Mozilla Releases Chrome, Err, Firefox 29 and It’s Basically Chrome

Yesterday Mozilla released the latest version of its Firefox web browser. The most significant change is the user interface, which received a complete overhaul:

Mozilla is launching its most important release of Firefox in a very long time today. After almost two years of working on its Australis redesign, the company is now finally ready to bring it to its stable release channel.

After loading it for the first time, chances are you’ll be slightly confused. This is Firefox’s most radical redesign since it moved to its rapid release schedule a few years ago.

The new user interface is basically Google Chrome’s user interface:

I think this move demonstrates that Mozilla’s developers are desperately thrashing in the water without purpose. Mozilla’s business model now seems to be do whatever Google does. That’s not necessarily a bad strategy as Google does a lot of really amazing things. But there are far better features to lift from Chrome than its user interface. Why doesn’t Mozilla lift Chrome’s behavior of isolating each tab in a separate process? When a single tab in Chrome crashes it doesn’t take the entire browser with it. As a security measure isolating tabs in separate processes is also beneficial. I would love to see Mozilla copy that feature.

There’s nothing wrong with copying (in my intellectual property hating opinion). Good ideas should proliferate. But differentiation is also important. Unique features are what you can market to convince users to use your product. If Firefox and Chrome are identical, at least in the eyes of most end users, what can Mozilla do to convince people to use its browser instead of Google’s? Right now the only thing Firefox really has over Chrome, that I can think of, is extensibility. That’s not a lot to market a browser on, especially when Chrome has several features that Firefox lacks (such as isolating each page in a separate process).

I fear that we’re looking at the slow demise of Firefox. Mozilla seems to think that copying Chrome is a sufficient business model. As far as I know most of its income is still derived from users making Google search from Firefox’s search bar. Firefox isn’t as important to Google’s business model as it was in the days before Chrome so that money is likely to dry up at some point. What’s Mozilla’s answer to this likely inevitable future? Sell ads:

(Reuters) – Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox Internet browser, will start selling ads as it tries to grab a larger slice of the fast-expanding online advertising market.

The company said in a blog posting on Tuesday that it has reached out to potential corporate sponsors about its fledgling “Directory Tiles” program, targeted at first-time users.

Novice Firefox users now see nine blank tiles when they open up the browser, which fill in over time with their most-visited or recently visited websites. Now, Mozilla intends to display the most popular sites by location, as well as sponsored websites that will be clearly labeled as such.

That’s a frightening road. If the “Directory Tiles” program turns out to be a money maker Mozilla will be motivated to include more and more ads in Firefox. Ads have a tendency to ruin software products. If I see ads pop up on a program that I’m using I will almost reflexively begin searching for a replacement and I’m not alone.

Mozilla needs to get its shit together and come up with something besides doing what Google does. Because if my options are Chrome or a cut-rate version of Chrome I will just use Chrome. Somehow I doubt that I’m alone in this.