Home » Browsers » The State of Mozilla Firefox

If you are actively following the news about Firefox, you will find that about last one and half year. Mozilla Firefox made some drastic changes and announcements.

If you categorize those changes in groups according to they are planned, on a to-do list or, in development, they can be categorized in two major groups: removal of features that impact part of the browser’s user base and introduction of features that change Firefox fundamentally.

the-state-of-mozilla-firefox

The first group include complete themes, removal of NPAPI plug-in support, changes to the add-on system and compatibility, and removal of smaller features such as Hello or the Social API. The second group categorizes features like multi-process Firefox, focus on 64-bit on Windows,, add-on signing, support for WebExtensions, and system add-ons. Moreover, it is still an ongoing process and things may get delayed along the way:

Features and changes

Add-on signing and multi-process Firefox are the two big changes made by Firefox recently that are live for all or some of the Firefox browser users.

Add-on Signing

Add-on signing has been implemented in Beta and stable channel releases of Firefox. This feature has been included to restrict which add-ons can be installed in the browser.

Any add-on included to Mozilla’s official AMO add-on repository is signed automatically, whereas all other add-ons are not.

Firefox users on Nightly, Developer, and ESR channels can override the requirement, and for developers, Mozilla released unbranded builds that support this as well.

Mozilla did not unleash any statistics about the impact of add-on signing and it is expected that the change hit most of the users who are using the Firefox browser for long and who ran classic extensions in the browser which were either modified to make them compatible with recent versions of the browser or never on Mozilla AMO to begin with.

Multi-Process Firefox

Multi-Process Firefox, e10s or codename Electrolysis, has been in the planning processes for years. Mozilla enabled Multi-Process Firefox on Firefox Stable in version 48 of the browser, but for 1% of Firefox users only who don’t run any add-ons.

The company is thinking of increasing the distribution and pushing the feature to browser users along with add-ons. The process won’t end before Firefox 53 and will take a while. It is expected that it will be out on April 18, 2017.

Multi-process Firefox will improve the browser’s responsiveness at initial level and for security, it will also support sandboxing eventually.

In the test result, it was found that when multi-process was enabled in the browser, browser’s responsiveness was increased 400% to 700% while loading web pages.

Though it will use about 20% more memory, but that is still better than other browsers how they handle this.

WebExtensions

Mozilla is planning of eliminating XUL and XPCOM support from Firefox, and replacing a few of the functionality lost by the move with WebExtensions APIs.

Firefox 48 was the latest version with which the first stable version of WebExtensions was shipped recently, and because of it, it is already possible to download and install some Chrome extensions in Firefox.

Work on WebExtensions will continue for some time, especially because it is not clear yet what extra set of features they will support in order to support functionality lost by the removing of XUL/XPCOM.

64-bit Windows

For quite some time, Mac and Linux users already had access to 64-bit versions of Firefox, but windows users who are using Firefox had not. So Mozilla is planning to make Firefox 64-bit on Windows and it is the priority of Mozilla to do so starting this month. Until the third quarter of 2017, the process will continue as it is planning to migrate 32-bit installations of Firefox to 64-bit on eligible devices.

System Add-ons

Just like regular add-ons, so-called system add-ons work in multiple regards. The main differences user don’t need to download them, rather they are shipped with Firefox so stored in the program folder and not in the user profile.

There is an additional benefit of system add-ons is that they can be updated independently. Earlier, for updating the integrated Pocket feature, you had to ship a new Firefox version. With System Add-ons, Mozilla, without touching the Firefox version at all, can just push an update for that add-on.

Although, Firefox users will get reduced control over system add-ons and it is not possible to remove add-ons completely from the browser for instance.

Test Pilot

Test Pilot is a new initiative that may be integrated in Firefox natively and Mozilla will use it to showcase features and ideas.

To try out any of the available experiments, basically what you do is install the Test Pilot add-on.

Deprecation and removals

Mozilla is planning about removing or deprecating various features from Firefox. May be, the biggest change will in favor of WebExtensions and it is the deprecation of the old add-on model.

Deprecation of XUL and XPCOM

According to Mozilla, 60% of Firefox users are using add-ons whereas 40% of them are not using add-ons at all. Add-on system is one of the main reasons for Firefox’s success.

Deprecation of XUL and XPCOM gave add-on and theme developers free reign, and letting then doing nearly anything.  This is the reason of creating add-ons such as NoScript, Classic Theme Restorer, Down Them All, or support for complete themes which may alter any interface element of the browser.

Mozilla is planning to remove and replace it with WebExtensions. It is for sure that WebExtensions cannot be as powerful as what is currently available, but there is no clarity on the fact that how much will be lost, and what the impact this deprecation will bring on Firefox’s add-on ecosystem.

Once it becomes the status quo, add-on developers have to port their extensions to the new system and it has witnessed in past also that active developers are likely to do so. But it is possible only if WebExtensions support everything that is required for doing so, but that add-ons will be left behind.

The reason that a few add-ons and themes that may inactive on the old model is they become incompatible with Firefox. And the reason why some add-ons may not be ported because of the reason WebExtensions does not provide the functionality required to do so.

Mozilla gave the time frame back in August 2015 that it would take within 12 to 18 months, but it seems like Mozilla will extend that period.

End of NPAPI plug-ins

The web moves towards HTML5, and Mozilla browser makers along with the other browser makers are planning to cut off plug-in support in browsers eventually.

Mozilla may drop NPAPI support in Firefox 53. It means that plugins which rely on NPAPI won’t be there in Firefox Stable anymore. Flash is the only exception to this, which will still be supported for an uncertain period of time.

Firefox users on ESR may use plugins until Firefox 60 ESR is released and it will be released in the second quarter of 2018.

Smaller changes

Hello is a real-time video chat feature that is integrated natively in the browser and now Mozilla is planning to remove it from Firefox. The organization is doing so as it was criticized for not introducing Hello as an add-on rather it introduced it as a native feature.

Part of the SocialAPI is also removed. The SocialAPI was an attempt that was made to improve the integration of social sites and functionality in Firefox. The only Part of the SocialAPI that remains is the share functionality.

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