What The Hell Happened To Mozilla And Firefox?

What The Hell Happened To Mozilla And Firefox?

Mozilla has a new logo, the latest in the company’s effort to rebrand itself as a modern technology outfit worthy of your attention. It’s no surprise that the company reaching to stay relevant in the face of plunging usage of its key product, the internet browser Firefox. Somewhere out there is a designer who still uses Adobe Pagemaker and is very proud of their work on this logo. The rest of us are wondering where the hell the Mozilla we used to know has gone.

Only a logo designer circa 1997 would have thought this new brandmark was a good idea. Back then internet-based companies all insisted on including or alluding to their URL in the logo and name. “Because it has a portion of URL embedded in the middle of the logo, you know this must be some kind of internet company,” Tim Murray, Mozilla’s creative director, told Wired in an article posted today, in 2017.

Yes, Tim. That was a good plan 20 years ago when most people thought the internet was just a link beyond AOL’s welcome screen. But we live in 2017 Tim, and instead of sounding or looking cool, Mozilla just appears painfully out of touch.

The logo wouldn’t be so jarring except that it underscores just how badly Mozilla has been struggling recently as it tries to reclaim its glory days. Over the last half decade it’s faltered, with Firefox losing crucial installs to Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Mozilla was forced to axe its big open source email program, Thunderbird, in 2012. And let’s not forget the major misstep that was Firefox OS, Mozilla’s attempt at competing with Android and iOS.

For its part, the company has had some recent wins. Like when it automatically blocked Flash to protect users from egregious security flaws, or when it launched Focus for iOS, a great super-private browser.

But the wins are minor, and they have never been enough to pull Mozilla, or Firefox, out of the tailspin it’s found itself in. Which is a shame. Firefox was once the most innovative browser in the world. It was faster and more secure than Safari or Internet Explorer, and it offered what were, at the time, new-fangled tools like tabs and add-ons. Wowie!

But then Google came along and offered all of that in an even faster and more attractive package. It brought the cloud along too — giving users access to all of their bookmarks, passwords and even browser history across devices. Firefox introduced its own cloud component, but by then it was too late, Chrome had overtaken it and, as of March 2016, surpassed Internet Explorer as well.

Data and chart from Netmarketshare.

Data and chart from Netmarketshare.

A terrible new logo that looks like it was cobbled together by a l337 13-year old hacker in an age when Spice Girls still topped the charts isn’t going to fix that damage. Instead, it’s emblematic of the company’s failures rather than heralding its phoenix-like revival. Firefox has faltered because it’s become bloated, ugly and slow. This is software that wants to be ubiquitous but still took nearly 10 years to make a 64-bit variant for Windows.

And it’s a damn shame. The most popular browsers track your every movement on the internet, carefully building an exact image of your online activities, while also storing all of your passwords and usernames. Those browsers are also made by three of the largest companies on the planet, Google, Apple and Microsoft.

So a speedy, popular alternative with plenty of third party support and a commitment to the open source model, which helps democratise software development, is really damn appealing. It’s what Firefox used to be before it fell behind. Let’s hope Mozilla moves back in that direction, and not towards wherever the hell some aesthetically challenged designer thought the company was headed.