What the Hell Happened to Mozilla and Firefox?

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Mozilla has a new logo, the latest step in the plan the company announced last year to rebrand itself in an effort to stay relevant despite 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.

And only a logo designer circa 1997 would have thought this was a good idea. Back when 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.

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

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 its 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, ad blocking, and even 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.

A terrible new logo that looks like it was cobbled together by a l337 13-year old hacker in an age when the 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 ten 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.

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