Firefox's new mantra "Great or Dead" and what it means for the future

In order to catch up to the competition, Firefox is about to go "great or die." Jack Wallen dives into this new mantra to see if it will help heal what ails the open-source browser.


If you've been following the rocky course that has been the life of Mozilla's Firefox, you fully understand when I say it's been a life of "garbage in, garbage out." The open-source browser has suffered a severe case of bloat, feature creep, and bugs.

However, according to the Mozilla team, that is about to change. With the competition from Chrome, they can't afford not to say that. In fact, they've said it before... but this time, I believe the Firefox developers mean it.

How can I say that, after years of watching the beloved Firefox fall behind the competition?

They have a simple plan that comes with a pretty groovy slogan:

Great or Dead.

Okay, before you knee jerk on this one, let me explain exactly what they mean. Mozilla isn't saying "If we can't make Firefox great again, we're killing the project." What the slogan means is much more simple and much more telling of the direction Firefox will be taking.

If a team can't make a feature great, said feature is dead. For example, one of the first features they plan on giving focus is called Electrolysis. This is the per-tab process implementation that's rumored to finally give Firefox the performance increase it so desperately needs. If the developers can't make this feature "great," it will be dropped.

Along with "great or die," the developers plan to focus on three very important factors:

  • Uncompromised Quality
  • Best Of The Web
  • Uniquely Firefox

Yummy, buzzwordy goodness.

Yes, the developers desperately need to focus on the performance of Firefox to make it the best of the web. That same team needs to bring to the table uncompromised quality. While they take care of this, they need to make sure the open-source browser remains uniquely Firefox. Trapped within all those buzzwords and spin-speak, the Firefox developers need to understand that it's not as simple as great or die. Why? Because there are so many end user-centric issues that still plague the browser:

  • Get Netflix working
  • Enable native 1080p video playback at 60 fps with HTML5
  • Fix Hulu tearing issues
  • Finally resolve pegging CPU issues
  • Fix stability issues

This isn't to say that Firefox is unusable. It's actually come a long way. But with this new "great or die" mantra, I have multiple concerns:

  • Who defines "great"? End users? Developers? A third party?
  • Does "great" come with a qualifying, quantifying system of measurement?
  • What happens when all the features that aren't "great" are stripped away, leaving Firefox as nothing more than a generic, identity-less browser?
  • Will add-ons be included with "great or die" (and if so, will the Mozilla team give the developers of add-ons a chance to be "great")?

Here's something Firefox developers (and all browser developers) need to understand--the web browser hasn't been just a source of entertainment for a long time. The browser is a productivity tool for a great many people. As you make Firefox "great," you need to do so with an understanding that, if Firefox has any chance of rising back to the "greatness" it once held, it must examine every feature with an eye for both business and entertainment. That adds another layer of complexity to the picture.

Although I think the idea behind "great or die" might well help Firefox rise from the ashes, I personally believe a mantra they should adopt before they can become great is much more simple:

Work or die

In other words, the developers need to focus on making sure the browser, as a whole, works. Achieve that, and then shift your motto to "great or die." There are features (such as Hello) that are far from great but show so much promise. The developers should first dig deep and make sure those features work as expected. Let them make an initial round of cuts, and then the challenge becomes "Can we make this great?"

I suppose, at least from my perspective, this is an admittance that Firefox is not a great browser. Truth be told, it's not. And if I dig really deep, I would probably find that there are no truly great browsers.

  • Internet Explorer is a security nightmare
  • Chrome crashes and gobbles up CPUs like Jim Gaffigan eats cake
  • Chromium doesn't play well with plugins
  • Safari is Apple-only
  • Midori doesn't work with HTML5-heavy sites

The list goes on and on and on. We live in a world where the lesser of all evils is your best choice. Firefox isn't at the top of that list. Even with its crashes and performance issues, I'll take Chrome.

Even so, I miss Firefox. I used that browser since it was first released and only within the last few years dropped it for Chrome. This choice was made primarily for speed. Chrome was faster to open, it rendered pages more quickly, and the simplistic UI was more efficient to navigate. Firefox seemed trapped in the early 2000s with its kludgy interface and heavyweight footprint. Maybe, just maybe, this new approach to developing the open-source browser will be just what Firefox needs to rise to the top and become that lesser of all evils.

What do you think? Will the "great or die" mantra be the magic bullet Firefox has so badly needed over the years--or is it a smoke and mirror hail mary that will most likely fall far from the mark? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

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