Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Mozilla explores radically different browser as Firefox leaks share

Gregg Keizer | April 14, 2016
It's unclear whether a successor to, or replacement for, Firefox would use Mozilla's Gecko browser engine or switch to Chromium, Chrome's foundation.

Mozilla is trying to come up with a next-generation browser, but according to company executives, seems uncertain whether to retain the current Firefox technology or switch to something else, perhaps the same that powers Google's Chrome.

Last week, Mark Mayo, the head of Mozilla's cloud services engineering team, revealed that a new project, dubbed Tofino, is exploring options for a radical revision of Firefox.

"We're working on browser prototypes that look and feel almost nothing like the current Firefox," Mayo wrote in a long piece on Medium. "The premise for these experiments couldn't be simpler: what we need a browser to do for us -- both on PCs and mobile devices -- has changed a lot since Firefox 1.0."

A small sequestered team of Mozilla developers will work on Tofino for the next three months, at which time they must prove that a new browser is possible. If not, Mayo will kill Tofino and move on.

(The name came from a district on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where the idea originated last summer.)

How different a Firefox successor, or even replacement, might be from the current iteration remains unclear. But Mayo spent considerable wordage implying that Mozilla may dispense with Gecko, the browser engine that has powered Firefox since its debut in late 2004.

Mayo bemoaned the strains that arise when something new threatens the status quo in an organization. "The reason new things at old shops is difficult, mostly, I think, isn't because people are bad, or stupid, or actively sabotage new projects or any nonsense like that. It's largely because doing anything that might conceivably impact the current product creates unavoidable tension," Mayo wrote.

Then he dropped a bombshell that explained the stress. "The prototype we're feeling good about right now is built with Electron and React, not Gecko and XUL, our go-to technologies for building browsers," Mayo said.

Electron, an open-source framework for embedding browser capabilities in apps, relies on Chromium, the also-open-source project that has been the foundation of Google Chrome since that browser's 2008 inception. Meanwhile, React is an open-source JavaScript library maintained by Facebook and others that is typically used to craft or prototype an app's user interface (UI).

A day later, Mayo clarified his comments about Electron and Gecko.

"I should have been clearer that Project Tofino is wholly focused on UX (user experience) explorations and not the technology platform," Mayo said in an April 8 update to his piece. "We are working with [Mozilla's] Platform team on technology platform futures, too, and we're excited about the Gecko and Servo-based futures being discussed."

But Mayo did not commit Tofino to Gecko, or even Servo, the four-year-old Mozilla project aimed at building a Gecko replacement using the Rust programming language, which also traces its roots to Mozilla's research division.

 

1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.