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"Much" of the Rust/Wasmtime team hit by layoffs at Mozilla (twitter.com/tschneidereit)
428 points by cs702 on Aug 13, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 334 comments

Hi everyone, the Rust core team has been talking about making a statement on this, but I left this comment in a personal capacity yesterday:


Mozilla employs a small number of people to work on Rust fulltime, and many of the Servo people contributed to Rust too, even if it wasn't their job. They also pay for the hosting bill for crates.io. They also own a trademark on Rust, Cargo, and the logos of both. Two people from the Rust team have posted about their situation, one was laid off and one was not. Unsure about the others. Many of the Servo folks (and possibly all, it's not 100% clear yet but it doesn't look good) have been laid off.

The vast majority of contributors and team members are non-Mozilla, though the Mozilla folk are very important. Rust will survive. This situation is very painful, and it has the possibility of being more so, but (thanks to a lot of work from people (not speaking of myself here) who used to be at Mozilla!) Rust is bigger than Mozilla, and has been on a long road towards diversification. Some other companies have stepped up to pay a bunch of the bills that Mozilla used to pay, namely Amazon and Microsoft. Here's hoping that we get even more involvement in the future.

Totally agree, Rust will survive.

AWS is investing heavily in Rust. If anyone who is reading this was affected by these layoffs and you want to continue to work in Rust, get in touch with me. We have many Rust opportunities open across the company on a variety of different teams.

Would AWS ever consider hiring someone full-time to work on the compiler itself?

Get in touch with me. (@amazon.com email is in my profile.) I know the right people to get you in touch with to figure out if this could work. It doesn't seem far-fetched to me.

I didn't mean me specifically, just the concept in general, but that's good to hear.

Any Rustaceans who have been working at Mozilla, have probably done so for the mission that Mozilla work on (publicly), not too earn a ton of money. Amazon/AWS, who's main goal is closed down infrastructure, is the opposite of that mission. Worth keeping in mind when trying to recruit people from the opposite spectrum of yourself.

Thanks for the feedback. I disagree with your premise and your characterizations, but that's what opinions are for!

I believe the success of Rust, as a technical goal, can transcend the business goals of whatever organization uses it. Solidifying the future of Rust is a noble goal, and it would be a huge win for our industry.

It could be a major win if layoffs result in a multiplier effect where concentrated Rust talent now spreads across industries. However, this can amount to a net loss if those with bleeding edge Rust skills and experience cannot continue putting them to use. Further, unused expertise atrophies.

After the Great Depression, the New York City public schools became some of the best in the country as those with amazing credentials and work experience were displaced and needed jobs. The same can happen with Mozilla's layoffs, where Rust can spread faster and have a great impact on software development, but only if people can put their bleeding edge skills to best use.

The Mozilla layoffs indicate that the mission you speak of has ended. It's over. It was at best a business experiment with a socially progressive slant, capturing the hearts and minds of employees in exchange for their commitment to company objectives. Unfortunately, those responsible for the plan are not held as accountable for it failing to achieve their business objectives.

> It was at best a business experiment with a socially progressive slant

I appreciate you specifically pointing out "socially progressive", rather than just "progressive", because corporations often use social progressiveness, (relatively cheap), as a mask for economic conservatism.

Maybe AWS is going to do something useful with it instead of just rewriting all established tools.

But they made Firecracker open?

I hope they will get toilet breaks?

Thank you for commenting here Steve. The fallout from the layoffs is possibly quite harrowing but, from my biased point of view, this may be a watershed moment for Rust. It'll have to expand beyond its incubating organization.

(And don't cut yourself short, your actions are a significant part of why Rust has such a promising future.)

Past the edit window, so I'll just add this: https://twitter.com/rustlang/status/1294024734804508679

When can we see an * up to date list of the affected core team members? There's at least three and not two like said before (I'm referring to the addition of alexcrichton)

I feel slightly weird about being so specific about it, but there were only two people at Mozilla who were on the core team: Niko and Manish.

Alex hasn't been on the core team since February. He's still on the Cargo teams and the wasm WG though.

Do you think it would be feasible to fund a team of core developers directly by the community? A lot of people love Rust and might bei willing to contribute a small amount of money regularely to keep Rust independent from corporate politics.

I am not sure; to be honest, I am a bit skeptical of individuals being able to get enough money together. It's just math.

We will always do our best to make sure that no one single company controls Rust, but we do also want Rust to be useful to industry, and so we do want to listen to our users, no matter where they come from.

It might be an interesting experiment for the ex-Mozilla rust team to launch a kickstarter (or similar) project to get them funded for one year.

So it would not be individuals but a team with some high-level goals they plan to work on for the next year.

I have no idea how many people would fund a project like this but it would be a fast and low cost experiment to find that out.

I would not position this as "the people vs. the industry", it would be just an additional option to move Rust forward.

That is indeed interesting. I've thought about mentioning http://aturon.github.io/sponsor/ but then I realized you said about not individuals but a team.

So I guess crowdfunded project idea is not bad at all. I mean there probably some rewards tier to have some tokens or souvenier

> The internet is the platform now with ubiquitous web technologies built into it, but vast new areas are developing (like Wasmtime and the Bytecode Alliance vision of nanoprocesses). Our vision and abilities should play in those areas too.

Two days ago, the CEO said that focusing on technologies like Wasmtime was one of their plans for the future[1]. Now we find out that they're actually getting rid of the team. They really doubled down on the corporate speak for this round of layoffs.

[1] https://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2020/08/11/changing-world-chan...

Wasmtime is so important to our future we've decided to let people work on it for free.

Why call it corporate speak, when it's plain old lying?

The weasel nature of corporate speak is beyond a simple lie. People out a lot of work and, perversely, take pride in their ability to say one thing while sounding like saying another, at best, or outright convincingly bullshit.

It deserves to be labeled as the worse of the two options because it is.

"Corporate speak" is itself an example of corporate speech. It's autological.


Many people consider that synonymous. Hell, if anything i tend to consider corporate speak to be even more damning than a lie.

to me corporate speak is empty platitudes trying to bury the lede, whereas lying is lying (and both are dishonest)

Saying "we care deeply at X" can't be proven to be false since they can say "We care about X, we just care more about other things so we fired the X team, it wasn't a lie".

That is corp speak, they say stuff that can't be proven to be lies even though they almost surely are lies.

It's at least a different, interesting kind of lying, worth naming separately.

Po-tay-to, starchy tuber of the plant Solanum tuberosum.

Being more charitable, it's possible they changed their minds, rather than they were lying.

It wasn't a change of mind. This was the layoff blog post. They just didn't mention it.

Tuesday blog post: "Wasmtime is our future!" "We're going to be smaller across the board".

Thursday it becomes apparent that the Wasmtime was laid off on that Tuesday.

"... specifically, a much smaller future ..."

That would be really weird. When I think more charitable with Mozilla, I think of "one hand does not know what the other one is doing".

Firefox is open source and it doesn't need to be tied to Mozilla. Maybe a fork is necessary.

"Open source" doesn't necessarily mean "practical to maintain." Can an open source organization maintaining a fork of Firefox in their free time in addition to the obligations of their regular job keep up with the hundreds of webcompat issues being filed and over 3,000 open issues on the preview version of Firefox on Android alone?

And there also is a fork of XUL-era Firefox already, called Pale Moon, which various people have declared will soon be unusable with the modern web because there aren't enough people that care about it enough to implement Web Components, to the point where the Pale Moon developers were asking websites to not implement Web Components[1]. Are the developers of those websites going to pay attention to a couple of developers maintaining their own Firefox fork that much less people use than standard Firefox? (And we're talking about Firefox, which itself has a single-digit market share.) That on top of the implications of security exploits being found in such a massive codebase faster than the development team can patch them, given how many features are being added to web standards so quickly, probably with the expectation that companies like Google or Mozilla already have the developer capacity to implement them on a set timeline. There's simply so much source code to maintain, and adding the new features that the modern web is going to require to be usable in a few years on top of maintenance takes a significant amount of effort.

The only way that a program as complicated as Firefox can continue to be improved and used by enough people to be viable is if it gets worked on by people with enough time, and I believe that's only practical if people are spending that time working on Firefox because they're salaried. Yes, that's partially because web standards are constantly expanding in scope and complexity, and I'm not really sure what we can do about the complexity creating a hard dependency on Mozilla continuing to exist because, unlike the source code of Firefox, the forces driving those standards are out of the reach of the average OSS developer.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22604070

> "Open source" doesn't necessarily mean "practical to maintain." Can an open source organization maintaining a fork of Firefox in their free time in addition to the obligations of their regular job keep up with the hundreds of webcompat issues being filed and over 3,000 open issues on the preview version of Firefox on Android alone?

Blink (Chrome's engine) was once KHTML. KHTML was maintained entirely by volunteers, so I think it's entirely possible for a team of volunteers to maintain a web rendering engine.

I think most people severely underestimate how much of a modern web browser is code that does things completely unrelated to rendering web content (think telemetry and the like ,etc). Now, telemetry also needs a backend to send data to, and servers to run that backend on.

My point is that many of the people that work on a modern browser are working on things that are unrelated to rendering web content, so their equivalent would not be needed in a volunteer team. You don't need any admins to administer the servers that run the telemetry backend services if you don't have any telemetry in your browser.

web technology, especially widely supported web technology, was moving at a much slower pace during the KHTML days though.

> "Open source" doesn't necessarily mean "practical to maintain."

Mozilla has certainly done a lot over the past decade that effectively guarantees that neither Firefox nor Gecko can realistically exist without the continued existence of the Corporation.

wow, that sent me down a multi hour rabbit hole of reading a bunch of programming drama.

There are already many forks of Firefox with separate development. See Waterfox, Palemoon, etc. None seem to get the kind of development needed to compete with Chrome/Safari/Edge.

How do you finance its development?

I would start by being better at building goodwill than Mozilla has been in the last few years, and ceasing the bait/switch strategy for funding that torpedoed Canonical.

It is very, very okay that ubiquitous and greatly loved projects do one or two things well.

Goodwill is of course lovely. But that's not a plan of financing the project. No money, no full-time employee, not enough developer-power to keep up with the ever-evolving web standard, and hence not competitive against the chromium family.

And even if this better-will project is formed, and funded, and worked, there is nothing stopping the team from picking up all the bait-and-switch, corporate speak, etc., when they are wearing the same shoes as Mozilla.

In any rate, it's not as simple as someone with better-will to fork the project. I'd rather stay with Mozilla for now, because 1) they are a public entity who cannot commit an evil deed and simply ghost everyone, so they have the motivation to not be hated too much, and 2) they are the only player other than Webkit family and the Chromium family on the browser market, while nobody else has the power to even enter the competition (at least for now).

This shows that open-source in general is expensive for Mozilla but cheap for the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Google who own their own Web browsers and have other open-source programming languages maintained by some of their employees full time.

The actual reality of this is that they are still kept alive by a direct competitor for decades and haven't made anything to generate significant sources of revenue. Maybe they should turn into a Rust consultancy of some sort. I don't know.

If the mission statement is about 'privacy' then it doesn't make much sense to continue to bite the hand that feeds them as its up to Google if they want to re-new their contract with Mozilla; which unsuprisingly they had to.

For Apple, Microsoft, and Google, their open source activities are all loss leaders for their profitable ventures.

Apple sells hardware, and most of their software offerings, like MacOS, their office suite, and Safari, and given away to convince people to buy that hardware. Also, it's not like they're spending a whole lot of time making Sarafi the best browser around.

Microsoft's web browser was created (and bundled) specifically to prevent the web from disrupting their monopoly on the desktop, and their new browser is just a fork of Chromium.

Google's browser was a way for Google to drive web technologies in service of their advertising platform.

Mozilla's open source efforts are/were a loss leader for ... nothing. Their work was motivated by altruism, not profit, and that turned out to be, well, not profitable. That's why they're pivoting; altruism alone wasn't enough to pay the bills.

This 'broken' goes all the way back to Marc Andreesen.

He leaves a publicly funded team building a web browser, starts a commercial entity, and for whatever reason they don't feel they can charge for their browser funded by private equity. You could in fact buy it in a box at the local electronics store, but with the pricing I suspect most of that money went to distribution, not NCC. So they try to find other ways to make money, like their web server and overpriced consulting (for their notoriously awful web server).

The entire dotcom era then emulated this pattern. There were certainly other logistical reasons for it (like the state of credit card billing at the time), but I can't help but feel like this was the rock that started the avalanche of adware and commercial cyberstalking.

And so here we are 25 years later, and the last remnant of Netscape is trying to build the free browser and not much to fund it. I'm kinda surprised it lasted this long.

To be fair to them though, and particularly on the topic of this story, if they were going to build a free browser, it always should have been on the community to contribute to the dev tools. It's the part of the browser that we have a vested interest in.

And in fact, it used to be that way. Firefox had no dev tools at the beginning. They copied a very popular add-on, which I now recall made absolutely no sense to me at the time. I felt like their attempt was less effective in several ways, and why are they shouldering out this tool that made them in the first place (as GP asserts, nobody develops first-class support on a browser they can't debug in, or at least not when there is an alternative.)

The tool was firebug. It was a big difference when browsers didn’t offer built in tools.

When Firebug came out it was such a big deal that it was the sole reason our IE-only product (which was not a simple application, it was fully-fledged fleet management, tracking, mapping, and reporting platform, entirely web-based) got cross-browser compatibility (we made it work with Firefox).

Being able to use Firebug was such a huge boon to development back in the day, though it probably looks primitive today.

Firebug is what got me to use Firefox in the beginning. I continued to use Firefox out of habit after firebug went away, though the replacement was inferior (it still is). Now... I might have to switch to Chrome, but I really don’t want to due to privacy issues. I suppose I could use it just for development.

I think Firebug got most of us to use Firefox, and then we got other people to use Firefox, directly or indirectly.

I worked on two teams back to back. Everyone was using Firebug. Management was telling us NOT to support Firefox, but tough shit, you want this work done yesterday and the only way that's going to happen is by engineering on Firefox/Firebug and then going back to black magic for the 10% that didn't work on IE (and soon, Safari).

I think SV's theory is that if you make something that potentially a billion people will use, that's worth doing even if you don't know the business model yet because when the fog of war clears you might be FAAMG

> Mozilla's open source efforts are/were a loss leader for ... nothing. Their work was motivated by altruism, not profit, and that turned out to be, well, not profitable. That's why they're pivoting; altruism alone wasn't enough to pay the bills.

Except it didn't turn out to be "not profitable". Leaving aside the issue of dependence on companies like Google and the frankly ridiculous exec compensation, all publicly available data shows that Mozilla is very financially healthy and has been for a long time.

The claim of financial issues is implied by the corporatespeak press release, but simply not supported by any evidence that I've seen.

Is open source a loss leader for Apple, really? Or is it something they mostly get for free, but have to contribute a little back to shape it how they want?

The point I read from GP, at least, was that open source is cheap for these big corps because they get a ton of benefit for it, but non-profit (either orgs or individuals) are bearing the brunt of the cost.

Apple is the primary contributor and maintainer of WebKit at this point since Google forked Blink off of it.

There are consulting firms like Igalia that work on all three engines, and they're funded mostly from big clients like Bloomberg and banks so developers there can use flexbox and CSS grid everywhere.

Google sometimes works on WebKit as well if they want to try to improve compatibility of websites, but the project is mostly Apple employees now.

> contribute a little back

Clang was certainly an in-house Apple project from the start, and it would be hard to claim that it hasn't been a project that has seen huge uptake outside of Apple.

This is not entirely accurate. LLVM was started by Chris Lattner before he was hired by Apple, which were probably spooked by gcc going GPLv3 by then.

Yes for LLVM, but Clang was made entirely while Chris Lattner was employed by Apple[1]. Before Clang you have to use LLVM GCC frontend (llvm-gcc) to compile C code under LLVM, which was the default in Xcode until 5.x (although Clang was added in Xcode 4.x, I remembered it being quite unstable at the time).

[1]: https://lists.llvm.org/pipermail/cfe-dev/2007-July/000000.ht... (announcement)

LLVM and Clang are both projects started by Chris Lattner, but they are not the same project.

Do you mean that Clang leverages LLVM on the back end?

WebKit, Swift, LLVM, that's it really. Relative to marketcap, Apple open sources the least, probably even less than Oracle, Intel, and friends. Swift and LLVM benefit from being open source--it would actually be unusable if it weren't. None of the things which give them market share like iMessage or their chip designs are remotely open source. It doesn't compare at all to Google's open source which includes Chromium, the entire Android operating system, Bazel, protocol buffers, Go--too many to list.

+ CUPS. Also should mention that LLVM is huge thing.

Totally agree that Apple not tend to open sourcing software unless needed.

KHTML has an LGPL license. WebCore forked from that, so its source code must be released with a compatible license.

> altruism alone wasn't enough to pay the bills.

That certainly depends on how big the bills are.

> "The actual reality of this is that they are still kept alive by a direct competitor for decades and haven't made anything to generate significant sources of revenue. Maybe they should turn into a Rust consultancy of some sort. I don't know."

The odds of them being able to build a business that that replaces the several hundred million they get from Google (which is essentially pure profit, not even revenue) are essentially nil. The instant Google decides they're no longer useful, Mozilla is going to go poof.

I'm inclined to agree with others who have said they should be building their own endowment. It's almost malpractice on the part of their leadership not to.

> The instant Google decides they're no longer useful, Mozilla is going to go poof.

People keep repeating this but couldn't Bing replace Google as the default? The "default search engine" position is actually worth money.

Also, Mozilla has had revenue from other search providers, like Yahoo:


So I don't think their position is as fragile as people suggest. The problem is declining market share, not that they are tied to Google per se. (Of course Google is by far the strongest search engine, but it's plausible that Mozilla could survive with Bing.)

The reason they keep going back to Google is they are willing to cut the biggest check. A few years back they tried kicking the Google habit... it didn't work. So barring new developments, Mozilla's prospects are significantly diminished should Google lose interest. Right now, it's apparently still worth half a billion a year to Google for the appearance of competition.

The amount is tied to the browser market share. Google also pays Apple for making them the default search. However Apple is able to command a lot more due its mobile market share for browsers.

There's also a premium Apple can charge due to being the gatekeeper on their platforms in addition to market share. Firefox will always be in a weaker negotiating position since they only offer market share.

It's worth money as long as the company that runs the search engine is willing to pay for it.

In a scenario where Google no longer sees the value in that arrangement, what value would Microsoft be seeing in it?

Yes, but not really to Mozilla. The Google money is practically a subsidy, it's not really necessary.

Consider this: Firefox's remaining userbase is mostly quite technically sophisticated users. Are they going to blindly end up searching on Bing all day because they don't know how to change the search box default? No. They're going to set the default back to Google, and carry on as before, except then Mozilla don't get paid for it.

Google have a few reasons to cut them off. One is, obviously, it won't make much impact on their revenue given Firefox demographics. The second is Mozilla and Apple are dragging down the Chrome team. Chrome tries to introduce new tech, Mozilla vetos it or doesn't implement it. Apple they can't do anything about, Microsoft gave up on Edge and is now in the Chrome camp. If Mozilla dies, only Apple remains on a non-Blink engine. And eventually Tim Cook will wonder why they're funding a poor clone of Blink for legacy reasons, when they could just use it directly and re-allocate the resources to more profitable projects.

Cutting of Mozilla's lifeline is one way to push the web along to standardisation on Blink as a codebase. And when that's done, well the W3C is irrelevant for a long time already, so HTML becomes the API to Blink basically and they add features at whatever speed they want.

Strategically it may be that Mozilla should have done that years ago, when Firefox had substantial market share and therefore a lot of effect on the user population.

By accepting the Google cheque, they directed people towards Google and may have indirectly funded Chrome and monoculture.

If they had directed people towards Bing when they had 30% market share, that may have resulted in a search engine duopoly instead, and a greater chance of Microsoft selecting and funding Gecko/Servo instead of Blink.

The "default search engine" position is actually worth money.

But the amount it's worth is probably roughly proportional to the number of Firefox users. With Firefox having less and less market share, the attraction to search engines of supporting it -- particularly those whose operators also make their own browser -- must be diminishing rapidly as well.

If they drop from 2 bidders to 1 it becomes a lot less valuable.

I'll add another vote for traveling back in time and building an endowment and a sustainable community development process instead of scope creeping the mission.

I think it shows that Mozilla blew all their (quite significant) funding on quixotic adventures that had little to do with their core mission of an open internet where users controlled their experience.

I've been saying for years that Mozilla should have a services department to do consulting and corporate support for Rust. No idea why they'd leave millions of dollars on the floor like that.

I've said on here for years that Mozilla will only be remembered for Rust and they should double down on that (to the exclusion of FF if necessary) and people got mad. It's their only product people are enthusiastic about, the only product of theirs that has a positive slope on Google Trends. They could have been what JetBrains is to Kotlin. They could have sold support, training, consultantcy, IDEs, tooling, hosted conferences, etc.

Mozilla's revenue is $400M a year. A few million dollars in consulting revenue isn't going to move the needle.

Consulting would offer an avenue for growth. If you do well, you can hire more people and make more revenue.

Both of Mozilla's likely search revenue partners in the US are also competitors and both use anti-competitive means to push their own browsers.

Building their own search revenue stream isn't going to happen on $400M annually. And I don't think Yandex or Baidu are planning to seriously address the US market.

Also, I could be wrong, but I thought ad spending was way down this year.

>Mozilla's revenue is $400M a year.

And it can easily drop to $0M a year.

Meanwhile, a good consulting can grow to tens of millions, and even be acquired by a company like MS, etc.

We're talking 10s of millions here. Plenty of consultancies make 20million+ per year in revenue. It could even be the start of a new branch with value adds like Confluent, Databricks, which are more in the range of $150-200million.

Hmm... Amazon should buy Firefox and keep it going for the good of humanity at a loss. Like its owner did for The Post.

Apple, Microsoft, and Google:

* Forbid alternative browser engines on their platform.

* Bundle their browser in a leading operating system.

* Use their massive Web properties to drive downloads of their own browser.

And in the case of Apple, who killed Flash to help the open web, have knee-capped PWA support on their mobile platforms to force developers to leave their cut of sales through the App Store. It's pretty anti-competitive.

I believe Valve's been a bit on edge (no pun intended), about Microsoft forcing games through their store as well.

Mozilla was helping us out of these walled gardens. There's even the SSB support they've been working for PWAs on desktop. Instead of bundling Electron, you could likely just target ESR Firefox and your app icon just launches this URL (this is what Peppermint OS does). Instead now you have Chrome and all of these Electron apps all competing for who can chew up the most RAM.

>And in the case of Apple, who killed Flash to help the open web, have knee-capped PWA support on their mobile platforms to force developers to leave their cut of sales through the App Store.

Knee-capped? For years Safari had the best PWA support compared to Android.

And at first it even asked developers to make PWAs, and they said "no, we want native apps".

There's no push notification support, no background sync, offline support isn't good, they're wiping storage after 7 days, etc.

There isn't a defined spec sure, but they idea is to give Web Apps somewhat equal footing with native apps while having potential be more secure being tied to browser sandboxing, extensions, settings, etc. This doesn't appear to be in Apple's goals given those missing features. You can see devs begging for push notifications for years--and it works on desktop Safari.

At work, this is the specific feature we want above everything else in our PWA experience. Apple's been reluctant to say the least to allow repackaged Web Apps in their store, but can you blame developers when features like this are missing but present?

It would seem even the Chrome Web Store is being met with frustration too


Microsoft and Google allow alternative browser engines. Apple does not.

Only within iOS. The average person downloading Firefox for iPhone doesn’t know (or care) if it’s built on WebKit or Gecko.

On IOS. On a Mac you can run any browser engine you want.

i wonder when the other shoe will drop. maybe as part of the ARM and iOS/macOS consolidation.

things are much more likely to go the iOS route given it's already ARM.

Apple will lose their entire Mac audience if this happens. Slowly, but surely.

i wonder when the other shoe will drop. maybe as part of the ARM and iOS/macOS consolidation.

There’s no other shoe. There's no known technical reason why all the major browsers shouldn't be available natively when ARM Macs start shipping in a few months.

There's no technical reason for iOS to not support alternative browsers from the start. It's not about technical reasons.

Exactly. I don't care about the size of the screen. It's my damn computer, I should be allowed to put whatever software I want on it.

There's no technical reason for iOS to not support alternative browsers from the start.

Why would Apple allow other browser engines that are slower, less power efficient and don't respect user’s privacy at least as much as Webkit to run natively on iOS?

Apple continues to add features to block ads from tracking users across the web and to lessen the impact of fingerprinting by trackers.

Certainly Google has no interest in adhering to these principles if it were able to run natively on iOS—they're the only major browser on macOS that allows unchecked fingerprinting and ad tracking.

> Why would Apple allow

There's your problem. Apple doesn't own the device.. I do.

Apple can "recommend" I use Safari all they want (not unlike MS does with Edge) but if I own the device I should have the right to run any software I want. Full stop.

That is what you think. It is not what Apple thinks. Which do you suppose wins more often?

Can you use alternative browsers on Chromebooks (sans rooting)?

Technically, yes. Crostini is a WSL-like VM layer that allows you to run arbitrary Linux apps, including Firefox and Epiphany on ChromeOS.

Practically speaking though, this is all command-line heavy and developer centric. Your typical Chromebook user can't/won't.

I'm actually grappling with this issue right now.. I'm a long time Firefox user and picked up a Lenovo Duet ChromeOS device to serve as a replacement for my cheap Android tablet.

Turns out.. I really like the form factor and am using it a lot (typing on it right now!). But the Firefox Android apps are a pretty terrible experience and since I don't plan on using this for dev, I don't want to jump through all the crostini hoops. So here I am, using Chrome..

They both fight with every dirty dark UX pattern they can get away with. Not much difference in practice.

If anything, at the moment Apple is doing more for the web diversity than anyone else. They have a non-negligeable market share and can force Google to abandon at least the most outrageous plans for Chrome.

Not that they are angels, of course... It's a pity that Mozilla failed to find a better revenue source that would include keeping Firefox alive.

> Bundle their browser in a leading operating system.

What’s the alternative here? I can’t imagine opening up a new computer and not having some kind of web browser pre-installed.

It takes about 2 minutes to download and install a browser. Most operating systems already expect an internet connection when you're installing them, it would be easy to add a screen saying "select which browser you want" as part of the process.

For slow connections, some of that space currently allocated to bloatware should be reassigned to browser choice.

I don't understand why they don't just create a patreon/github sponsors/bitcoin donations for core ff/rust/mdn teams salaries and call it a day. I'm sure they'll get more than enough contributions to make it viable.

Doubtful at standard software engineer rates living in SV[0]. I remember being kinda surprised my first visit to SF, that Mozilla had an office right on the waterfront. Seemed kind of wasteful.

They've also continuously lost lots of good will they had in the mid to late 2000s, both from end users and developers. I'm sure a lot of people would be happy to declare good riddance if chromium ever got a decent extensions framework like Firefox used to have.

They might be able to get some grants.

[0] Maybe this would be a good thing, though, get rid of all the people working on stuff (and often more expensively, managing the working on stuff) who aren't in it for the vision. The money-oriented who still want to work on browser tech can be absorbed by Google/Apple/MS/Brave/Opera. But it's risky, as they might find there's no one left.

I like Mozilla, I like Firefox, I like Rust, I like that they offer a remote work option, that they're kind of the anti-Google in a way (even while taking $$ from Google, but whatever). I like their whole philosophy at a certain level. But when I interviewed with them last year I honestly could not understand where the money was coming from to pay for all the perks and compensation and the offices and the bi-annual company-wide gatherings, etc. And the number of people!. Etc. The whole thing seemed... too much ... for what they needed to do.

(Don't get me wrong, I am not underestimating the complexity of their browser -- I work full-time in the Chromium code base, so I have a pretty good idea what a modern browser looks like inside.)

In any case the position wasn't a fit. I didn't get my chance to say no to it because the team I interviewed with didn't think I was a fit either (for imho dubious reasons, but whatever). But from talking to people work there... I dodged a bullet big time.

I wish them the best, but I didn't get the impression from the letter and the composition of the layoffs that the rethinking is really happening.

All of the money was coming from Google's antitrust lawyers.

Maybe it is time for Mozilla to move away from SV then. It is not as if there are no competent developers who would be willing to work on Firefox for $50k/year in other states or even countries.

Heck, the money that they get from google per year is enough to pay for 1000 developers paid at $100k/year each for 5 years.

Who wants to donate when their CEO makes 2.5million/year?

Exactly, why not fire all the VP's and up including the CEO?

That will save a LOT more money and have a better impact.

I'm very glad that after I bought a VPN subscription from them they only needed to have sold another 49,999 or so to pay for that.

The point of this option would be that those wouldn't go to CEO at all.

Money is fungible.

Not when conditions are attached to the payment or donation.

Even when it is. This should be obvious. Not even sure why I'm spelling this out. Say total amount of money an organization has is $X + $Y. Group A is assigned $X in funding. Group B is assigned $Y in funding.

Group A gets $Z in donation with conditions attached so it only gets used by Group A.

Then the organization assigns $X - $Z funding to Group A and assigns $Y + $Z funding to Group B. Group A is happy because it still has $X from the donation and doesn't complain. Group B is happy because it can now spend $2.5 million on the CEO.

Counterpoints, which I'm surprised I have to spell out, are:

1. Limits. The above doesn't apply when $Z > $X, above which the attachment has full effect.

2. Reputation. The sources of recurring $X + $Y have decision making powers with a time lag. They may not be willing to give $X + $Y again if they know it was entirely spent on group B last time.

3. Anticipation. Organization decision makers know 2. Which makes donations with conditions attached into a signal with some effect, rather than something freely fungible with no pressure.

If we were to plot a curve of notional pressure and effect on the organization's budgeting decisions, I would expect a curve increasing with the ratio $Z/($X+$Y). A very shallow curve perhaps. But not a flat zero in the range 0..$X as you are suggesting.

I simplified a lot obviously but an organizational can last years and years before seeing the effects of reputation pressure. And above applies fine even if $Z > $X modulo nitpicking.

> I'm sure they'll get more than enough

How sure are you? Would you be sure enough to bet your child's health care on it?

As an aside, the fact that in the U.S. your healthcare is tied to your employer is absolutely nuts.

In other countries your health insurance payments are deducted automatically from your paycheck before you get it. Is it not the same or very similar?

> In other countries your health insurance payments are deducted automatically from your paycheck before you get it. Is it not the same or very similar?

Not at all, In places with national single insurer system, (medicare for all), like the UK where am based, the way it works is that you do contribute to National Insurance effectively as part of your taxes, (usually less than you'd pay in the U.S.), BUT if you switch employers or even are unemployed, you still have that healthcare available to you.

Also, all the doctors, hospitals etc. are technically always "in network".

Health insurance? Sounds like a scam. It comes from income taxes and other revenue in Canada.

Companies can contribute too, you know. I'm sure there are some that would be negatively impacted by firefox going down. And besides, it is possible to measure the interest before committing.

I would be shocked if it surpassed $2M/y. And that only pays for 10 engineers

From many of the comments in this thread, one might think that FAANG companies invented the concept of open source software or that software doesn't exist outside the context of a "profit model." Whatever is going on at Mozilla right now, the notion that a piece of open source software even needs to be profitable (let alone supported by a single large company) in order to continue existing is ridiculous.

I'll concede that there are unique challenges associated with developing a web browser (it's certainly a moving target) and that there need to be several people working on it full time, but is that really something that can only happen when one big company/organization is funding the project? As for Rust, maybe someone could point me in the direction of the one benevolent large company that's backing GCC/G++ or CPython or Ruby?

I'm not saying what's going on with Mozilla isn't absolutely terrible, but the notion that Firefox or Rust are going to somehow just go away (and that this is what was destined to happen all along because Mozilla is not profitable) just doesn't really make any sense.

> but is that really something that can only happen when one big company/organization is funding the project?

Have you any examples of any large OSS projects that don't have this problem?

> As for Rust, maybe someone could point me in the direction of the one benevolent large company that's backing GCC/G++ or CPython or Ruby?

gcc [0] has a list of maintainers, which features a lot of redhat email addresses. The ruby maintainer is employed by Heroku. CPython is maintained by a RH employee. The linux kernel is mostly comprised of people paid to develop by their employers.

[0] https://github.com/gcc-mirror/gcc/blob/master/MAINTAINERS

To the parent commenter's credit, none of those companies own the rights to the GCC/CPython/Ruby trademarks like Mozilla does with Rust.

PostgreSQL is probably the best example. It's maintained by many people from many different companies.

That's a really good example of the opposite, thanks! I wasn't aware of it!

>Whatever is going on at Mozilla right now, the notion that a piece of open source software even needs to be profitable (let alone supported by a single large company) in order to continue existing is ridiculous.

Large FOSS projects requiring specialists (like Rust does) all seem to supported by companies paying, and often it's a large single company too, whether that's like PHP and Zend, RedHat and various projects, Mono and Xamarin, and so on.

Else you get something that takes fovered to develop further, releases are sporadic, people go on and off, etc.

Heck, GTK+ is/was one of the most adopted FOSS libs, and a dependency for tons of applications, distros, etc. And yet it just had a single dev working on it at some point (like, e.g., a person doing 300 commits each month, and another 50 persons doing 100 comits a year combined).

It seems that projects are adopted by companies not because they control the software but because they could if needed: the code is FOSS and mature so in case of main maintainer quitting, they could pay someone to take over.

Also I wonder if browsers really need to be large projects requiring specialists or they've become this way because organisations making them are happy with such an entry barrier.

> invented the concept of open source software or that software doesn't exist outside the context of a "profit model."

To be fair, the existence of open source software that is very expensive to develop has always dependend on big companies paying for it.

Firefox could be funded by several companies in collaboration, but as of right now, do you know any collection of companies with deep pockets that aren't happy enough sending users to Chrome instead?

> To be fair, the existence of open source software that is very expensive to develop has always dependend on big companies paying for it.

I think you're getting the causality wrong there. A lot of the "open-source" (often barely) software built and funded by large corporations has a tendency of accumulating endless technical debt and complexity, and being inaccessible to outside developers. Not dissimilar to much proprietary software.

Does that mean that serious open-source software requires big companies paying for it, to maintain? No, it just means that big companies produce expensive-to-maintain software. And to top it off, often when they do so in open-source, it's actually an unnecessary reinvented wheel!

And quite often simpler, just as serious software exists that isn't so damn to expensive to maintain and that does just fine without big-corporate funding, because it hasn't suffered from the same organizational bloat and office politics.

A reasonable argument, and so I've upvoted.

But even taking into account removing unnecessary complexity, a web browser that users will choose is still complex, and has a very high compatibility bar, which is also a moving target.

You might say, does the browser need to much in it? Well, for users to choose it as a daily driver, it needs to work with web standards, formal and informal, and with nearly all sites. The web standards accrue complexity due to commercial development too. So do expectations, e.g. for smooth rendering, running games, etc.

An open source "small" browser which avoids that complexity is certainly possible to write, but few people would, or could, use it as their daily driver.

(Case in point. I used an open source-ish phone for a few years, a Nokia N900. It was great fun. But ultimately I had to stop using it because the browser increasingly couldn't handle ordinary sites.)

Do you know of any "serious open-source software" of comparable scale, which does not require big companies paying for it, even taking into account the argument around unnecessary complexity?

Not much comes to mind. Linux kernel, GCC, RISC-V, things like that are predominantly developed by paid workers, whether from companies or by government & academic grants.

Debian comes to mind as a possible exception but I'm not sure, because so much of it is on the back of big projects which are themselves funded.

I agree that what I'm describing doesn't hold for a web browser. But I think it's important to remember that "web browsers" are a very unique category - I can't really think of any other software that accidentally became an operating system (and I mean that in an entirely serious way, not derisively).

While in retrospect it's understandable why it happened (economic forces etc.), it also means that the web-related specifications were never really designed with the consideration of "how could we build an operating system that doesn't highly centralize complexity". And so we're now effectively stuck with a huge pile of specifications that you pretty much have to implement to call yourself a browser.

But for most other software, this isn't true; because most software is implemented according to some pre-defined set of goals and/or requirements, and there is no external specification to satisfy, other than for some internals that can be outsourced to a library. This allows for much, much more reduction of complexity.

> Do you know of any "serious open-source software" of comparable scale, which does not require big companies paying for it, even taking into account the argument around unnecessary complexity?

The problematic part in this question is "of comparable scale". To put it bluntly, pretty much all of the software that meets that description has an inherent complexity problem, either having too broad a scope or reinventing too many wheels. So no, I don't think that at that scale corporate funding is avoidable; but I also think that the scale itself is the problem.

I do think that corporate funding is largely avoidable with a different approach to open-source development entirely; one that (re-)recognizes that open-source is about a shared public commons, not just freely downloadable software, and that prioritizes collaboration and modular, shared implementations over reinvented wheels.

Unfortunately we have a lot of cultural issues to fix to get there, not the least of which is the recent-ish appropriation of "open-source" by certain companies-that-shall-not-be-named as a developer marketing tool, paying basically no mind to the "public commons" part and calling it open-source merely because it's under an open-source license and it looks good on GitHub.

That's certainly not to say that this is entirely a corporation or commercial problem, though; there's definitely also an aspect of NIH culture and dependency avoidance among individual developers, where people have wildly inaccurate ideas about the costs and benefits of dependencies, and lacking knowledge in how to manage them effectively.

One typical example of this is the JS ecosystem, which gets a lot of flak for one-liner modules[1] but was actually well on the way to addressing this problem - right up until Node.js started getting hyped up, and an endless stream of shiny reinvented wheels from startups started showing up, many of them poor copies of tools that already existed and worked well. Webpack is a notable example here, which really is just a worse Browserify in every sense.

Ultimately, this is probably the only plausible solution to this problem that I can see. Modular projects with a well-defined scope, that actually have a reasonable chance to reach feature-complete status, where the implementations are widely available and reusable in a broad variety of different projects that can themselves become feature-complete. Where only one developer has to do the work and it is then forever done. Whether that's in JS or something else entirely.

[1] https://github.com/sindresorhus/ama/issues/10#issuecomment-1...

I always wondered how Rust at Mozilla was sustainable. Maintaining an ecosystem like that and bringing it into an already complex project like a browser is a huge undertaking that probably has eaten up significant amount of manhours.

At a Microsoft sized company I'd get it because they can basically blow billions on that sort of thing but I always wondered if it actually took time away from improving Firefox or other products.

I can't imagine that from a standpoint of time investment and technical improvement Rust ever made sense for Firefox to be honest.

Yeah I wondered about the origin too. One thing I did during quarantine was re-read some old books on my bookshelf, including 2009's Coders at Work:


The Brendan Eich interview was really interesting, because it talked about bridging research and software engineering, specifically with regard to memory safety in C++ and debugging tools.

I think he was talking about manual annotations on C++. It seems clear that this interest morphed into sponsoring of Rust. I think Rust was a side project since 2006 and it was "announced" around 2010 (?).

And Mozilla also sponsored the "rr" reversible Debugger, which is also some very impressive engineering. (Sadly it seems to get less attention than Rust!)

Anyway, for PL nerds, I recommend reading this interview.


I think this work on software engineering tools is great, but as a Firefox user of 15+ years, it would be hard for me to argue that Firefox received sufficient attention. It does feel like the situation where the engineers work on the tools for too long and then management cancels both projects (which I've seen happen in my career).

Microsoft (and Amazon) have already started paying some of the infrastructure costs to support Rust. Rust will get by with a little (financial) help from it's friends.

> At a Microsoft sized company I'd get it because they can basically blow billions on that sort of thing

It also helps that Microsoft is in the business of selling IDEs.

Interesting question: why isn't Mozilla in this business too? They've got a cross-platform desktop app toolkit sat right there, and big enough developer mindshare to be interesting. There's room for a Firefox-flavour web dev IDE in the market, surely? Firefox dev tools, only with edit-in-place and live debugging for server-side assets. Seems odd to me that they've never gone that way, given everything else they've tried.

A web editor was actually an integral part of the original suite from which Firefox was derived.

Yes, I think a lightweight servo/webrender cross platform UI toolkit a la Electron would offer a fast stable core to build any number of apps, including an IDE.

They did have something that was intended to evolve into something like that, I think, but it was half-hearted, somewhat tucked away, and never gained any real traction: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Archive/WebIDE


> I always wondered if it actually took time away from improving Firefox or other products.

> I can't imagine that from a standpoint of time investment and technical improvement Rust ever made sense for Firefox to be honest.

To put it bluntly: without Rust, Firefox would have very likely not existed anymore. It was severely behind in terms of performance, and no good tooling was available to fix that without incurring a huge ongoing maintenance cost, due to lacking parallelism safety in other languages. So they built the tooling themselves.

The whole Firefox Quantum thing very likely just couldn't have happened if it weren't for Rust. Rust wasn't some pointless experimental plaything; it was a large frontloaded engineering cost, with significant long-term benefits.

(Note: I'm not a Mozilla employee, so it's always possible that I'm wrong here. But I have followed the whole Rust-and-Firefox thing pretty closely from the outside.)

The fact that all the other browsers don't have performance problems and are written in C++ completely refutes your statements.

"All the other browsers" are basically Chrome, Safari, and IE/Edge. All of which are developed by three of the wealthiest tech corporations on earth, and even one of those gave up on it because they couldn't keep up.

While Mozilla is financially healthy, it is very much not one of the wealthiest tech companies on earth.

They cannot afford to spend the kind of money on maintaining a big pile of unsafe parallelization code that Google and Apple can, and so the remaining option was to make the maintenance cheaper - which is what Rust is for.

Opera gave up because they literally couldn't keep up. Microsoft didn't give up because they couldn't keep up, it's just that they came to a realization which Mozilla's also about to come to: nobody cares what's underneath the browser UI as long as the branding and features are there.

And in the end ~500 million dollars per year should be more than enough to maintain one software project. Come on, they're not trying to send people to Mars.

> Microsoft didn't give up because they couldn't keep up

They had been lagging behind in feature support for a long time.

> it's just that they came to a realization which Mozilla's also about to come to: nobody cares what's underneath the browser UI as long as the branding and features are there.

This is an extremely short-sighted view, also from a business perspective, and one that I'm quite sure Microsoft didn't share. There are very real risks to being dependent on a single huge competitor for such a crucial part of your product, which is why IE (and, subsequently, Edge) came to exist to begin with.

The users might not care, but the company itself certainly does, because outsourcing all the internals to Google means that they largely lose control over their user's experience and, by extension, over the UX of their own product.

> And in the end ~500 million dollars per year should be more than enough to maintain one software project.

Mozilla isn't just "one software project".

These big tech are using Rust as a feature to promote their cloud business. They will/morally should help sustain the ecosystem.

Firefox doesn't have the developer tools that Chrome does so developers use Chrome to develop with meaning their websites work better in Chrome so Firefox is playing catch-up or just plain looks worse keeping adoption of Firefox lower.

Mozilla solves the problem by killing development of developer tools insuring Firefox is an afterthought.

Is there anyone in Mozilla management that has a technical bone in their body?

Not saying I agree with the lay-offs here, but it's incredibly rare I find myself wishing I was using Chrome's developer tools whilst doing web development.

I have missed functionality when I've had to use Chrome though - like Edit & Re-send for network requests, copy as cURL (which arrived a few years later to Chrome), the accessibility inspector (which is not Lighthouse), services like https://profiler.firefox.com/ etc

I think the only thing I have found that Chrome sometimes performs better on is source maps and breakpoints in prettified code.

I’ve always believed that Firefox dev tools probably had most of the things I need but the interface is always...uglier and less familiar, so I don’t bother. It’s a low threshold to just use Chrome for development and FF for everything else.

Also I believe the OP was talking about more development tooling than just the front-end browser dev tools. Chromium always seems to have the most advanced debugging tools for browser development at the systems level. At least from what I’ve read...

> I’ve always believed that Firefox dev tools probably had most of the things I need but the interface is always...uglier and less familiar, so I don’t bother.

Is it just familiarity? Because I feel the same way about Chrome.

I consistently have to switch to Chrome devtools as FF (my default browser) devtools crash or hang on large (1.29MB gzipped) bundles like one of the apps I regularly maintain. While we want to do some code splitting, module lazy loading, and refactor to make tree shaking more effective, the fact that Chrome just works when FF does not is very frustrating.

Interesting - while the FF dev tools are not perfect, I find the Chrome tools much much much worse. I remember a few months ago searching where the !#$@ one can see POST request parameters for a networks request (I'm sure they are there, because it's such a basic functionality, but it took me 10 minutes to finally give up and replicate a bug in FF, where I could debug without problems).

So maybe, as someone who never switched to Chrome, I am simply used to the way things work and unconsciously avoid the traps, while in Chrome I fall right into them? And probably others are simply used to Chrome dev tools?

Anyway, I hope they manage to turn the boat around and make it profitable, while keeping the browser alive and privacy-focused.

I'm sure management understands those teams are important. Who should they have cut instead?

These are hard decisions. I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that management doesn't understand tech, they obviously do, it's Mozilla.

> Who should they have cut instead?

Anything that is not touching engineering / technical problems, such as management and the rest of the C-suite team, that apparently are getting fatter salaries while "low level" employees are getting the boot.

> they obviously do, it's Mozilla

This mindset is dangerous on so many levels (assuming they don't have technical expertise is equally dangerous). Mozilla used to stand for an open web, by any costs. Lately, this is obviously not true, but it's hard to say who's to blame for this. Management gets paid extra much since they hold much of the power in an organization, which also means they should be the first to blame for the problems.

As somebody who worked in the university field for a while I can tell you one thing: bureaucrats will cut anything before even considering cutting bureaucracy. Just like that managers will cut anything before they will cut in the management department (unless it is a political move to gain more power).

I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that management doesn't understand tech, they obviously do, it's Mozilla.

What in these decisions should make that obvious? Just because its Mozilla doesn't mean its management staff understand tech.

Cut the CEO salary and remove some management first.

They cut 25% of their workforce. That's 250 people. Figure all-in loaded cost of $200K per person let go, and that's $50 million in budget they cut. Mitchell Baker had made $2.5 million. You don't get $50 million out of non-technical cuts.

But a pay reduction to all C level execs would free up a few million that would allow you to maybe keep some of (what the community consider) Mozilla's most important projects.

I used to donate to Mozilla until these news. In fact, I started specifically donating because of the Servo and Rust projects. I was impressed with the way Mozilla was pushing the envelope and once again returning to the forefront of tech, in an open source manner.

Instead, C execs keep getting raises and the guys doing the real work keep getting axed.

working at a tech company does not make one tech savvy, and you know what they say about assuming. I wouldnt assume the decisions makers are always fully understanding of the tech they manage at any company. ive seen it personally at a few.

Well, I think nobody really got the punchline, huh?

Mozilla laid off nearly all their engineers – which are the ~250 people, who are A QUARTER of Mozilla. Wait what?

What for do they need so many people? Everybody who is not brainfried by corporate will agree that there are better options. But that is the faith of any organisation getting too big. The bureaucrats are taking over (think Boeing) and eradicate every single occurence of common sense. And of course greed and pride kicks in soon after. Not a single time has management ever fired management.

> Who should they have cut instead?

Maybe their AI experts? Support staff?

Just heavens forbid they reduce CEO wages.

> they obviously do

Only time will tell. If the ship finally does sink (i.e. gets acquired by IBM), then I'll take that as evidence that management decided to throw in the towel on figuring out tech and focus on short-term business instead.

Firefox has development tools? Is there certain features that are missing? Because you can bring up a dev console and inspect elements and such. Genuine question from a not full-time frontend developer, not being snarky.

Firefox has had development tools from way before Chrome even existed. They started as an (awesome!) Firebug extension, which they later included in the browser itself (not that it matters, but it was Chrome that basically copied them at the time).

Was looking for this comment! This is key here, because the story is extra sad given Mozilla/FF's initial strong surge in leader front-end developer tools. Before the Firebug extension I think I just did like View Source still from the menu? Yikes!

Chrome copied it and at first IMO it wasn't nearly as good inside Chrome as in FF. But that did eventually change and for some years now I (sadly) agree I also prefer Chrome's.

> Mozilla/FF's initial strong surge in leader front-end developer tools

Back in the days when Mozilla put a focus on the needs of power-users and developers...

It's hard to pin down a single point where they dropped that ideal, but it's definitely long gone now.

Before Firebug Mozilla had Venkman and the DOM Inspector.

Firebug was amazing, it was way ahead of what Chrome had when it was released!

Dedicated work on Chrome DevTools started only in 2009 and before version 3 or 4 Chrome had only had Elements panel inherited from Web Inspector, Console and gdb-style command line debugger (perhaps basic Network don't remember). It was catching up with Firebug quickly though because web developer tools was stated as a priority for the project.

Firefox has dev tools, and they are very similar for basic things.

There are some differences with some of the more advanced dev tools.

I like both

I use firefox dev tools, but since like, 99% of the app users are on chrome, we optimize for chrome. I've never like that but that's been the reality.

Better than my last job at least which for some reason people were using ie11 and even worse to access our app.

And I had just started switching to FF for their dev tools. Call stacks would collapse unnecessary rows (looking at you, rxjs), and the changes view for CSS were both great

Are you suggesting that they should eat cake instead?

Honestly I don't know how dire Mozilla's situation is, but I would not assume it was unwarranted.

Are you suggesting that they should eat cake instead?

I'm not sure what you mean. I think capableweb had the best suggestion https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24144625

Mozilla's decision makes a lot of economic sense. They got rid of projects requiring lots of engineering effort with negligible benefits for the company or for the internet or for our privacy.

I'm not sure at this point if it makes sense for them to keep the Firefox code base or give up, switch to Chromium and focus on what they do best - spy less on us than Google. When Microsoft gave up anyone paying attention knew this was coming.

The only company that can still afford to develop a Chromium competitor is Apple. I hope they're not forced by the masses of web developers to switch to Chromium too.

>They got rid of projects requiring lots of engineering effort with negligible benefits for [...] the internet or for our privacy.

what? https://twitter.com/MichalPurzynski/status/12932205708850626...

Within the framework proposed by the parent comment, these guys would be unnecessary because Mozilla would switch to Chromium.

(Please don't downvote me, I'm just trying to flesh out the exact meaning of that statement.)

It’s still WebKit under the hood isn’t it?

The JS engines are different though

No, IIRC Firefox's render engine is called Gecko, and it's a completely separate (older I believe) lineage from Webkit.

Ed: I may have misunderstood which "it's" you were referring to. Oh well.

I meant between Safari and Chrome. Saying Apple maintains their own, yet they share tech.

HTML engine was forked from Webkit. It's called blink now, and from what I've read the fork was long enough ago to consider them separate pieces of software.

Chrome's rendering engine (Blink [1]) was hard forked from WebKit in 2013.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blink_(browser_engine)

Mozilla has decided to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" as a business strategy.

The HN community is going to hate on me for this but it's partially their own fault for spending money trying to differentiate in the browser.

They should just focus on Chromium. It's going to win anyway. Mozilla has a small market share percentage and eventually the gap is going to be large enough they will have to abandon the FF code base anyway.

It's looking like they're going to focus more on the consumer market and building consumer products and less on infrastructure.

FF as needed back when all the browsers were proprietary.

Sure... Google can do evil things with Chrome but Chromium is Open Source - it can always be forked. There's nothing advantageous in maintaining FF as a dedicate code base. It's just duplication.

One of the major points of OSS is to prevent people from competing on things that are non-differentiating. If's OSS so they can fork it and make their own changes if they want.

> Google can do evil things with Chrome but Chromium is Open Source - it can always be forked.

It takes more to maintain a Chromium competitor than its source code. You also need engineers to implement new features of the rapidly changing web.

If Google decided to close the source code in 2030, nobody would be able to do anything about it. Mozilla would have laid off its last engineers by 2025 and they'd have found new jobs by now, having 5 year old outdated knowledge about how browsers work. Even if you have engineers with the required knowledge, you still need to organize them, etc. All of this takes time, and gigantic investments.

> nobody would be able to do anything about it.

Microsoft is using Blink for Edge and is upstreaming changes, I recently read about a power usage optimisation coming from Microsoft.

I sort of agree with parent poster, if this was their plan then Mozilla could have given up on Gecko and focused on a privacy focused Blink/V8 based browser. There isn't much value in developing Gecko at this point, they canned Servo and a large chunk of the dev team so I don't see where the technical innovation is going to come from. V8 has won as well, Node uses it, it's ported all over the place.

Their only value right now (after firing so much of the R&D and dev focused engineering talent) is the privacy/open reputation of being released by a non-profit, why not scrap the area you aren't competitive in and focus on your strengths. I wouldn't be surprised if they announced a blink/chromium based browser soon.

Because of its heritage (it’s a fork of WebKit, and thus started out as KHTML, which is LGPL licensed), I don’t think the Chromium code can be closed easily.

They probably can split it and gradually replace most real functionality into a separate closed source part, like they did with Android, but that will take time.

> You also need engineers to implement new features of the rapidly changing web.

What kind of things are rapidly changing these days?

JavaScript itself (ES language changes), APIs callable from JavaScript (there are a lot), CSS, HTTP(s)/TLS and evolving security, ever-evolving compatibility requirements to keep popular pages working, performance expectations of the rendering model (what must be smooth nowadays didn't used to be and it's expected by sites), things like WASM, WebGL (new version on its) & WebGPU, the sandbox, evolving security patterns (HTML/HTTP/JS security model is complex) and dealing with new security issues (it never stops), compatibility with OS version releases (always new issues), compatibility with GPU drivers (always new issues), video codecs.

These things by themselves require a well-funded team to keep the browser relevant to modern sites. Well-funded because they take a lot of time and ideally to be done to a professional standard. The number of spare-time or independently-wealthy volunteers around to do the work seems thoroughly insufficent compared with what it would take to keep up.

That list doesn't even have new user-visible features (so nothing to "sell" to users except "we still work with current sites").

They are just moving-target "basics", minimal expectations by users and sites to remain "current" on the web. I'm sure I've left off a lot too, it's just off the top of my head.

If Mozilla can't maintain their own browser codebase that competes with Chrome now, what makes you think they'll be able to maintain a fork?

The moment they fork it and make their own changes, they are now back in the same position they were in -- a separate codebase under separate branding that needs to keep pace with Chrome.

There are two reasons forks work:

- They allow you to pull upstream changes. That's nice, but pulling upstream changes doesn't work once your codebase starts to heavily diverge from its source, so getting that benefit means you can't make changes that are too divergent from the upstream.

- They also allow you to get rid of upfront work and start from a solid base. That's also nice, but getting rid of the upfront work isn't valuable to Mozilla. Firefox is already basically on par with Chrome where most features are concerned. It's not the upfront work that's the problem, it's maintenance, advertising, and monetization.

A Mozilla fork of Chrome would be effectively the same thing as giving Google control over the entire web standards process.

For what it's worth, I agree with you. Chromium has won. It's the "Linux kernel" of web browsers. However, that DOESN'T necessarily mean that every Linux user has to run Ubuntu!

I recently switched from Firefox to Vivaldi. Just because:

1. I got tired of nagging compatibility issues with websites that I can't easily do with out (e.g. bank and stock broker).

2. I dabbled with Opera once upon a time, and liked it. I don't trust Opera's current Chinese ownership, but the original developers formed this new company and their (Chromium-based) browser is quite nice.

However, I still don't like the fact that Vivaldi is proprietary and closed-source. I would love to have a browser that is both built on a Chromium core, AND built for privacy by a trustworthy open-source company.

If Mozilla would fill this niche, then I'd be back tomorrow. They've already sort of dabbled in this area, with their Chromium-based "Firefox Focus" browser for mobile devices. But that's a very thin shell with no features.

I wish they would just acknowledge reality, throw in the towel on Gecko, and build an awesome Chromium-based browser. Microsoft managed to do it seemingly overnight, surely Mozilla could as well if they so wanted.

FIREFOX'S VALUE-ADD IS NOT GECKO! It's all of the functionality layered on top of that engine.

> I would love to have a browser that is both built on a Chromium core, AND built for privacy by a trustworthy open-source company.

what about Brave?

I tried them for a little while.

Unfortunately, Brave's sync service just flat-out doesn't work. To the point where they have it disabled by default, and you have to crack open advanced settings to see if it will actually work reliably for you (SPOILER ALERT: It won't). I think they were too focused on making it "blockchain-based" and "crypto-trendy", and just can't build something sensible that works.

THIS is the value-add that browser vendors can bring to the table going forward. Chromium the kernel has won. But at the user-feature level:

1. Google and Microsoft's Chromium-based browsers spy on you.

2. Opera's Chromium-based browser has Chinese ownership, and probably spies on you.

3. Brave is buggy and flaky with all of the user features that they've built on top of their Chromium-based browser.

4. Vivalid's Chromium-based browser is pretty awesome and solid, and probably doesn't spy on you. But it's closed-source.

5. Firefox is solid, and has good no-spying values. But their browser is not Chromium-based, and it's dying because the Internet is simply moving on away from it.

With this list, Vivaldi is currently the "least-bad" option from my POV. But I would love to go back to Firefox if they would get real with the times.

> @blub: "There's no way that a closed source browser owned by a Chinese company is least bad"

You're speed-reading my comment, and getting it wrong. Vivaldi is NOT Chinese-owned. It is a group of European former-Opera developers, who were unhappy about the Chinese acquisition of Opera.

> @outsomnia: "Ffox is super up to date with latest and next-gen web technologies... what do you even mean by "get with the times"?"

A similar argument pops up on Java developer forums, in discussions about the old "Java EE" specifications versus Spring Boot. The devs who have hitched their career wagons to Java EE just cannot process the reality that it died 5-10 years ago.

"But it's a specification! A standard!"

"But Spring implements a lot of those standards! And the other bits are all proprietary API's, that don't have any alternative non-Spring implementations!"

It doesn't matter. The spec is not the standard anymore. For the vast majority of Java shops, Spring has become the standard. Like it or not, that's the reality.

This analogy is even more extreme when it comes to browser engines. More and more of the web targets Chromium, and is glitchy or non-functional with Gecko. 99% of people could care less which specs Gecko has implemented, or how well they implemented the spec. CHROMIUM IS THE SPEC.

You in 2005: "The web targets IE6! Firefox should acknowledge reality!"

In 2005, Mozilla was more innovative than Microsoft. And more dedicated to implementing specifications that Microsoft was ignoring.

Today, the argument for Mozilla is that it's "almost as good" as other browsers. That it "doesn't have as many compatibility problems as you might have heard!", etc.

And they're not ahead of Google at implementing standards. They lag slightly behind. https://caniuse.com/#compare=firefox+81,chrome+87

If the Chromium team starts resting on its laurels like the IE team did in the early-2000's, then I hope they'll meet the same fate. But right now these situations are not remotely comparable.

> and it's dying because the Internet is simply moving on away from it. > love to go back to Firefox if they would get real with the times

Ffox is super up to date with latest and next-gen web technologies... what do you even mean by "get with the times"?

When will I be able to zoom and flick back and forward with the TouchPad? Firefox is desperately behind, at least in usability.

Total side point, but using FF on a Mac flicking back and forward with the touchpad works for me. I've been using it so long I can barely remember a time when it didn't work.

I know, that's what makes it so infuriating that it doesn't work on Windows. Chrome has supported it for years now.

Safari doesn't spy on you and is a pretty good browser. There's no way that a closed source browser owned by a Chinese company is least bad. That's easily the least trustworthy option.

Great, I'll switch to them as soon as they release a Linux and Android version.

Safari is restricted to a range of hardware I'll never buy, so it might as well not exist for me.

yeah I’m not a fan of brave either. wish they kept the crypto stuff separate

I think they should have done a better job explaining the purpose without saying the C-word (cryptocurrency) at it's been tainted to scam/fad/etc. The idea of BAT is really nice in theory, but it got pulled into the crypto scene and specualtion a bit too hard and should have been more of an implementation detail.

So I've been using Vivaldi more so I can speak more authoritatively on it. Some missing pieces are mobile sync or ability to send tabs around on iOS, right-click and close all other tabs doesn't exist, and I wasn't able to right-click and get all of the back/forward history from the menu button. Vivaldi says to hold down the button to get the menu, but it doesn't work for me.

Otherwise, it duplicates FF pretty well. Its obviously lacking in everything else "Firefox" like container support and DNS over HTTPS. Firefox is just a very fleshed out browser that is hard to replace. Vivaldi also shares standard Chromium browser flaws, such as being difficult to pass all of Cloudflare's security tests[0], when it's trivial in Firefox.

I agree with you that Gecko should be replaced with Blink, but another more popular perspective by a lot of hardcore nerds is that they like Gecko because new code carried over from Servo is written in Rust. Which has sifted out of the pile of new languages over the past 15 years as the real star.

Over the years I've pretty much written off everything except Firefox and native browers. FF for power users, native (Edge/Safari etc) for best system performance. Battery life is a killer feature in my book. There's too much missing in Vivaldi for me to move to it, if I ever throw in the towel on Firefox it'll be for Edge, but I'll be keeping tabs on Vivaldi.


Your comment encouraged me to check out Vivaldi. I'm a very longtime FF user, since it was in beta. I'm one that primarily used Netscape in the 90s and Firefox being a successor meant something to me.

I'm impressed with Vivaldi. It pretty much has everything you could want built-in. This is exactly what Firefox needs to be in 2020. Tree style tabs (never my thing but nice to have as a built-in), adblocking (I'll always use uBlock Origin anyway out of performance paranoia but still good to see), unsmooth jittery scrolling option (just feels better), a dedicated search bar. I thought I was the only one who cared about a dedicated search bar still. Great stuff.

Mozilla should simply buy Vivaldi, rename it Firefox, hook it into their add-ons store, keep their existing iOS Firefox app, and add Firefox's exclusive features like secure Cloudflare DNS over HTTPS, container support, their excellent send link functionality to mobile etc.

I did use Opera for a time when it was first released and liked it, hearing Vivaldi is from those developers makes sense on how well done this is. Opera was more innovative than Firefox for the most part, in my opinion.

All that said, if I move off of Firefox it'll probably be to Edge. I never liked the idea of using a browser that isn't from a major vendor for overall support purposes. Microsoft has their own extensions store with most things in it already, so they're safe from Google's actions on that front. I see in Vivaldi you're directed to the Chrome store which makes me very uneasy. More uneasy than just using Gecko/Firefox (or my second choice, Edge).

Still impressed, this is what Firefox and Edge should be stealing ideas from. A "Vivaldi" from a major vendor is the best shot anyone has at attacking Chrome's marketshare, it's the only way at this point yet no one is doing it which seems so shortsighted.

Just because two different codebases try to achieve similar things, doesn't mean it's duplication.

It certainly serves not only consumers, but also businesses well to have firefox (and mozilla) so web standards don't get dictated by a single private entity.

> but Chromium is Open Source

It should be noted that the base Chromium packages still include Google-specific and Google-friendly features, such as automatically deriving your browsing profile from whatever Google account you happen to be logged into.

Indeed. Perhaps they could join gorces with the Ungoogled Chromium project:


What's the focus of Mozilla now given the layoffs of Rust,MDN,Wasmtime and Servo?

Is Mozilla/Firefox becoming VPN company?

My wholly unqualified opinion as forever firefox user:

They are going to push their VPN, Pocket and Lockwise like never before. They are also going to focus on their incubator hoping for a big win.

Firefox the browser will start to stagnate, and in five years or so they'll switch to WebKit.

The focus is now not the browser or the browser engine. It's selling Fix-the-Internet type products that have a dash of security theater baked in.

I can't find where I read this, but I remember seeing some article about how Pocket was essentially dead, i.e. nobody's really working on it.

Good. The partnership with, acquisition of, and integration of Pocket was an embarrassment.

It was also an indication of just how bad Mozilla's management are at trying to make money. We'll see a lot more business theater like this before the team are replaces with people who know what they're doing.

The implementation may have been bad, but I thought it was a unique way to add some revenue. Pocket seemed like a useful product that would appeal to the technical focused userbase Firefox has. It's sad that it didn't work out for Mozilla.

I feel disappointed with the failure of companies like Mozilla and canonical to thrive. They have the right values, the talent, and good products. They just don't seem to be able to make money. It feels like the only way to make money is by spying on your users, or doing other unsavory things like Apple does.

If they'd ever got around to actually open-sourcing the thing like they kept promising they would, I expect people would've been more on-board with it.

I would've been happy to pay a modest subscription for a fully open-source Pocket stack with better archive management.

They're refocussing on the user experience of the browser. They're stopping their more developer friendly endeavours and research projects such as servo.

The VPN client and Pocket are just ways to make money to fund browser development. Firefox itself does not and can not make money (and not from lack of trying). It turns out people don't want "ads", "nags" or "suggested content" in their browser.

In the long run, these changes will hurt the user experience of firefox. If you ignore developer tools and similar, then developers will be less will be less willing to develop for and test on your browser, especially if your browser already only has a minority of user share. And it doesn't matter how cool your chrome is, if websites don't work in a browser, user's aren't going to use it.

This has been said many times outside of the tech circle: 2020 is all about survival. Orgs need to stay lean so they can navigate through this pandemic and the resultant economic crisis. Just because Mozilla is pausing these efforts now doesn't mean they're stopping for good.

Maybe these are all short term necessities for Mozilla, and when things get back to normal they'll pick up where they left off. One can at least hope.

The reason that has been said outside of the tech circle is because it doesn't really apply to big tech, whose stock prices just hit a new all-time-high a few days ago. We can debate the reasons why that is or whether it's a good thing, but it can't be used as an excuse for Mozilla's failures. How can, say, Dropbox make a ton of money during covid when people are forced to use computers but Mozilla can't? Also, how can you say Mozilla is doing this to stay lean when the CEO makes $2.5 million a year?

Firefox has always made the Lion's share of the income and Safari makes billions per year on the same Google search deal so the model did not disappear or change on them. What happened is Firefox usage share went down the drain (particularly due to mobile usage share being something like 0.5% but desktop isn't too hot either) so they can't negotiate the same deals they used to or cash in on the rising value of the search deal.

There's sort of a catch 22. There should have been a lawsuit against Google for their anticompetitive tactics for promoting Chrome, but you can't bite the hand that feeds you.

Even if they won it would have been a one-time settlement. That would give them a couple months of runway. And that'd be the last money they ever see, unless Microsoft would throw them a bone with a Bing deal. You can't undo history. Chrome users aren't going to switch to Firefox.

> They're refocussing on the user experience of the browser.

What does that even mean concretely ?

Isn't Wasm supposed to be the cornerstone to give user faster (and ultimately better) experience in the browser ?

If recent history is any indicator, it means they will be even faster to rip out the parts of ff that made it unique, and copy changes that happen in the Chrome UI.

I understood the exact opposite, that they are moving out from the "focus on the firefox browser" mantra because it is not a competitive strategy anymore and they want instead to find and build new products.

They need to find a build new products to actually make a decent income. Firefox alone doesn't do that. They are still committed to the core browser.

When their other products sell, they would probably just use a chromium fork with FF branding and some tweaks to make it resemble FF to sell nostalgia like Ubuntu.

Iceweasel was a thing.

Ok. They're lost. Again. Or should we say More ?

What is actually left of mozilla after this?

The projects which are essential for Mozilla. These were all side-projects which maybe a FAANG can afford, but not a normal company.

Mozilla was operating a long time under the mistaken assumption that they're a tech powerhouse when they're obviously not. You can lie to yourself only for so long before the market corrects your assumptions the hard way.

They fired the Servo team. Servo's CSS engine is shipping in Firefox. Servo's rendering engine was supposed to become the primary Firefox graphics engine. It's weird to call that a side project when it's clearly development aimed at becoming the basis of their primary product.

Their primary product is the Mozilla brand and the browser, not a CSS or rendering engine. The innards can be swapped out and even the entire browser could and probably will be.

Always follow the money. If they got rid of these people it likely means that:

a) Rust is not part of Mozilla's future any more

b) Gecko's future doesn't look too bright either

If they could use a different, off-the-shelf rendering engine (cough Blink cough) that's actually faster and battle-tested, then they aren't losing anything at all. I've been hearing about Servo for years but nothing's come of it. I installed Servo once and it crashed within a few minutes (on Linux). Though I'm not an expert in it, my impression is that development has been blocked. From a business perspective it doesn't make sense to keep a project on board for years and years when it hasn't produced any deliverables.

Roughly 75% of the workforce and of course all the IP.

That's a lot of people. Honest question: what are they working on? Not devtools, Servo, and not much Rust, MDN, Firefox, ... Which are about their only projects I know or care about.

What are the applying their formidable engineering talent to?

Why would they work on the projects you or HN care about? This is why they got in trouble in the first place - spending money and engineering on projects with zero impact on their bottom line or on the metrics that matter around privacy and an open internet.

Those things had zero impact on their bottom line because there's no way to give them money for those things. All anyone can do is donate to the Mozilla Foundation where the money can get spent on whatever non-technical things the foundations wants.

Even if there were, that hypothetical income wouldn't even cover the salary of two developers. Who pays for programming languages or runtimes nowadays? Only very specialized users which don't have a choice.

I'm not technical enough to understand what are the strategic implications of this.

I have been reading a lot of reactions to this that involves hitting at C-level of MozCorp (mostly around their pay, but also perceived lack of focus?) so I wanted to understand what are the strategic changes that management is enacting.

Is building a web-based platform not a priority for Mozilla anymore? What is? Or is it that the layer of intervention on the web platform has shifted to other things, other than rendering engine and documenting it's capabilities?

Is the plan now to sabotage every core Mozilla project people care about and focus on selling 3rd party VPN services?

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