Looking to the future after 10 years of Firefox

TechRadar Pro: How many devices do you have Firefox installed on?

Johnathan Nightingale: I have my work laptop, my home PC and I've always got some phones and tablets on the go; I am relatively digital. But I've actually installed Firefox on hundreds of devices.

Even before I started working for Mozilla, I was a big fan of Firefox and what it represents so I was one of those people who go into a computer store and install Firefox on all the laptops on display. I don't know if that's welcome or not but I do it! We hear from our fans all the time that they do it too because they want people to have a choice, they believe in what we are doing and they understand it.

TRP: Why is customisation important to you?

JN: Firefox is fast and safe and fun. It is all of those things out-of-the-box. You don't need to do a thing to it. But when we talk to our users, they tell us that our individuality and our independence is something they value. We value our users' individuality in return.

So, customisation is important because we want to make it as easy as possible for you to get your browser working the way you want. It's about giving you the ability to express that choice, whether you want to customise by applying a theme or deeply changing the functionality of your browser by applying a number of add-ons or configuring your preferences.

You spend more time in your browser than any other piece of software or any other interface in your life. So to us, it makes sense that yes, you should be able to grab that and move it around.

Earlier this year we released a version of Firefox that made customisation even easier because we wanted to invite more people to do it. The customise button is the only part of the menu that you can't cut out of your browser! We believe that it should always be possible to alter your browser. That is a central value of ours.

TRP: How have you customised your Firefox?

JN: My browser is where I live – and it shows! I thoroughly customised it with add-ons and my own personal preferences and I also change it up a fair bit depending on what I am working on.

When I am engaged in a planning process, I'll reconfigure things and find an add-on that puts my tabs on the side so I can manage them more easily, or I'll move to multiple windows and start using tab spaces. When I am ready to work on something else, I will reconfigure it again.

I'm one of those people who hoard tabs – I have hundreds of tabs, so every once in a while, I'll reorganise those.

TRP: What is your favourite Firefox add-on?

JN: I'm really excited about things that give people extra visibility into their web experience. People are smart and they want to understand the way the internet works and the fact is, it's complicated.

Our job is to make that easier for you to understand and control, which is why I use add-ons like Lightbeam, which we built at Mozilla. It shows you how the websites you visit track you and interact with your data, and it sheds some light on which third-party sites can access your data based on the first website you visited.

We are not the only ones who are exploring how to make the state of the web more visible to you and I get really excited by that. There are other add-ons including Privacy Badger and Ghostery that are working on relaying the same set of concepts.

These are also the add-ons I recommend anytime someone asks me about online data and online privacy. It is always interesting to see people's reactions when they run with one of those add-ons for a while – they start to get a clearer sense of how they are being tracked. It causes new questions to come up and invariably makes people feel different about some of the sites they visit and the tools those sites use to keep track of them.

TRP: When you are not working, do you use Firefox for web gaming?

JN: Yes. I've been using the web for gaming in different ways over the years. The games I am playing this year are better than the games I was playing a couple of years ago and the games I will play next year are going to be incredible.

What I'm excited about is what has become possible when it comes to gaming on the web. Games used to be seen as one of the last bastions of downloaded software – a game would only work if you install it on your machine or console and run it locally. In October, Mozilla released a package of eight web games with Humble Bundle. What you see there is the ability to play big, rich, interactive, plugin-free games on the web, without downloading or installing anything.

This is becoming more possible because of the work we are doing to make JavaScript perform really well and to make it really easy for game developers to port their existing code over to JavaScript and the web. That work ties to what we're doing in the graphics acceleration space with WebGL, which makes it possible to make beautiful things online.

We unlocked the web so game developers could take advantage of it in the same way most other kinds of apps have for the last 10 years. Because of this, we are seeing major game engines look more closely at the web as a platform for gaming.

The web is an exciting place for game developers to be, because on the web, distribution is trivial and you don't have to convince people to install things. Game developers are starting to realise that the time has come for them to say: 'I want this game to be available on the PC, on Xbox and the web'.

TRP: How important has the work of the volunteer community been over the past 10 years?

JN: Our global community of volunteers is very much the lifeblood of a lot of our engineering work. Approximately 500 people worked on Firefox 33, and more than half of those contributors were volunteers.

On top of that, Firefox is available in 90 languages thanks to the work of hundreds of localisation volunteers. It is a humbling and incredibly powerful experience to be in a room of people who are not paid, who spend their time looking at everything we have built in Firefox, taking all of the text that goes along with that, looking at all of the assumptions about how you write numbers and how you express different concepts, making it work in their own language and delivering that. Our community of volunteers is the heart of what we do.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.