Three years after launching Test Pilot to try out potential new built-in Firefox features with fans, Mozilla has decided to end the program.
Test Pilot allowed Firefox developers to collect data on experimental features to understand if they're popular and how people are using them.
The data collection helped Firefox developers quickly and cheaply test and validate concepts before deciding whether or not to ship a new feature in Firefox. In that time Mozilla also overhauled Firefox's architecture to deliver Firefox Quantum in 2017.
Test Pilot experiments included Send, for sending ephemeral and encrypted files from Chrome or Firefox, the email Firefox tool Email Tabs, Screenshots, and Firefox Lockbox, an iOS app for accessing logins saved in Firefox.
Announcing Test Pilot's closure, Mozilla said the program "performed better than we could have ever imagined".
While it seems counterintuitive to end a program that was successful, John Gruen, a Mozilla product manager for Firefox Test Pilot, explains in a Medium post that the program has done its job of changing Mozilla's culture and had grown too big.
The Test Pilot browser add-on and website will be "flying off into the sunset on January 22, 2019", notes Gruen.
Gruen says Test Pilot started when Mozilla lacked a way to rapidly release new Firefox features or get timely feedback. Now Mozilla has a "culture of experiments" where prototyping and lightweight validation techniques are commonly used.
"The company at large has learned a ton about privacy-respecting research, prototyping and product experimentation, and we're no longer dependent on one team to drive these practices. As 2019 progresses, expect to see more opportunity to experiment with and participate in the development of new products at Mozilla," writes Gruen.
Besides helping change Mozilla's culture, Gruen says there are now too many projects for a single team to handle, and not enough resources to manage them.
"Relative to other browser vendors, Mozilla is a small company that punches well above its weight. We don't have a massive surplus of engineers, designers, and product managers lying around in storage," he writes.
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The other shift that's occurred in that time is that Test Pilot increasingly became a testing ground for services that work outside Firefox rather than features for Firefox.
Gruen cites Firefox Send, Firefox Lockbox and the Firefox Monitor data-breach alert service as key examples of services that go beyond Firefox browser features.
None of them relies on Firefox to function, but they do align with Mozilla's goals on reaching new users by offering services that prioritize privacy, security, and user control. He says to expect "significant launches" for both Lockbox and Send in the near future.
"These types of projects represent a new set of opportunities to expand our brand. As they take up more and more of our time, maintaining a standalone platform for feature experimentation in the Firefox browser becomes more difficult to justify," explains Gruen.
One thing that hasn't changed over that time is Mozilla Corporation's reliance on royalties earned through Firefox users when they use Google search.
As per Mozilla's recently released financial statements for 2017, more than 89 percent of its $562m in income that year came from search-engine royalties, much of it from Google. Under 'Concentration of Risks', Mozilla notes that search-engine royalty agreements expire in November 2020.
Users running Test Pilot Firefox add-ons will be automatically migrated off Test Pilot versions of them. Send and Lockbox will continue to be actively developed in 2019 as standalone products, according to Gruen.
Previous and related coverage
More than a year after announcing its intention to make usability and feature testing easier and more consistent, Mozilla has released its Test Pilot browser plug-in
Mozilla has launched the Test Pilot program to let users of stable Firefox try out and provide feedback on proposed new features.
Mozilla is testing out a new recommender system but it will share your web browsing history with a third party.
Mozilla's latest version of its Firefox web browser gets a performance boost from a privacy feature.
Firefox Quantum will test whether Mozilla's efforts to modernize its browser can pay off.
Thunderbird developers promise to make the neglected open-source email client easier to use.
Too bad fewer people are using Mozilla's web browser.