16 February 2021

Fast Company: “Firefox stops working on progressive web app support”

Unfortunately, Firefox is missing one key feature found in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, and that’s the ability to install websites as desktop apps. Over the last year, this feature has fundamentally changed the way I work by reducing browser tab clutter and providing faster access to favorite sites, and I can’t go back to Firefox without it.

So I was surprised to see recently that Mozilla has abandoned work on a similar feature for Firefox. Although Mozilla once championed the idea of web apps—and, to be fair, still supports them in its Android browser—it no longer has a path to enabling them on desktop computers.

That puts Firefox at a disadvantage against Chrome and Edge, both of which are speeding ahead in making web apps an integral part of their desktop browsers. But it’s also just disappointing to see Mozilla abandon what is becoming a bastion against walled garden app stores.

Jared Newman

I have barely browsed with Firefox in years, and every time it makes headlines seemingly for the wrong reasons. Personally I have rarely used PWAs, except for the Twitter app on Windows, because I find native apps, on desktop and mobile, to be faster and more feature-rich. Nevertheless, developers are having success by building apps directly on the web platform – the most high-profile example being Google and Microsoft recently launching web versions of their cloud gaming services for iOS.

Firefox version 68

Mozilla discontinuing support for this feature reinforces a vicious circle that has been building for years: Mozilla doesn’t have the resources to keep up with Google’s pace of development, so it ships fewer features, causing developers to lose interest in building sites in Firefox, users then migrate away to other browsers, and finally Firefox’s share shrinks… so it has even less resources. In some cases, Mozilla’s justifications for refusing to implement new APIs mirror Apple’s privacy concerns, but unfortunately Mozilla doesn’t enjoy the same privileged position as Apple, who tightly controls a massive mobile platform and has alternative sources of cash to fund WebKit development.

The SSB feature has only ever been available through a hidden [preference] and has multiple known bugs, Mozilla’s Dave Townsend explains in a Bugzilla issue tracker. Additionally, user research found little to no perceived user benefit to the feature and so there is no intent to continue development on it at this time. As the feature is costing us time in terms of bug triage and keeping it around is sending the wrong signal that this is a supported feature, we are going to remove the feature from Firefox.

As you might expect, Townsend got a lot of pushback from users in the post, and I’ll point out that there’s no way to gauge user benefit or interest unless you make this feature easily discoverable in the browser. But whatever, Mozilla is walking away from a key tenet of modern web apps and, in doing so, they are making themselves irrelevant.

Paul Thurrott

Curiously though, Mozilla always manages to find time to redesign the browser in small and inconsequential ways every other year. You would think at some point management might reconsider their priorities…

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