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All "Modern" Web Browsers Are OSPS (Proprietary in 'Open' Clothing)

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Dec 23, 2023,
updated Dec 23, 2023

Remember IceWeasel? Maybe we need LibreWolf this time around.

After Snow Storm

LOOK at what Firefox has become. Is it much more "open" than Chromium? As shipped (or packaged/compiled), is it a lot more freedom-respecting than Google Chrome? Keep wishing.

Firefox is on fire. It's burning. It leaves users scarred if not charred. Your wise momma always told you, "don't play with fire!"(fox)

I'd like to precede or start this rant/article by speaking of this general phenomenon, which extends beyond browsers and beyond the Web. In the past we kept referring to it as OSPS, which stands for Open Source Proprietary Software - a concept related to openwashing. See "OSPS" in the IRC logs or in search engines. A lot has been said about this already. We need not repeat what was covered in the past.

Code complexity is anathema to "security", an associate reminds us. Complexity is also anathema to software freedom. That is because it imposes artificial barriers to being able to study and modify the code. With enough complexity, it imposes barriers even to using it as one cannot even compile it alone.

How many people out there 1) compile Firefox and 2) know how to compile it?

Veteran developers of GNU/Linux distros repeatedly reported that it is very difficult to compile Chromium as well, especially in one-person teams. It can take a whole day to compile (or fail to compile) on older PCs. It takes a lot of RAM and disk space.

So much of a fat chance or prospect for a rookie user to attempt the same...

That's not to say that every user should study the code and then follow instructions to compile it. The problem is, usually there is only one company that truly understands the code, controls the code, and knows what it does. It's almost always being developed so fast (very frequent releases that aren't even truly stable) that nobody can keep up. Welcome to OSPS. Other examples include not just systemd but also Linux.

But today's rant focuses on Firefox.

Why?

Because people online keep insisting that it's "open" and benign, among other things. Maybe it was, over a decade ago...

Things have changed and continue to change. We need to keep up with the times...

Our wiki about these issues at Mozilla is a bit out of date because we upgraded the site and we're still not updating those old pages. "Privacy", "Mismanagement" and many other aspects are covered there.

Earlier today in IRC Ryan pointed out that "you can absolutely take some FSF-approved OS and start adding Google Chrome and firmware blobs and anything you want to."

MinceR responded to him by saying "they aren't allowed to have nonfree software in any of the repos of the package manager (even optional ones), unless RMS/FSF was paid to promote that particular nonfree software (like systemd, for example)..."

MinceR alluded to Microsoft's and IBM's OSPS, which nobody but them can control. It's a monopolised component, more or less centralised, and it is controlled (developed) using Microsoft servers, Microsoft's proprietary wares, and you probably cannot contribute anything to it without a Microsoft account.

MinceR went further by saying that "if RMS/FSF were paid to promote that particular piece of nonfree software, then it's encouraged to have it installed by default, and prevented from being uninstalled... interesting how that works."

systemd is OSPS and RMS almost never criticises IBM. Earlier this year the FSF was preparing to issue a statement about what IBM had done to RHEL (likely in violation of the GPL), but at the end FSF staff chickened out and said nothing at all. Weeks ago the IBM-led CoC infestation spread even further inside GNU.

systemd is just one example of monocultures spread by monopolies by insisting that these monocultures are "open" and thus beyond criticism.

What about Mozilla's Firefox? I've just had another go at it. I've used it for nearly 20 years. I was an early adopter.

But now?

Just look at it! Spyware.

Never use Firefox/Mozilla stuff like "Pocket". It should in fact be renamed "PACKET" because it sends loads of packets with personal data about you. Information about your browsing gets sent to a 'mother ship' controlled by GAFAM and its appendages, owing to a THREE-LETTER agency kinship. Firefox is, technically speaking, mostly open source spyware or OSPS.

Pen and ink vintage style portrait of a wolf

Yes, "open source spyware" is a thing. One might say, if you have the code, then you can remove the spying. Indeed, some developers have. That's why LibreWolf, for instance, still exists. It has many users, my wife among them.

Maybe it's time to elevate it. What have GNU/Linux and BSD OSes (operating systems) have to lose by preloading LibreWolf instead of Firefox? Heck, Ubuntu had "abrowser" and Debian had "IceWeasel". Mozilla will never learn or improve until it sheds off some "products" (that's how they view Firefox users) to spy on. Currently, Firefox as preloaded or shipped (or downloaded) is undeniably spyware. Well, how much spying? That's up for debate... if the spyware gets removed, then you can no longer call it Firefox (that's a trademark conflict/violation).

Saying you can make a Firefox that does not spy on the user (e.g. LibreWolf) is a bit like arguing you can mitigate some damage, hence the damage is "OK". Mozilla is acting more like a cult, not a real company, certainly not like a bunch of honest grown-ups. They hired too many rogues from disinformation companies (Twitter, Facebook, to name a couple) and from Microsoft.

Yes, Microsoft!

It would be fair to say that Firefox is not even a Web browser anymore. It's a webapp runtime, akin to a VM, that uses HTTP/S sockets for downstream/upstream data. Why would people choose this over applications that run natively (locally, offline)? Fetishism? Trends? Peer pressure? Overtly buzzwords-filled marketing messages?

Like Purism, Mozilla also tried to push social control media-like features into new tabs, in effect inheriting a Facebook behaviour from the people Mozilla hired directly from Facebook (the company where Firefox's original developer had gone to work for).

Firefox is still the same in name. But it's not the same in its nature. Firefox was already 'reinventing' itself as a part-time "media player" when it signed a patent agreement with MPEG-LA over a decade ago. Firefox is not a browser per se, it's a bloated application that can also render actual Web pages. They said Netscape lost its way when Netscape/Navigator had added Communicator and page composition, but nowadays Firefox is more or less the same. Their built-in non-extensions (that you cannot remove) are not what most users really need or ever needed. They removed RSS features, such as Live Bookmarks, based on 'telemetry' data they got from spyware they had installed on people's PCs (it is called "Firefox"). Firefox even stopped signalling that a page you are on has an RSS feed (or feeds). Little by little, albeit surely, RSS is being hidden, for it is a gradual elimination - a plan to purge and herd people elsewhere. This totally seems like something Google asked Mozilla to do and Baker said or mumbled "OK" because she was being paid millions of dollars every year, epecially for this kind of irrational docility. Not only did Mozilla stop fighting for the open Web. It actively works to break it, speaking/spewing lies from the other side of the mouth. Push DRM, then tell us about "open"? Add spyware, then celebrate privacy?

The Web is not an information platform, but HTTP can relay some information, e.g. RSS to text files. With a "modern" Firefox they keep bombarding the poor users with noise. Even ads inside new tabs. Now, without any substance left on offer/sale, half the blog posts from Mozilla are "HEY HI" (AI) something, i.e. white ALLOW noise. The marketing spiel is shallow, weak, and unconvincing.

Meanwhile, Thunderbird's stagnant "development" has become an act of amputation, not development. First they made all the useful extensions incompatible ('obsolete') and now they just strip off useful features from the core too. No "security" reasons can be cited for this! The rendering engine is by far your weakest link and it is inherited from the "webapp" runtime some people call a "Web browser" (Firefox). Why does a mail client need some very advanced rendering engine anyway? What for? Is that what E-mail is supposed to be for? Browsers are for browsing, E-mail is not a Web page. It should not be.

We suppose Mozilla won't rest (and/or die) until Thunderbird and Firefox are useless, limiting, limited, locked down "apps" with a hamburger menu and little to be found under it. They insist that users are very dumb and and thus we should give them dumb tools and dub those tools "Smart". Next thing is, what exactly??? Maybe they will call it "GENERATIVE AI". Amazing! Firefox can now generate a derivative (plagiarised) photo, they might tell us. "LOOK, WE ARE AHEAD!"

What does that have to do with a browser? Firefox can generate sentences that sound plausible? What practical use though? Voice recognition? Accessibility features like these should not be at the browser level.

"Open" "AI" is now reportedly looking for money because it's losing money like crazy and it needs someone to absorb/shoulder the losses. It was in the news today. Maybe a subject for a separate article...

Clip Art Wolf Illustration

So anyway, Firefox is not the thing I adopted 2 decades ago. Times change, things become more bloated, surveillance becomes "the norm" (fast connections mean that the users don't notice any slowdowns due to it), and here we are pretending that something that runs over the Web is "cross-platform"... provided you run one of several proprietary browsers (or OSPS).

Some of us in Gemini yearn for the early years of the Web. Dial-up modems meant people paid for phone calls (to use the Web browser, IRC and so on), which meant that time on the Net needed to be budgeted not only metaphorically. People had better online-offline balance for financial reasons. It was a form of "online tax", regulating against excessive "screen time". With stuff like Pocket, however, Mozilla is trying to do the opposite. It's wasting your time and selling you to sponsors.

Free/libre operating systems should consider culling 'the fox' and replacing it with the wolf. Remember that DuckDuckGo is a Microsoft proxy and Microsofters inside Mozilla might explain why Firefox development was outsourced to Microsoft.

"In one piece of mail people were suggesting that Office had to work equally well with all browsers and that we shouldn’t force Office users to use our browser. This Is wrong and I wanted to correct this."

--Bill Gates [PDF]

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