Looking forward in 2017

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Moonchild
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Looking forward in 2017

Postby Moonchild » Mon Apr 17, 2017 2:05 pm

This is a general announcement to lay down our rough plans for 2017, since there will be some big changes coming in the Mozilla landscape.

Mozilla's deprecation of current technologies

As you may known, Mozilla is planning to change their focus with Firefox and have been steadily preparing to abandon XPCOM, XUL and Gecko. Come the end of the year, they will move Firefox over to a Rust-based platform with the Quantum rendering engine, which will significantly change the way their browser works, and will cut the ties with the current Mozilla platform as it stands. This will also mean that all browser extensions that base themselves on XUL, whether they are overlay, bootstrapped or SDK extensions, will no longer work on Firefox. At that point, come Firefox 57, only Chrome-like WebExtensions will be supported by Firefox.

Those are also important changes for us, especially considering the Mozilla platform and XUL is what lays at the foundation of Pale Moon, with Goanna being a fork of Gecko.

What will this mean for Pale Moon?

Ultimately, this will mean very little for the browser. Pale Moon will remain Pale Moon and we will continue to develop and improve the browser application as normal. There will be regular updates to improve the browser and continue on the path we are on, solving known issues, tackling web compatibilities where feasible. Expect continued development on our media playback and implementation of web standards.

What about the long-term future of XUL and XUL applications?

Long-term, it will be a different story for any XUL application (not just Pale Moon). Looking over our options, we've come to the conclusion that the only way to maintain a XUL-based browser in 2018 and beyond will be to create a separate (hard) fork of the Mozilla platform code close to the intended change-over -- but not too close since there will be a gradual deprecation of features preparing for the main change -- without Rust, Quantum or the new front-end, and keep aligning that with developments in scripting and rendering as an independent-from-Mozilla platform solution.
This forked platform code can then form the basis for a current-day Firefox-derived browser (which will be published along with the first publication of this platform-in-progress), offering an alternative for current Firefox users to continue using their browser the way they are used to, with all their extensions supported. This platform can be used by other applications currently building on Mozilla code, as well, including Thunderbird, Instantbird, SeaMonkey, and also Pale Moon down the road.

Thankfully, the development storm we've seen in the past 3 or so years on the web seems to be calming. This will allow focus on improvements, interoperability issues, bugfixes and polish without requiring massive development efforts to re-architecture how things work.

What about partnerships?

I've reached out to several logical partners to work together on creating and developing this XUL-platform. Unfortunately, nothing fruitful has come out of that, so, unless someone else steps up and does this, it looks like it will have to be our team to start this effort (since we have detailed knowledge of the Mozilla code already) and hopefully pick up more people along the way. Possible partners included Waterfox and SeaMonkey, neither of which were interested in getting involved in building/maintaining a platform, and wanting to focus on a product instead.

The Waterfox developer was clearly only interested in focusing on a browser, but thinking that maintaining XUL should only be done as long as "moderately feasible"[1] and not wanting to commit more time than what he has been doing so far for Waterfox: it being a hobby/side project to his regular running of a business.
The SeaMonkey council wasn't even interested at all in a partnership, and not looking at long-term solutions or what would happen when the XUL platform disappears at MozCo leaving them without an updated platform to build on.[2]

I was hoping potential partners would be willing to broaden their view:
If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, there won't be a product if there isn't going to be a supporting platform to build those products on - you'd end up just trying to stretch things until they (inevitably) break if the building blocks aren't maintained or developed.

Our long-term efforts

So, this is where we will put in our long-term effort later this year: building a solid, maintainable platform that can serve as a base for a XUL-Firefox derivative, and potentially Pale Moon's application code as well, depending on how things develop on the 'net. It will be a challenge. It will be difficult, but rewarding; it will build something that can offer a future to several applications that are now in peril (even things like a XUL-based WYSIWYG editor, for example).

Most of all, it will be a lot of work - and I do hope that people will continue to help out and chime in with development to make this parallel development of the platform and browser feasible without burning our current developers out.




[1]
Alex Kontos wrote:It seems we both have a different vision here unfortunately. I was envisioning a modern web browser that fulfills the need and requirements of the web but attempting (as long as it was moderately feasible) to keep XUL and XPCOM maintained. Difficult? Yes. Fun? Most definitely! But I don't think I'll be able to help or see the kind of vision you want.


[2]
Seamonkey Council rep wrote:The question about the future direction of SeaMonkey came up in recent status meetings and private discussions. There is currently no clear path we can or would like to take. There is a great possibility that we no longer have a home or a future with Mozilla, but the SeaMonkey project is also small and we feel that even together with the Pale Moon developers maintaining a fork might not be sustainable.
Improving Mozilla code: You know you're on the right track with code changes when you spend the majority of your time deleting code.

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