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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 👨‍💻