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Waterfox Decennial Release

27th of March marks ten years of surfing the web with Waterfox 🌊

I am proud to announce the decennial release of Waterfox. It has been an incredible journey, with peaks and troughs at every stage. What started out as a side project has become something more than I could have ever dreamed of.

Waterfox now has an office, we are based just off Brick Lane, London. We also have a new employee - please meet Adam! He has been helping out the project over the last few months and is the one who implemented support for Chrome extensions.

I will be posting on my personal site about the adventure over the last decade (so keep your eyes peeled!) - we are only set to grow from here. I really hope everyone has enjoyed being a part of this journey - here is to another ten years 🍾

9 Years of Waterfox

Waterfox is now entering its tenth year of service. A big thank you to everyone from myself for the support over the years and a shout out to all the code contributors over the years as well!

Well Wishes

Things are hard in the current climate around the world and I send my best wishes to everyone and hope you are all well and staying safe.

A Bright Future

It is hard to believe that I am here, nine years later still working on Waterfox. What began as a side project as a student has now become a fully fledged product, used by millions around the world!

There have been big changes in the last four months for Waterfox, with new infrastructure and team members to help grow the vision I have always had for Waterfox. In the coming months I hope to be able to introduce and explain the new roles and how they’re helping expand on the ideals of Waterfox and creating a browser that people will continue to love.

Alex 👨‍💻

Waterfox has joined System1

Waterfox now has funding and a development team, so Waterfox can finally start to grow!

A Little Bit of Background

The Beginning

I started Waterfox when I was 16. It was a way for me to understand how large software projects worked and the Mozilla documentation was a great introduction. Well written, easy to follow and (from what I remember) not many missing pieces as to how to do things. From there, I decided to share my exploits over at overclock.net. After that a lot of things changed. Waterfox amassed a large following because it was easy access to a 64-Bit build of Firefox. From there, I took it upon myself to take it a step further and make Waterfox fast in any way possible - that was my introduction to toolchains and masochism (Intel’s C++ compiler… what more can I say).

Ventures

I kept up with that on and off while at university. There, I decided to see if I could make a living from Waterfox after I left university - so in my first year I approached the careers department and asked them for help. That led down the path I’m sure quite a few will be familiar with. Unfortunately it all fell through, but that’s a story for another time. On a positive note though, it got me out in the press (even some big publications such as The Telegraph!) and I even received a reward from The Duke of York for my efforts.

Customise-ability

A few years later, and Waterfox was coasting along as usual. In the meanwhile Mozilla decided to drop support for XPCOM extensions and switch to fully supporting WebExtensions. I completely understood their decisions in doing so, and decided this would be another area Waterfox would branch into by keeping support. Finally, another USP for Waterfox, along with speed (which was becoming a little harder to keep going).

Ethics and Privacy

I’ve touted Waterfox as an ethical and privacy friendly browser. Two things I strongly believe in. People should be free to do what they like within their browser. Ethics being more of a moral stance, privacy focused on simple changes such as removing telemetry and data collection and try to reduce phone-home without disrupting important cogs in the browser. Essentially a balance of, “okay here’s some privacy but not too much or the web will be unusable”. I’ve never wanted or tried to have Waterfox appear as a privacy tool or anything more than what it is. That’s for hyper specialised tools such as Tor. People have extrapolated more from Waterfox themselves.

I never wanted Waterfox to be a part of the hyper-privacy community. It would just feel like standards that would be impossible to uphold, especially for something such as a web browser on the internet. Throughout the years people have always asked about Waterfox and privacy, and if they’ve ever wanted more than it can afford, I’ve always pushed them to use Tor. Waterfox was here for customisations and speed, with a good level of privacy.

I can respect what the community fights for, but I don’t think I can respect how they sometimes fight for it or how they act when they believe they are wronged. Harassment and foul words seem to be the normal, as I’ve experienced. As far as I’m aware, Waterfox has never been listed anywhere as a privacy tool, and rightly so. It is a privacy conscious web browser. Some users seem to have taken news of Waterfox’s funding to spell the end of what Waterfox never was; I just hope people keep a level head and try and rationalise things. There’s nothing more I can do in that regard, I am only human.

Harassment

Throughout the years - even from when Waterfox first started - I have received abuse for Waterfox. Accusations, lies and bullying - what for, I’m not quite sure. So many outlandish claims, I’m so lucky to have had my parents and friends to help me through the rough times. I mean they were rough - it’s so twisted to see how people get online, forgetting that there’s a person who’s putting their heart and soul into something (and it has been just me for almost 9 years). Not only that, but I wasn’t doing anything with Waterfox except developing it and making some money via search. Why I kept going throughout the years, I’ll never know.

With the news below, it hasn’t been as extreme thankfully, but it’s still unpleasant seeing people make up conspiracies, rather than keeping a keen eye on things and being rational. One-sided as usual, the end of the world must be nigh.

To the Future

A few years back I spoke about the future I expected from Waterfox and mentioned that I wanted to grow a team - and finally I had the opportunity to do so.

System1

The elephant in the room. System1 has been to Waterfox a search syndication partner. Essentially a way to have a search engine partnership (such as Bing) is through them, because companies such as Microsoft are too big and too busy to talk to small players such as Waterfox. Before them, it was Ecosia, Startpage etc. It’s probably the one easy way a browser can make money without doing anything dodgy, and it’s a way I’ve been happy to do it without having to compromise Waterfox (and will be the same way System1 makes money from Waterfox - nothing else). People also don’t seem to understand what System1 does and assume the worst (I suppose understandable).. It’s a company that is pivoting to more privacy oriented products, due to the changing landscape. Understandable.

Also an important thing to note - as much as I’m sure System1 liked what Waterfox does, they were buying into me and my knowledge more so than they were investing in Waterfox.

From that partnership, and having to get to know the team - I saw System1 were the right people to help me grow Waterfox. Down to earth people who knew what they were doing. I made sure I did my vetting (and boy did we do vetting) and found the perfect fit. In December we finalised everything and Waterfox became a part of System1.

Why wait so long to announce?

For the first time in nearly a decade, I no longer felt like Atlas with the weight of the world on my shoulders. I no longer had to panic when I thought something might be wrong with Waterfox, and I took time off. I made sure to keep security patches and pull requests going - but I gave myself proper time off for the first time in 9 years.

To the paranoid - a conspiracy. To everyone else, a (well earned?) rest.

We finalised in the middle of December, it was Christmas. Since nothing was changing in regards to Waterfox, apart from all the money now going to System1 instead of being split. For the last month I’ve been in California getting to know the team and DevOps have been busy setting up CI (an oft requested feature from Waterfox users) to be able to keep up with the new 4 week release cycle. I also wanted to wait until we got our first full-time team member so I could introduce everything at once, but alas here we are. Next month I’ll do the introduction and the exciting (from an Engineering perspective) things in store for Waterfox.

——

Closing Notes

Unfortunately it seems a lot of people have been making up scenarios of what’s going to happen to Waterfox (and essentially everything they’ve been mentioning is - from what I know - illegal under UK and EU law, the jurisdiction Waterfox is under). I’m not here to change their minds; their extrapolation of what Waterfox was is up to them - but now I can finally focus on making Waterfox into a viable alternative to the big browsers.

As always, any questions - ask. You have the right to, and I will always answer. Waterfox has been transparent throughout the last decade and will remain so.

Here’s to the future Waterfox and its users deserve 🍻

Alex

Waterfox, Its Legacy and Looking to the Future

The 27th of March 2018 marked 7 years since the first release of Waterfox, first posted on the OCN forums. It has been quite a journey, not one I had envisioned myself taking.

A Brief History

From an early age I was enthralled with the idea of building my own computer and being able to do the things I was reading about online. It was a sort of zealousness that is hard to describe. I wasn’t going to suddenly start creating animated shorts in Blender - but I wanted the freedom to be able to do just that if I ever so desired.

I was up to date with the happenings of the tech world, as I got my first “internship” (aged 14), 9,000 km away, covering press releases from companies, reporting on leaks and rumoured releases. From there on, the ‘addiction’ only grew stronger having my sight on one of those Core i7 processors. It was a large departure from the Core2 line and I could only imagine the glorious things I would accomplish with all that compute power. Realistically though, probably not much.

Unbeknownst to young me, it would be 3 years before I could afford to build a complete computer - buying each part separately over time. In the interim, I was saddled with a trusty HP Compaq TC4400 that I had managed to convince my parents to get for me as it was going to improve my school work, for a couple of hundred quid! Luckily, Windows 7 had just come out and touch support was much improved. It introduced me to a completely new world - 64-Bit computing. Not being able to overclock the laptop (not even being able to change the power settings!) meant I had to look elsewhere in regards to getting more performance out of the hardware I had available. What could accomplish that? Software, of course! There was a noticeable trend of hardware far outpacing the development of software and with the mainstream release of a 64-Bit Windows 7, I started to notice more software in that flavour. In fact, I started to notice Internet Explorer coming in this new version!

I was curious - what about my most used piece of software, Firefox 3.6? Mozilla’s website had no mention of any releases for it - in fact there was a bug filed somewhere stating they had absolutely no plans for a release in the pipeline for a long time. Here, I was flung into the world of open source as I started to discover various forks of Firefox offering their “Turbo” versions. I was so excited! Unfortunately, some releases were lagging and others were abandoned - I saw an opportunity and decided to have a look at how I could start to build it on my own. As I was already on OCN, trying to reach the famed “Grey” status, why not post the project, get some rep and maybe finally I’ll be able to trade on the forums. After the first post and a time frame of a week - 50,000 downloads. History had been made (at least for myself and Waterfox).

Keeping to the Path of “Goodness”

Throughout my time working on Waterfox, there have been countless offers to sell out and options to “monetize” aggressively. Honestly, while tempting - it was never something I felt inclined to do although financially it had been incredibly difficult at times.

I couldn’t bring myself to do it as I deeply care about this project, and especially the people who use it. More importantly is that I believed (still do) in what it can accomplish. I know, I know - this is such a regurgitated line you hear from a million different startups at Silicon Valley and their world changing software. But for me, I just wanted to do something that would have a positive impact - which in effect would hopefully be a minute contribution to the world.

I tried hard with my first startup that tied in quite nicely to Waterfox. It was a search engine where most of the profits would go to charity. In fact, the charity would be one that the user specifically chose. In return the charity would decide what kind of split we’d get. A simple concept and one that was actually working well. Unfortunately, a badly run startup will always fail, no matter how noble the idea and even the success it was starting to achieve.

After that defeat, it was hard to envision where to go from here. Luckily, the folks at Ecosia reached out and something really nice happened. It wasn’t the dream I had envisioned, but it was a good step towards it. In fact, the experience has been so good, that Waterfox users have helped to plant over 350,000 trees in 2017! Honestly for something that started out as a side project, this was quite the feat.

The Future

In order for Waterfox to grow, it needs to do so in more than one sense. Thankfully, with the arrival of a new contract with a rather popular search engine (and a good track record for privacy), this is now possible.

On top of that, development has been rather slow due to me actively pursuing a development team. That is actually progressing well, and I can hopefully update you all very soon with that information.

So, where does that leave Waterfox currently and what will its future incarnations look like?

Well, Waterfox as it is is where I want it to be:

  • It is stable in terms of development time
  • There is good support for (most) classic add-ons
  • There is good support for (most) WebExtensions
  • Backporting WebExtension APIs is more straightforward to this version.
  • The performance gains from the newer developments in Firefox are apparent
  • A lot of the privacy hampering features have been outright removed or disabled where more complicated (and this is where a big focus will be on)
  • Future updates include security patches, removing more telemetry, reviving old requested features and back porting where possible
  • Classic extensions have all been archived, all that is left is to create a catalog for them.

Overall, this is a good experience for users because it is a consistent one. But, it isn’t possible to keep like this forever. The future variant will be:

  • Based on ESR releases
  • Ability to develop “classic” style add-ons. Mozilla does this internally, I think it’s worth exposing this to developers in general. There is good reason for Mozilla to want to do this, but we are aiming for a more technical crowd.
  • Add-on developers will be given plenty of time for the expected features in the next releases and ample time to update their add-ons (imagine a 1 year 6 month release cycle, notify 3 months before any API changes)
  • Independent add-on store (with potential for developers to earn money as well)
  • Latest HTML standards will be kept up to date in a timely enough manner without having to be on the forefront (adoption takes time regardless!)
  • Support a myriad of protocols (ideally supporting Tor as well) and media formats (and since we’re EU based, I really want to move away from binaries that are provided by Cisco for H.264 playback)

And a Thank You

I would like to personally thank all the people who have contributed patches, give support on the forums and just help out in general. There are lots of you, but I’m sure you know who you are. Really - thanks. It means a great deal and I’m so happy to see how great everyone is!

I’d also like to thank everyone who donated. The support has been overwhelming - I truly do appreciate it.

See you all around the forums and social media! I’ll hopefully have an update for you all soon, which will hopefully explain my slightly less activity around everywhere 😉.

Cheers! Alex 👨‍💻