Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
Firefox and Presidents: Let's All Stop Being Suckers

08/15/2020 13:00:09

In this connected world where we are awash in information and have the ability to construct our own echo chambers, one thing has become evident: Each and every one of us is a sucker. Don't beat yourself up. It is inevitable as marketing now trumps truth and lies have become our security blankets.

I'm going to sidestep the obvious political parallels here for a moment and tell you about an experience I had earlier this week in which I came to the realization that I had been suckered. This story revolves around Firefox web browser which regular readers know that I have championed for quite awhile.

Now when I originally switched from Chromium to Firefox back in early 2018, I wrote a post called "A Man Without A Web Browser". But for the purposes of this post, I'm going to just quote most of the second paragraph from that post here as it strikes to the very core of what we are talking about today:

However the organization which manages and maintains it, Mozilla, has been making some really questionable moves as of late so I'm already looking for an alternative. The first symptom of this problem reared it's ugly head with the Cliqz data slurping scandal. While this was a test pilot in which an addon was being pre-installed in a small percentage of Firefox downloads for users located in Germany (according to Mozilla), it still represented a step that chilled privacy advocates such as myself to the core. But hey, no big deal, right? That was a one time thing and everybody fucks up. Shit happens. Most people ended up giving them a pass here, myself included.

So even back then, I actually saw signs of the cancer within Mozilla that forced me to unceremoniously dump Firefox this past week. But I ignored them... why? Well at the time I was desperate to cut loose of the privacy nightmare that was the Chromium ecosystem. But that nightmare has only gotten worse in the past two and a half years. Google's stranglehold on the browser ecosystem is nearly absolute now. In fact the only browser engine that now stands between Chromium and complete world domination is Firefox as Microsoft gave up on Edge in favor of their new Chromium based version of Edge.

Before we go further, I guess I should address the question on all of your minds. I switched to UnGoogled Chromium on my Linux desktops and because I rarely do anything but locally test web apps and download software installers with browsers on Windows, I switched to the Chromium version of Microsoft Edge there. I have yet to pick a replacement for Firefox on Android and since I rarely use the browser on my smart phone figuring that out hasn't been a top priority. UPDATE: I have tentatively moved to Bromite on Android and so far it's been working great.

So what happened this week that forced me to reevaluate my relationship with Firefox and Mozilla? Well this past week, Mozilla laid off 25% of their staff. But the layoff alone wasn't the issue. Shit happens especially in our new COVID dominated world. Not to mention the fact they already had a smaller layoff back in January. What really bothered me here was who Mozilla chose to fire and who they chose to keep around. It told me something about their priorities and the resulting conclusions scared the living hell out of me.

To make a long story short: Mozilla is an organization which is supposed to be dedicated to preserving the future of a free and open Internet. Yet as part of these recent layoffs they nuked huge portions of their MDN, Servo and Threat Management teams. Yet they kept things like Mozilla VPN (which is nothing more than a substandard client re-implementation for Mullvad's existing service) and their WebVR garbage. Yes Virtual Reality is a fad that will never hit the mainstream. I've been saying this for years. I've been saying it since I put on a stupid expensive VR headset in the mid-90s and played Magic Carpet at Comdex Atlanta.

The things Mozilla cut, directly and negatively impact their ability to fulfill their stated mission. Meanwhile the things they kept have fuck all to do with this mission. In addition to that, Mozilla's primary revenue source is Google. Google pays them to make its search engine the default in Firefox. Mozilla claims that they are in the business of preserving our privacy. Yet they accept millions of dollars from Google and redirect new users to a search engine that does anything but preserve their privacy.

A lot of these things were just as true in early 2018 as they are now. So what changed? These layoffs were the straw that broke the camels back for me. They forced me to reevaluate the situation as a whole and attempt to chart a different course. I have now come to the conclusion that the web is doomed to devolve into a single engine ecosystem and for the most part, it already has. Firefox has such a small marketshare, it hardly matters at this point. Web Developers don't care and neither do users.

I didn't want to live in that world in early 2018 and I don't want to live in that world today. I felt so strongly about this that I let this desire blind me and override my sense of logic in such a way that I was able to look past the myriad of flaws and issues associated with Mozilla and Firefox. Looking back, I don't regret switching to Firefox for the last two years because part of me needed to try and push back against the idea of a one browser engine world. As a Web Developer, I've lived through that before with Internet Explorer 6 and it was a veritable hell. Sadly most of my contemporaries in the business aren't old enough to recall what that was like. They don't understand what a terrible thing it actually is. Hint: It represents the absolute death of browser based innovation.

Looking past this pithy discussion about browsers, the same blinders that got me into this complex and tumultuous relationship with Firefox seem to be in play when it comes to politics in America. We have supporters of the current President who adopted their position because they felt strongly about one thing or another. You know what? I totally get it. But now its become stunningly clear to me that an overriding preference for one particular idea can negatively effect our ability to properly grapple with reality.

I think that is what has happened with supporters of the President. Most of them are older and less comfortable in this brave new world in which we now live. While on the surface the actual things they are afraid of seem to vary whether its the absorption of LGBTQ individuals and relationships into the mainstream, the diminishing and dilution of a Caucasian dominated mono-culture or the increasingly secular nature of our society as a whole, they all point to an unwillingness on the part of his supporters to confront and ultimately accept that they live in a dynamic and ever changing world.

Part of the process of aging is realizing that at some point the world is going to pass you by. This is not always a good thing, but it is an inevitable thing. Another part of it is being able to recognize when the time has come to step aside and let the younger generations take the reins. The unified message I would like to deliver to both the users of Firefox and the supporters of the President is that the time for acceptance has come. The sooner you realize that the world is going to move on and decide that you will too, the easier it will be for everybody.

Now of course I know that some supporters of the President (assuming they got this far and didn't doze off during all my browser related pontification) are screaming at their screens that the trends I enumerated aren't in fact inevitable. But they actually are. Moreover your dedication to pointlessly pushing back against these things has blinded you to certain facts that are very important.

Most importantly, your president is a fascist. He doesn't believe in Democracy. People who believe in Democracy don't work overtime trying to keep people from being able to vote. Now I realize its not fair to put that entirely on the shoulders of the president as the Republican party has been engaged in ever increasing levels of voter suppression for decades now, but nevertheless, this President has taken it to the next level much like everything else. If he loses, he will refuse to leave. If he wins, we'll probably never be able to measure the full impact his disastrous policies had on suppressing the vote. People who support him, in light of how transparent his current campaign to suppress the vote by systematically dismantling the US Postal Service has been, are either supporters of autocratic fascism or they are blinded by their singular focus on a particular idea or trend.

At this point I am choosing to believe that its more of the later than the former. I get it. I've been there. But at some point you have to pull your head out of the sand and take stock of the wider world around you, regardless of whether or not its the world you wanted. Because no matter what, it's the world you live in and right now y'all are making it way worse than it has to be and I wish you'd stop.

Vote Biden / Harris in 2020. It's the only sane and responsible choice left. If that doesn't come to pass, then it's time for me to figure out where we are moving to, because I don't want to live in a country that persists in going down this road regardless of what the actual motivations behind it are.

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