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.

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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