, several performance enhancements to speed up browsing, and some security enhancements.

The first change that users will notice is the refreshed new tab page; with Firefox 62 users can now display up to four rows of top sites, Pocket stories and highlights. Currently, you get one row of top sites, and depending on your location you may not even get shown Pocket stories. Another UI changes that you’ll notice is in the menu where you can toggle tracking protection on and off easily.

On the performance side of things, Windows users will now get improved graphics rendering without accelerated hardware using Parallel-Off-Main-Thread Painting. Additionally, support for CSS Shapes allows for richer web page layouts, and CSS Variable Fonts support allows the browser to render "beautiful typography" with a single font file.

I don't feel it makes any sense to highlight every browser release, but randomly picking a release to talk about here on OSNews only makes sense - especially for a loyal mainstay like Firefox.

Firefox: changing our approach to anti-tracking

Anyone who isn't an expert on the internet would be hard-pressed to explain how tracking on the internet actually works. Some of the negative effects of unchecked tracking are easy to notice, namely eerily-specific targeted advertising and a loss of performance on the web. However, many of the harms of unchecked data collection are completely opaque to users and experts alike, only to be revealed piecemeal by major data breaches. In the near future, Firefox will - by default - protect users by blocking tracking while also offering a clear set of controls to give our users more choice over what information they share with sites.

Firefox continues to do great work in this department.

Firefox experiments with recommended content

With the latest Firefox experiment, Advance, you can explore more of the web efficiently, with real-time recommendations based on your current page and your most recent web history.

With Advance we're taking you back to our Firefox roots and the experience that started everyone surfing the web. That time when the World Wide Web was uncharted territory and we could freely discover new topics and ideas online. The Internet was a different place.

I get what Mozilla is trying to do here, and they obviously have rightfully earned the trust of many over the years, but is this kind of functionality really something people who choose to use Firefox are looking for, or even tolerate? This seems like something that doesn't align with the average Firefox user at all.

Firefox is back – it’s time to give it a try.

Mozilla recently hit the reset button on Firefox. About two years ago, six Mozilla employees were huddled around a bonfire one night in Santa Cruz, Calif., when they began discussing the state of web browsers. Eventually, they concluded there was a "crisis of confidence" in the web.

"If they don't trust the web, they won't use the web," Mark Mayo, Mozilla's chief product officer, said in an interview. "That just felt to us like that actually might be the direction we're going. And so we started to think about tools and architectures and different approaches."

Now Firefox is back. Mozilla released a new version late last year, code-named Quantum. It is sleekly designed and fast; Mozilla said the revamped Firefox consumes less memory than the competition, meaning you can fire up lots of tabs and browsing will still feel buttery smooth.

Firefox is in a good place right now, and has gained a lot of momentum since the release of Quantum. With Chrome's dominance, I'm really glad people are looking at alternatives such as Firefox and even Edge (the latter being my browser of choice for some inexplicable reason).

Linux sandboxing improvements in Firefox 60

Continuing our past work, Firefox 60 brings further important improvements to security sandboxing on Linux, making it harder for attackers that find security bugs in the browser to escalate those into attacks against the rest of the system.

The most important change is that content processes - which render Web pages and execute JavaScript - are no longer allowed to directly connect to the Internet, or connect to most local services accessed with Unix-domain sockets (for example, PulseAudio).

This means that content processes have to follow any network access restrictions Firefox imposes - for example, if the browser has been set up to use a proxy server, connecting directly to the internet is no longer possible. But more important are the restrictions on connections to local services: they often assume that anything connecting to them has the full authority of the user running it, and either allow it to ask for arbitrary code to run, or aren't careful about preventing that. Normally that's not a security problem because the client could just run that code itself, but if it's a sandboxed Firefox process, that could have meant a sandbox escape.

Mozilla adds sponsored content to Firefox

Mozilla's Nate Weiner:

Content on the web is powerful. It enables us to learn new things, discover different perspectives, stay in touch with what's happening in the world, or just make us laugh. Making sure that stories like these - stories that are worth your time and attention - are discoverable and supported is central to what we care about at Pocket.

It's important for quality content like this to thrive - and a critical way it's funded is through advertising. But unfortunately, today, this advertising model is broken. It doesn't respect user privacy, it's not transparent, and it lacks control, all the while starting to move us toward low quality, clickbait content.

We believe the Internet can do better. So earlier this year, we started to explore a new model and showed an occasional sponsored story in Pocket's recommendation section on Firefox New Tab. Starting today, we're expanding this work further - now Firefox Nightly and Beta users may also see these sponsored stories. We're preparing for this feature to go fully live in May to Firefox users in the US with the Firefox 60 release.

Luckily, you can turn this off.

Firefox is on a slippery slope

For a long time, it was just setting the default search provider to Google in exchange for a beefy stipend. Later, paid links in your new tab page were added. Then, a proprietary service, Pocket, was bundled into the browser - not as an addon, but a hardcoded feature. In the past few days, we’ve discovered an advertisement in the form of browser extension was sideloaded into user browsers. Whoever is leading these decisions at Mozilla needs to be stopped.

Mozilla garnered a lot of fully deserved goodwill with the most recent Firefox release, and here they are, jeopardising all that hard work. People expect this kind of nonsense from Google, Apple, or Microsoft - not Mozilla. Is it unfair to judge Mozilla much more harshly than those others? Perhaps, but that's a consequence of appealing to more demanding users when it comes to privacy and open source.

How Firefox got fast again

People have noticed that Firefox is fast again.

Over the past seven months, we’ve been rapidly replacing major parts of the engine, introducing Rust and parts of Servo to Firefox. Plus, we’ve had a browser performance strike force scouring the codebase for performance issues, both obvious and non-obvious.

We call this Project Quantum, and the first general release of the reborn Firefox Quantum comes out tomorrow.

orthographic drawing of jet engine

But this doesn’t mean that our work is done. It doesn’t mean that today’s Firefox is as fast and responsive as it’s going to be.

So, let’s look at how Firefox got fast again and where it’s going to get faster.

I should definitely give Firefox another try - I've tried it over the years but it always felt a little sluggish compared to the competition. Chrome's gotten way too fat over the years, so I've resorted to using Edge on my main computer lately - it isn't perfect, but it it sure is fast, and places very little strain on my machine. I want my browser to get out of my way, and gobbling up processor cycles is exactly not that.

The story of Firefox OS

So I'd like to tell you my version of the story of Firefox OS, from the birth of the Boot to Gecko open source software project as a mailing list post and an empty GitHub repository in 2011, through its commercial launch as the Firefox OS mobile operating system, right up until the "transition" of millions of lines of code to the community in 2016.

During this five year journey hundreds of members of the wider Mozilla community came together with a shared vision to disrupt the app ecosystem with the power of the open web. I'd like to reflect on our successes, our failures and the lessons we can learn from the experience of taking an open source browser based mobile operating system to market.

Project Mortar wants Pepper API Flash & PDFium in Firefox

PDFium is the Google open-source project for PDF support in Google Chrome. PDFium was previously closed-source based upon Foxit PDF technology while now it's been fully open-source since 2014.

The Pepper API Flash implementation is also what's used by Google's Chrome web-browser. By switching to the PAPI-based Flash, Firefox would be able to finish getting rid of their NPAPI support with the Firefox Flash support still relying upon it with Shumway and other projects not panning out.

Mozilla ceases all Firefox OS development

By the end of 2015 Mozilla leadership had come to the conclusion that our then Firefox OS initiative of shipping phones with commercial partners would not bring Mozilla the returns we sought. We made the first of a series of announcements about changes in the development of Firefox OS at Mozilla. Since then we have gradually wound down that work and, as of the end of July 2016 have stopped all commercial development on Firefox OS. This message recaps what transpired during that period of time and also describes what will happen with the Firefox OS code base going forward.

Symbian, Sailfish OS, BlackBerry OS, Windows Phone, Firefox OS.

Firefox 48 beta, release, and E10S

In the next few days, Firefox 48 Beta becomes available. If all goes well in our beta testing, we're about 6 weeks away from shipping the first phase of E10S to Firefox release users with the launch of Firefox 48 on August 2nd.

E10S is short for "Electrolysis". Similar to how chemists can use the technique called electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, we're using project Electrolysis to split Firefox into a UI process and a content process. Splitting UI from content means that when a web page is devouring your computer's processor, your tabs and buttons and menus won't lock up too.

Save Firefox!

We need competition; we also need diversity. We need the possibility that young, game-changing market entrants might come along. We need that idea to be kept alive, to make sure that all the browsers don't shift from keeping users happy to just keeping a few giant corporations that dominate the Web happy. Because there's always pressure to do that, and if all the browsers end up playing that same old game, the users will always lose.

We need more Firefoxes.

We need more browsers that treat their users, rather than publishers, as their customers. It's the natural cycle of concentration-disruption-renewal that has kept the Web vibrant for nearly 20 years (eons, in web-years).

We may never get another one, though.

Sometimes, I feel a little dirty for using Chrome just about anywhere, instead of Firefox. The problem is that switching browsers is not something I just do willy-nilly; you build up certain ways of using a browser, and with it being by far the most-used and most important application on my PC, even the tiniest of things become ingrained, and the tiniest of differences between browsers will annoy the crap out of me. I do give other browsers a chance every now and then, just to keep up with the times - but I always end up back at Chrome.

That being said, Doctorow's article paints a very bleak picture of the future of browsers, because according to him, the W3C has basically become a tool for the few big tech companies to dictate the direction of browsers and therefore the web with it, with disastrous consequences.

Mozilla stops developing and selling Firefox OS

Farewell Firefox OS smartphones. Mozilla today announced an end to its smartphone experiment, and said that it would stop developing and selling Firefox OS smartphones. It will continue to experiment on how it might work on other connected devices and Internet of Things networks.

Firefox OS was doomed from the start, just as all the other attempts at competing with iOS and Android. The cold, harsh, and sad truth is that modern mobile computing just isn't conducive to small and upstart platforms. You need the applications, you need the scale, you need the hearts and minds.

And all of those are taken by Google and Apple, and nobody else matters. It's too late.

The future of Thunderbird

Mozilla chairperson Mitchell Baker:

Therefore I believe Thunderbird should would thrive best by separating itself from reliance on Mozilla development systems and in some cases, Mozilla technology. The current setting isn't stable, and we should start actively looking into how we can transition in an orderly way to a future where Thunderbird and Firefox are un-coupled. I don't know what this will look like, or how it will work yet. I do know that it needs to happen, for both Firefox and Thunderbird's sake. This is a big job, and may require expertise that the Thunderbird team doesn't yet have. Mozilla can provide various forms of assistance to the Thunderbird team via a set of the Mozilla Foundation’s capabilities.

Are there still any Thunderbird users left? It's been in maintenance mode for a while, and there's several great alternatives (some of them even based on Thunderbird). That being said, having Thunderbird as a separate entity from Firefox, that can make its own decisions, could benefit the open source project greatly.