The bright news first:
Mozilla just released version 80 of it’s popular Firefox browser. It’s just another incremental improvement with no earth shattering differences the version number might suggest. Most likely the most interesting new development for us Linux users is improvement to hardware acceleration. It is now optional in version 80 and will be enabled by default in the upcoming version 81. Sadly, I couldn’t find any proper release notes on the subject as Mozilla likes to keep it’s site as minimal as possible. The hardware acceleration seems to concern users on the X11 display server. I have been on Wayland for quite some time and have managed to force enable hardware acceleration via the about:config page. I mainly use Firefox for Netflix and without hardware acceleration, playback is quite choppy.
Another feature of version 80 is the introduction of an add-ons block list. Firefox now won’t let you use add-ons that have been known to cause issues. Though a bit patronizing, it should result with better stability and privacy protection for most users.
Now to the clouds on the horizon:
Firefox is the number one browser on Linux and comes pre-installed on the majority of distributions out there. Needless to say, it’s continued active development is absolutely crucial for us Linux users. Mozilla, Firefox’s parent organization, has been featuring negatively in the news this year with two rounds of major lay-offs. The first one was in January when they let 70 employees go. Mozilla is said to have around 1000 employees, so around 7% were made redundant during that first wave. Mozilla clarified back then their disappointment with the development of new revenue generating products. Mozilla is heavily dependent on their contract with Google. They generate about 90% of their income from a contract which makes the Google search engine the default on it’s Firefox browser. This makes them very vulnerable indeed. So, Mozilla has been trying to tap new revenue streams and reduce cost. It’s new flagship product that it hopes will turn around it’s fortunes is Mozilla VPN, a $4.99/month subscription service currently only available in the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia. It is listed as “coming soon” for Mac and Linux. It promises to be trustworthy, fast and secure.
Then, just recently, they announced another round of redundancies, this time a whopping 250. This represents around 25% of all the organization’s staff and will undoubtedly be noticeable in product developments. Mozilla claims COVID-19 impacted their revenues and they needed to make major adjustments in order not to spend more than they earn for the foreseeable future. Shortly after the lay-offs, Mozilla announced the renewal of it’s browser search agreement with Google to the tune of $400 – $450 million per year till 2023. The actual figures will depend on the browser’s performance and that hasn’t been too good of late. Firefox’s market share has been on the decline from around 8% to 7% over the past 12 months. Hopefully they will be able to turn the trend around but for that they will need to invest heavily in browser development. I personally cannot fully use Firefox due to the simple fact that one cannot pinch to zoom like in Chromium. Doing so will only increase text size. Very annoying if you have a touch screen and touch screens have been around for a while now.
Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker said after the lay offs that: “Our initial investments will be Pocket, Hubs, VPN, Web Assembly and security and privacy products”. Firefox and how to increase it’s market share weren’t specifically mentioned as an important part of it’s strategy going forward. We can only hope that this is a given and they will keep putting enough resources into Firefox to insure it’s viability.
In case the era of Firefox is coming to an end, we do have a few alternatives available on Linux:
- Chromium: Probably the only fully capable and continuously developed open source alternative.
- Vivaldi: Very capable and in active development, albeit closed source. See my earlier review.
- Opera: An old classic with development picking up again. However, it’s also closed source.
- Otter: An open source browser trying to offer the classic Opera experience. Still needs work.
- Midori and Gnome Web (Epiphany): Open source classics but still require a lot of work.
Let’s hope Mozilla gets it’s act together. It’s ironic that they depend on their main rival’s parent for most of their revenue!