When did Mozilla get this bad?

For the past week I’ve been damn near incapacitated by whatever bacteria took up residence in my body, though the antibiotics seem to have worked. I haven’t been stuck in the bed all the time, but I have been so out-of-it that I had trouble reading something I’d code ten minutes earlier. Anyway, long story short, with Mozilla’s Firefox 57 update, I thought it’d take dozens of hours to rewrite things to get Flagfox working under it, but it’s taking hundreds of hours, and that’s before the lightheadedness. I gauged my estimate based on the last time I rewrote things for a major overhaul on their part (no, not addon SDK; I was able to skip that; the one before that), and wow, we’re not on the same scale here. I’ll get something released eventually, but the illness delay hurt in more ways than one. That’s not why I decided to post something here again, nor why I’m leaving comments on this time.

I have a question: When did Mozilla get this bad? I know when they made the decision to do all of this, but what I’m talking about specifically is what I just discovered today. Apparently, if you’ve got Firefox 57 updated on your primary profile with legacy addons installed (something I obviously avoided), not only are all the “legacy” addons hidden in a separate new menu in the addon manager, but they’ve only got two buttons shown for them: “Remove” and “Find a Replacement”. Click on that rather insulting button, and it takes you directly to what seems to be a human-chosen replacement (seems to look up just by legacy addon’s ID). The designated replacement for Flagfox seems to be Country Flag +, which shows a flag for the given IP with a tooltip with basic info, and when you click on it it shows a big flag and a popup with that basic info shown more pretty, and a vague (especially if in US) Google Map for the location. Oh, and when it points at Oklahoma for every website in the US, it gives you latitude and longitude for the useless map marker. The one thing you can actually do with this thing is click a little button in the lower left of the popup to do a lookup with Alexa for the site info. That’s it. This is a toy; somebody at Mozilla was told to just find a replacement for all addons that didn’t jump through all of their hoops fast enough, and this is what they came up with. Granted, it’s better than picking an alternative that tracks/sends all your browsing data somewhere or asks to download binaries to work better (those were actual existing options). Instead, it’s the toy that shows a flag and a bigger flag, yet somehow is 5 times the file size of Flagfox even though I also managed to include full translations into 36 other languages, including every name of every country on the planet (79 people have worked on these translations, over the years).

I got an email or two reaching out from Mozilla on the topic of porting, months ago and again last month, but I got no indication of the scale of things here. I knew this was going to be annoying and piss a lot of people off, but I didn’t suspect every person I talk to to say they hate Firefox 57, before talking about addons. I didn’t expect Mozilla to change their addons site to hide reviews by default, or decide all I’ve been doing for 10 years was making a thing to show a pretty picture of a flag and promote that as my replacement like I’ve died.

I used to be an active triager for Firefox bugs on Mozilla’s Bugzilla. The stats is has for me are: 470 bugs filed, 3084 bugs commented on, 4011 bugs poked (no clue what this specifically means), and 1079 bugs where I changed the status to resolved (fixed, verified, invalid, but for some reason the stat doesn’t show duplicate marking). There was a time when I was actively investigating crash reports as they were reported to Bugzilla, and I even wrote an entire addon to help with things by trying to auto-diagnose crash reports that got a few thousand users (but that addon has long since been obsolete and discontinued). I haven’t gotten involved with bugs or support requests in a few years now, so I’ve been apparently out of the loop when it comes to the way Mozilla deals with people. I knew enough that when I filed a bug about the bug in Firefox that was causing script cache problems breaking Flagfox 5.x (and probably some other addons) in the months prior to Firefox 57, I wasn’t completely astounded when they immediately WONTFIXed it, but I was take-aback by the lack of even trying to investigate if maybe it affected them and not just addons that were going to be unsupported by Firefox soon.

So, here we are. We’ve gone from Mozilla accepting my latest update to Flagfox 5.2.x on November 9, and then 5 days later on November 14, Firefox 57 gets released and I’m dead to them. Look, I’m not going to act like the fact that I haven’t been able to get a compatible version out yet is all their fault, but I didn’t realize they’d end up being, well, mean about it. Maybe from their perspective the “real” deadline to rewrite was passed once they started putting that “legacy” label on things everywhere (don’t even remember when I first noticed that). I decided to pick a month to spend free time rewriting things, but apparently it was implicit that I should’ve started 3 months prior and devoted every waking hour to not only rewriting things from scratch, but fixing Mozilla’s problems in these APIs.

I knew Mozilla had some severe problems high up ever since the Eich CEO fiasco that everyone other than them could see coming a mile away, and I know that some of the stuff that they do that ticks people off is due to sheer lack of resources and personnel to work on things, but I feel like something changed somewhere that I just didn’t see. I don’t ask rhetorical questions; does anyone know what changed and when that got them to this point? Or, were they always on this path and just never had a way to step out of it? They somehow managed to release the new Firefox Quantum to everyone and the first thing my mother said when she got the update is that she hated it, as it got rid of her bookmarks button and search bar, and changed her homepage to that new tab page that has ads in it, and has those weird spaces in the toolbar around the address bar (who thought that was a good idea? probably someone with a way bigger screen resolution). She basically thought it was unusable until I got to it to change the settings to something she could live with. I’m accustomed to clusterfucks in the tech world, but I’m only now beginning to realize how badly things have gotten.

Bottom line of this rambling: I used to think I was part of the Mozilla community. I have a Firefox logo mug I won for a guesstimate on when Bugzilla would hit some bug number milestone (I think the contest was discontinued after it hit a million). I’ve got multiple Firefox T-shirts that I have never worn that Mozilla kept sending me for various reasons. However, at this point, I now consider myself just a person who writes an addon that will hopefully work in Firefox again in the not-too-distant future. I’m just another user of Firefox and Thunderbird, and I’m apparently just as confused as everyone else as to what happened.


29 thoughts on “When did Mozilla get this bad?

  1. Agree Firefox 57 is awful. One thing I did notice is the Legacy plug ins do get updated if you leave them in and a new, compatible version comes out.

  2. Because I cherish addons like yours, I have not yet taken the plunge to FF57. There are too many useful tools I will lose when I do.

  3. As a Firefox user since version 20-ish, I’m considering moving to Google Chrome after 52 ESR reaches end of support. In spite of all the performance improvements in 57, the lack of compatible extensions just puts me off completely. Out of the 8 extensions I’m using, only 3 have been ported to WebExtensions so far, and 2 have been discontinued and are never going to be ported. Chrome, on the other hand, supports 5 of them.

    Firefox used to have by far the best add-on support among all browsers. In their ever so desperate attempts to overtake Chrome as the number one browser by market share, Mozilla has completely lost its identity.

    • As a Firefox user since version 1-ish, I would advise against moving to Google Chrome as a primary browser. I really don’t want to go back to having one giant evil corporate hedgemon browser, again. Mozilla at least has a policy of trying to be better, even if they currently are sucking at it. (yeah, feels a bit like a hostage scenario, but here we are…)

      To be fair to Mozilla, it was overdue to clamp down on the available extension API(s) to some reasonable degree, as the ability to do pretty much anything was a gigantic security, stability, and development problem. The way to do that was not to to just adopt Google Chrome’s API and make it mandatory, however.

      • The thing is, Firefox is losing its point. Ever since Chrome overtook Firefox in market share, Firefox has been imitating Chrome. Just look at the new “Photon” UI. It’s Chrome with square tabs and some useless blank space around the URL bar, no less, no more. And even before that, “Australis” has also been a huge Chrome-based overhaul. Firefox used to have an add-on bar, tabs on bottom, an orange menu button in the top-left corner, and more.

        Extensibility had always been a key feature of Firefox. I had used Chrome for a while before moving to Firefox (and I mistyped; version 10-ish, not 20-ish), and the reason why I moved to Firefox were the useful add-ons for it.

        Firefox is steadily becoming less unique and more Chrome-like. Compared to the first versions of Firefox I used, 57 has turned into an almost complete copy of Chrome, which is pointless. Why use a Firefox-based copy instead of the real thing?

        • I totally get where you’re coming from; I just remember the days of Microsoft Internet Explorer dominance with enough horror to do everything in my power to avoid history from repeating itself even more. Google has gotten good at the game of playing nice and pretending to not be evil, but Google does what’s best for Google, and that isn’t always what’s best for everyone else. Ranting on the anti-competitive junk they’ve done with Google Chrome would take a while, but suffice it to say, every additional user they get makes the desire of people to capitulate and Google’s power to abuse it stronger. Hell, Google is already way more powerful than Microsoft ever was.

          Also, on a purely technical side, one of the actually good things that got into Firefox 57 was the first part of the Mozilla Servo project, namely its CSS rendering engine (part of what gives some recent speed benefits). Servo is a brand new browser engine written in the Rust programming language, which is immune to certain classes of security/stability errors that plague C/C++, and can (at least theoretically) be used to write better performing code. It’s a giant step forward towards fewer exploits and fewer critical updates, and it’s one of the things Mozilla is working on that need to be shouted from the rooftops (even though it’s not easily apparent how important it is to most people). Future Firefox releases will get more parts from Servo, and will give Mozilla an actually important benefit over the competition. I really wish they didn’t couple big backend changes like this with big frontend changes like Photon, though I guess it makes sense to do all the big new stuff at once, from a marketing perspective.

          By the way, just in case you or anyone else reading this didn’t know, you can customize your toolbar to ditch those stupid blank spaces. 😉

          • Huh, where? If it’s on this site, I don’t think I have control over that. Flagfox, itself, has no external libraries of any kind. If you’re talking about Geotool and the forums server, that’d be Richard’s domain. I don’t really have a problem with Google Analytics, though. I don’t exactly boycott Google; frankly, that’s impossible. I just don’t want to use their software if I can avoid it. (e.g. I use GMail, but through Thunderbird) As to Criteo, sorry, I actually don’t even know what that really is (beyond what I just Googled and read on Wikipedia). If there’s something running on one of these sites you think shouldn’t be, please send me an email or post on the forums with more info and we’ll look into it.

            Also, in general, I highly recommend that everyone always use an adblocker, turn on Firefox’s built in tracking protection, and set cookies to not persist forever (at least through the options, or possibly also use an addon that manages them with less persistence). I personally run Firefox with Adblock Plus, Ghostery, and Self-Destructing Cookies (in addition to some other addons that improve security/privacy like HTTPS Everywhere).

          • As a side note, I would highly advise against using Adblock Plus. I had been using it myself until it started allowing certain ads, and when this happened I thought it was a bug and tried to file a report, but it turns out ABP was acquired by Eyeo GmbH, a company participating in the “Acceptable Ads” program. Even though you can disable “allowing non-intrusive adverts” through ABP, I still do not recommend using an ad blocker that is designed to allow certain ads (mainly those supported by its parent company).

            Ghostery has also been subject to controversy because it reportedly collects your browsing data for statistical purposes. Although I’m fine with that, I switched to Disconnect recently because it performs better on my Intel Atom netbook. Some sources still claim Disconnect’s blocklists are less exhaustive than those of Ghostery, but this information is probably outdated. In my experience, I haven’t had any trackers slip through either (unless exclusively allowed), at least when paired with an ad blocker.

            I recommend using either AdBlock or uBlock Origin instead of ABP. I also use HTTPS Everywhere. I do not use Self-Destructing Cookies, but I just clear all browsing data including cookies with BleachBit or CCleaner.

          • Small factual correction: You said ABP was “acquired” by Eyeo GmbH, which is not true. That’s the company eventually founded by the ABP creator. (same sort of deal as Google not being “acquired” by Alphabet; Alphabet was founded by Google to sound more sinister)

            I was aware of the ABP acceptable ads program before it got turned on, and was actually in favor of the idea (ethics of their methodology, aside). I ran with it allowed for a little bit, until I noticed it sometimes allowing junk that could slow down things, and now I always have it off. I leave for the possibility that there are better competitors, but at this point I don’t have reason enough to switch (though, with the notable loss of features in their new WebExtension version, I may change my mind… if the competitors aren’t in the same boat).

            I am aware of Ghostery’s data policies and have stat reporting disabled. Disconnect apparently has separate pay and free versions, which always makes me wary. I really need to find a good way to test real-world performance of these various addons in my main profile, as one of them clearly slows things down a bit, though not enough for it to be a problem.

          • Actually, ABP was acquired by Eyeo GmbH before it was called Eyeo GmbH. ABP was originally forked from Adblock (not to be mistaken with AdBlock, which is a newer and independent add-on) by Michael McDonald, and then it was acquired by Wladimir Palant who founded Eyeo GmbH. Source: Wikipedia

            I still use Firefox 52 ESR with a Sync account for most of my work, because I need the add-ons I have in it, but I also have a separate installation of Firefox 57 without Sync which I’m using for testing stuff. I use Disconnect, HTTPS Everywhere and uBlock Origin in 57 and I tried AdBlock in 57 as well, and I haven’t had any issues with them, so I think they’re worth trying. It’s the other add-ons that I’m using (Saved Password Editor, Clear Console, New Tab King, Classic Theme Restorer, and of course Flagfox) which are incompatible with WebExtensions and therefore holding me back from moving to 57.

          • Yeah, I think I was using the original AdBlock once-upon-a-time, and then switched to AdBlock Plus at some point. In more detail, from what I gather from old ABP blog posts, Wladimir Palant started AdBlock Plus as a hobby project to replace the original AdBlock, then partnered with an existing company, then he broke with them and founded Eyeo GmbH with Till Faida. (sources: [1], [2])

            (post-deletions done, per-request, to fiddle with the dubious threading)

          • We’ve rambled way off-topic digging through AdBlock history; I think that’s far enough. :p

            By the way, starting an addon based on an abandoned one is relatively common. In fact, Richard van der Leeden created Flagfox 2 from Flagfox 1 by Joseph Birr-Pixton, and I created Flagfox 3 from Flagfox 2 because I got annoyed at how bad its performance had gotten to with ever larger database updates… and 10 years later I’m still screwing around with the thing. (Richard runs Geotool and the Flagfox forum server, currently) This is all in the Flagfox about dialog and FAQ, by the way. Joseph showed up at some point and was impressed by what eventually was made based on the original concept, which just had a flag icon and no other features. Only thing remaining from the original is the name (and it looks like the rarely-used unknown flag icon). 😉

          • Back on topic; I’ve been thinking the same thing: Mozilla is doing too much stuff at once. Regardless of marketing reasons, I think this is a bad idea. Such large changes tend to result in a lot of bugs which can make everything worse than it used to be. IMO, they should have kept some of the changes in Beta a little longer or at least provide extended support for 56, as 52 ESR is already quite close to EOL.

            I think Mozilla should focus on Servo more as they are trying to promote the new Firefox as a faster browser. Servo is certainly the most important part of all the upcoming changes to Firefox.

            While some changes to the extension API are necessary, adopting WebExtensions and cutting support for all older API’s is really too drastic. I mean, 70% of available add-ons are still incompatible with WebExtensions. The way they should have done it is by gradually phasing out obsolete API features, giving add-on developers more time to port them.

            And Photon is really not such a big deal itself, as is cutting support for Complete Themes and Classic Theme Restorer.

          • Yeah, 56 really should be an ESR, especially given the backend changes between it and 52 that cause a few issues on downgrade. (lose bookmark favicons and history; the former comes back if you go back to 56, but the later does not)

  4. Programming is truly a thankless career path. Thanks for putting in the hours. Use Flagfox for as long as I can remember, it really is a critically unique add-on. I really enjoy seeing you are getting a new version ready.

    (DaveG: Edited to remove a dark joke that I’d rather not have here.)

    • No, just for like a month-ish. (meaning I’ll hopefully have a beta ready within the week) Sorry, it would have been done by now if I didn’t get really sick at an unfortunate time. :/

      • Thank you for your time you clearly are putting into this extension, and for free. Thank you, Mr. G, your hard work is greatly appreciated.

        If you need beta testers, I’m down! Are you on github?

        Thanks Again!

        – David

  5. so, fun morning, woke up and noticed all my legacy addons, including flagfox, are gone. So obviously the only thing that changed was Firefox auto updated to 57.0.1. So now, I don’t even have the placeholder if hard working devs like you decided to make your addons work with future releases of firefox.

    So I’m holding on out ESR.

    Also, my employer still uses Windows 7, and ESR releases. This is not rare especially in the public services sector at the state level. I’m sick of these San Fransisco elites just changing things up because they are high and bored.

    • To clarify: Gone as in no longer grayed out. With release 57 they were at least simply grayed out. Now, with 57.0.1 Removed, automatically, without my consent even marked as legacy. So, Mozilla will totally remove your old extension completely if you don’t updated it to 57+.

      • They should just be in the “Legacy Extensions” menu in the Addon Manager. I don’t think Mozilla is actually insane enough to start uninstalling things without user consent, less than a month after the Firefox 57 release. WebExtension uninstalls do wipe the addon’s saved settings without user consent or notification, though.

        • I’m on latest release of High Sierra running 57.0.1. Can confirm they are still there just as Legacy (disabled). Perhaps you have an over zealous IT Dept PASCAL? I know that sometimes is the case for me.

    • Yeah, sorry. I haven’t posted any new info on this in a bit. Short version: I’ll hopefully be posting a beta soon (though, I may have said that already…) I hit a snag a few days ago when I stumbled on a bug in Mozilla’s WebExtension API under Firefox 57 (it worked fine in 56), and had to rewrite a fairly major hunk of some backend stuff. It’s frustrating as hell, but I’m not going to post a beta with obvious broken bits, as that’d be all anyone would report, and I don’t want to waste everyone’s time. Expect something “soon” (for whatever that is worth; not much, I suspect).

  6. I downgraded to firefox 56.x and disabled future upgrades (hopefully). 57 is plain and simple awful. 95% of my addons got broken – without them firefox just is not usable.

    p.s. Also I still use Win 8.1, becouse I feel no need to “upgrade” to Win 10. Same thing with firefox. Why I should need their crappy 57.x ? No need at all.

    • This is the unfortunate reality that all too many developers don’t accept. People know how to downgrade, and will do so.

      Why to use the crappy newer version of a browser/OS? You’re a security hostage, basically. If software is past its EOL (end of life), then security/stability updates are no longer being released for it, and you will eventually be vulnerable. For Firefox, you can use Firefox 52 ESR (extended support release) until the middle of next year, complete with only security/stability updates (e.g. no Firefox 57 stuff). For Windows 8.1, it looks like its “end of mainstream support” is in a little over two weeks from now, though it has “extended support” listed to end in 2023, which looks to be its real EOL date and the first cutoff is just for non-security updates & etc..

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