Unsolicited Advice for Mozilla and Firefox

I recently read an article entitled “What’s next for Mozilla?” over at TechCrunch. Firefox has been off-track for a while now. That makes me sad because I was a longtime user and advocate of Firefox. I’ve since moved on to Vivaldi, but that’s another essay for another time.

From the article:

For the longest time, Mozilla was synonymous with the Firefox browser, but for the last few years, Mozilla has started to look beyond Firefox, especially as its browser’s importance continues to wane.

Yikes. Firefox has been on a downward trend. Its usage is down from a high of around 30% to 3.5% generally, (7.6% on desktop). That’s not great. If that was just a fact of life, so it goes. But as I see it, the decline is due to a serious lack of focus and intention. Maybe Mozilla could use some unsolicited advice. They didn’t ask for it, but here it is from me anyway. I hope they take it as constructive feedback from someone who is a fan.


My advice is informed by what I see as some of the missteps of recent times.

First misstep: Even while Firefox has been bleeding market share, they have been boosting the CEO pay ($2,458,350 in compensation from Mozilla, which represents a 400% pay raise since 2008) and laying off 25% of their employees (significantly in the developer tools and platform feature development areas). Platform feature development sure sounds like “Firefox team.”

Second misstep: Firefox has stepped away from web standards. One of the most important features for driving the web forward is PWAs (Progressive Web Apps). But Firefox decided they were too much trouble and actively removed them. The Mozilla Connect request to re-enable PWAs has over 32 pages of comments almost universally asking for them back. Meanwhile, look how much Apple is promoting the idea these days.

Third misstep: Becoming a proxy for the biggest advertising company in the world. Google’s search deal means Mozilla takes in 95% of its revenue directly from yearly agreements with Google. This seriously constrains the moves Firefox and Mozilla can make.

Paths forward for Firefox and Mozilla

According to the TechCrunch article above, Mozilla is moving into AI and launching Mozilla.ai because we need ethical AI. Nope, that’s not going to fix things. There are 1,000s of companies running in every direction on AI, some ethical others not. But Mozilla trying to lead using ethical AI won’t change those who’d rather not be ethical in the industry. VCs are gonna VC after all.

Michael’s Path 1: Privacy-focused docs, drive, and browser

Mozilla should make an office suite in the cloud that is extremely privacy-focused and make sure Firefox is a top-tier client for it. We’re talking no advertising, end-to-end encryption, all the works.

I envision this to be not just docs, but compete with many aspects of how people use the cloud SaaS world:

  • GMail / Fastmail / Proton Mail
  • Google Drive / Dropbox / Proton Drive
  • Google Docs / Sheets / Presentation / Photos
  • SalesForce CRM / All the other CRMs
  • Invoicing / Document Signing / etc.

Just flood the market with top-notch, privacy-focused, paid apps in this space.

Can’t be done? No one can compete with Google Docs at this point? If you feel that way, Zoho would like to have a word with you. They have 55 (!) such apps and which are excellent. Zoho also makes over $1B/yr revenue and are entirely self-funded. I’m a big fan. And that revenue is double what Mozilla makes even including the Google deal. Without Google, it’s 40x what Mozilla makes.

For this suite, they’d have free tiers but charge for them earlier than Google. You pay Google with your data, you’d pay Mozilla for a product.

Michael’s Path 2: Go all-in on privacy in Firefox

Firefox is concerned with privacy, sorta. They don’t go nearly as far as Vivaldi or Brave. Why? Well, misstep 3 is likely the reason. They are 100% beholden to a company that is the antithesis of privacy. If they anger Google too much, bankruptcy is quick on the heals.

So they can be private-ish, but not private. Firefox doesn’t let you add 25 additional block lists for ads or malware like nextdns.io. They don’t have super agressive built-in options for ad-blocking like Vivaldi and Brave. And so on. I wonder why…

Vivaldi and Brave are better than Firefox and are inspring. However, mimicking them probably won’t change Firefox’s fate. They should specialize.

I recently learned of a new “Enterprise Browser” called Island. It’s super interesting and coincidentlly cofounded by a friend of mine. Watch the video on the landing page. Island may have the market cornered already, but something special like this could really change the fate of Firefox.

Michael’s Path 3: Become a VC for like-minded startups

This one they sorta doing already. They have $.5B / year and if they took a good chunk of that and invested just like a VC firm into startups that shared their ethos (not necessarily in browsers or open source, just web = open and good, etc.), that could probably be a big winner in the long term.

Michael’s Path 4: Lie to the world

What, what? Yes, lie to the world (of websites).

Should you trust the stat counters that put Chrome so high? No. But they are probably right for Firefox. The difference is that Vivaldi and Brave both lie about their user agent. What’s my Vivalid user agent right now?

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_15_7) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/ Safari/537.36

Brave’s user agent?

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_15_7) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/ Safari/537.36

What’s Chrome’s user agent right now?

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_15_7) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/ Safari/537.36

See the difference? None, and that’s a major advantage. Vivaldi claims to be Chrome so websites don’t refuse to run.

But websites often rail against:

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.15; rv:121.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/121.0

That’s Firefox right now. Maybe Firefox should just claim to be Chrome and all those warnings will go away. Firefox usually works anyway. One of the main drivers pushing people away from Firefox are all those websites warning “This website won’t work in Firefox!!!!” A white lie like this one would completely elimante that pressure.

There it is

That’s my advice. I hope it gave you some food for thought. And for folks from Mozilla reading this, I wish you well and hope to see Firefox grow. If you want to talk more, hit me up in the email below.

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