You guys might have heard the infamous news recently Firefox team had announced. From an outer perspective, this change is good but the direction of Firefox in general is concerning. In this post, I’ll talk about Firefox and its future.
Pocket also known as ReadItLater, is a very popular reading list add-on. I have been using it myself for many years even before the name change. It was a good extension, you could pretty much do anything you want with the old extension, rename, delete, keyboard shortcuts, you name it.
A couple months ago, Firefox and Pocket made a deal and Pocket got integrated into Firefox core. No one knew about this deal and it was very instant. When I was using Beta version of Firefox, they released a new feature called Reading List, it was terrible. I’ve even sent them a feedback and told them that it’s not their job to keep track of reading lists but an add-on’s. I’ve also recommended that people should just use Pocket instead, in the feedback. Yes, I’m feeling very guilty about telling this to Firefox team.
According to Firefox team, there was no financial gain from this deal. But we all knew it’s just bullshit.
They could have bundled the Pocket add-on with Firefox, instead they integrated it. By the way, the Pocket add-on on Mozilla is taken down and you have to use their terrible integrated module. Well, whatever, I’m not using Pocket anymore. This was a very bad decision for them.
EME / DRM
I’m not going to talk much about this because of my lack of knowledge about it. But basically, EME (Encrypted Media Extensions) is DRM for web videos just like a DVD with DRM. If you look at their manifesto, it conflicts with their decision of integrating EME too.
In February 2015, Mozilla announced Extension signing, a process that lets you sign your extensions just like a website with an SSL certificate. This was done to protect non-savvy users of Firefox so that they won’t be able to install malware add-ons to their Firefox browsers.
With this change, they made it that so an add-on can not be installed on browsers without being signed first. In order to sign your add-on, you have to send your add-on to Mozilla servers first. After they process your add-on, they will give you your add-on with sign on it. But did you know, anyone, even hackers and bad companies who write malware can sign their add-on and give you a signed add-on. This was a good security measurement before they obliterated it with enforcement of this rule on two browser versions (Stable and Beta).
They gave you two choices, you either have to use their unbranded version of Firefox (for Stable and Beta) or you have to use Developer Edition or Nightly. I was using Beta version for a year and with this decision, I was forced to use Developer Edition of Firefox (also known as Aurora). Again, developers and power users raged about this stupid decision. You were no longer allowed to install your own add-on that you are developing unless you send your private code to their servers.
Overall it solved almost nothing. Signed malware add-ons can still be installed. Nice try Mozilla, at least you tried.
Individuals’ security and privacy on the Internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional.
This is what it says on their manifesto page. Yet, they have introduced another privacy threatening feature called Suggested Tiles. This change was also done silently like their Pocket integration. These tiles will show you ads based on your browsing history. Thankfully they were kind (!) enough to make this optional.
Deprecation and removal of XPCOM and XUL
In few years the Firefox you know will be gone. Why? Because on August 2015 Firefox team announced that they will remove XPCOM/XUL in a year and every extension will have to use the new soon-to-be-released™ API called WebExtensions. We’ll talk about this later but it is simply a cross-browser extension API so that you can write extensions for multiple browsers at the same time.
Firefox is a different browser. It is super extensible, surpasses every single modern browser out there by extensibility. You can do pretty much anything you want in Firefox if you know the internals of Firefox, which is XPCOM and their interface language XUL. XUL allows you to write applications in operating system’s own window style. And with XPCOM, you can write a download manager, load system or custom libraries, create your own protocol and configure it to do something cool, even write a browser inside Firefox. That just shows how extensible Firefox is.
With these Firefox add-ons, you can have vertical tabs, split websites into multiple views under one tab, move tabs with mouse wheel, have a custom download manager, sandbox websites and isolate them without having to create multiple profiles, open multiple tabs at once with links from clipboard, have a Japanese IME (inside browser), extend browser’s own bookmarking dialog and the list goes on.
Many Firefox users use Firefox because of its extensibility and its power to do anything you want. People may argue that this is insecure and in fact, the truth is, it is insecure. But that is what makes Firefox powerful in its own way, a truly 100% customizable browser. When they remove XPCOM and XUL, your Firefox you love will be just like Chrome. A Chrome clone with a shell of Firefox that is.
They are going to lose their tiny 10% market share by giving up on their rich extension framework. I’m going to quote from an article from How-to-geek to emphasize how stupid their decision about removal the was:
If Firefox no longer has the most powerful add-on framework, its biggest advantage over its competitors will be gone.
They said they will cooperate with developers with popular add-ons to create a very good API that supports things that XPCOM and XUL could do. Though I really doubt it. It has a good purpose though. Its aim is to provide an all-in-one API to target all modern browsers. Many developers including myself have hard time when writing extensions for Firefox. Writing a Firefox extension is not impossible but it will make you work more than that work you will do when writing an extension for Chrome.
Firefox has changed, forks have emerged, life goes on but I’ll probably use another browser after they remove XPCOM and XUL. Vivaldi looks promising, not to mention they release updates every week. Or if you want something free and open source, Chromium is the way to go. Chrome is also a choice if you don’t worry about Google tracking you.
Thanks for reading and have a good day!