The survey results
Let's start with the numbers. Almost 1000 people answered the one-question survey, although after about 200, the percentages were already stabilising. Here is the final distribution in a single graph:
The legend is slightly different from the answers on the survey which were kept somewhat cryptic on purpose to avoid any obvious bias to the question.
Practically speaking, wanting a 100% Chrome match and wanting Firefox without telemetry/data gathering would, for our purposes, fall into the same category of wishing Pale Moon was not at all what we've been working on for a decade; however, they were important options to include to see if we would need to re-think or shut down. Thankfully, these two choices did not get a majority vote, meaning that overall, the majority of users are valuing Pale Moon for what it is instead of what it is not.
The other two choices being split as they are does, however, cause a major issue for which I had to find a solution. More on that below.
Of course I don't base my direction for the project solely on one survey result; that would be too much of a tunnel vision. So, other considerations were taken into account thinking about the future direction for the project. Most prominent among them:
- Lack of participation in the extension ecosystem by users. Unlike what happened in the heyday of Mozilla, current users apparently feel underqualified to even try, let alone the fact they don't want to take any sort of responsibility for sharing what helps them personally with the world. Even trying our best to streamline forking procedures was met with a lot of resistance.
- A smaller user base. Although fairly stable, it is apparently not substantial enough to really make the idea we've collectively had come to fruition. The momentum is simply not there to sufficiently drive a vision forward to something that is completely and fully independent in its own right.
- Not enough core developers. Unfortunately, and I'll have to say pretty much a trend in FOSS, developers would rather splinter off and segregate themselves to have their own, often failing long term, spin-off projects rather than cooperating on something everyone could be proud of achieving. Competition often wins over cooperation, because a lot of developers do not want to compromise in any way and just "want their thing.", sometimes even completely ignoring the very core of Open Source and its principles and licenses - So we've ended up with a good handful of things that could have been unified, but instead are strictly segregated and fiercely defended, even if they are one-man spin-offs or slipshod hackjobs.
- Users clearly struggling with compatibility issues on two fronts; both web compatibility and extension compatibility, and Pale Moon failing to deliver there, leaving users in a kind of limbo where there are little redeeming qualities to be had when falling short on both fronts at the same time. That wasn't a good situation and couldn't be left as-is without doing anything about.
Trying to come up with a way to satisfy the two, almost equally-sized, large groups of the users wanting mutually exclusive things (wanting a sane, minimal compromise, secure browser vs. wanting an unchanging web client that preserves maximum compatibility with the Mozilla legacy) was difficult, and this is why it took me considerable time to think about how to move forward with this to keep Pale Moon useful for its users.
So, what is the new direction, then? Well, it's basically taking a few steps back and no longer trying to be a separate entity. It's become clear that we can't continue to aim for an independent set of rules that we've been pushing hard for to make happen -- it's been a few years of effort now and it's clearly not working; as a project leader I simply have to admit that some things are too much and are not going to be achieved, and we need to aim for some other goals instead of staring ourselves blind on the idyllic mental image formed years ago where people actually want to make the effort for open, collaborative development of a full-featured browser and extension ecosystem. Perhaps this is also a sign of the times, and me being a solid Gen X person am a bit out of touch with current-day users of later generations, as well. But, this is why I'm willing to change, and why this new direction is necessary and must happen.
What does this mean in practice?
Departing from my underlying thoughts and translating it into what this means for the Pale Moon project itself, the immediate changes going forward:
- As some of you may have noticed, FUEL was restored. This is a first step in improving the extension compatibility part that wasn't going to happen otherwise because it's clear that people would rather just jeopardize their safety and security rather than putting in some effort to make extensions they are using compatible. So, FEBE and NoSquint and other popular extensions that build on long-since deprecated abstractions will work and continue to work.
- On the slightly longer term, Pale Moon will return to carrying the Firefox GUID (like Basilisk has done) instead of its own, to further improve extension compatibility. Of course this won't make "legacy" Firefox extensions suddenly/magically compatible if there are discrepancies with our core code and APIs as opposed to the state of Firefox when Mozilla abandoned them, but it will take away any barriers aside from user effort when it comes to extensions, and will reduce pressure on the core development people putting extension responsibility squarely and solely in the hands of the community.
Of course this will require some changes to extensions and the add-ons site, but that shouldn't be too terribly much of an issue and might actually simplify the site's code (to what extent will have to be answered by Tobin who wrote that code from the ground up).
Part of me still hopes that Google will be called out for its blatant manipulation of implementation-first specs to push and maintain the monopoly in a triple-E strategy fashion (I struggle to call them "standards" if they are solely determined by one vendor and have not had broad, multi-faceted consensus before being pushed) but it seems to be as much a global political game as a technological one, and my hopes are rather slim, there.
- In line with the problems regarding licensing for EME (also in Google's hands) and rejection of our web clients for WebRTC (once again, Google in control) despite passing the suite of tests, combined with the planned extension-first steps to be taken in Pale Moon as a browser, the utility of Basilisk as its own browser will vanish. It was created to partly fill that extension-runner role as a closer Firefox alternative browser, and as a vessel to develop UXP. It fulfilled those roles but is turning into dead weight that I no longer want to carry so focus can be given to one browser and one product.
As such, I may be retiring Basilisk and stop development on it altogether, or potentially split it off to do something else with it -- I'm not sure yet. If people are genuinely interested in seeing it continue in its current form, I'll consider someone taking it over, too. Contact me in that case.
I think doing it this way is the only real way the project can be carried forward without disadvantaging a major chunk of our user base.
Oh, and for those who really want Chrome compatibility and Firefox without telemetry, you should consider switching to LibreWolf. We're clearly not going to be able to fulfil your wishes and remaining on Pale Moon or Basilisk will just mean you are choosing something that isn't in line with what you really want from a browser.