Mozilla has been in the news quite a lot over the last few months. This time the organization is being hammered by open source advocates for adding Adobe DRM to Firefox. One such article recently appeared on ITWire where the author of the article accused the Mozilla Foundation of base hypocrisy by deciding to add DRM to Firefox while projecting an air of noble dedication on other issues related to its values.
The Mozilla Foundation appears to be capable of blowing hot and cold when it suits them. On Wednesday, it announced that it would be including digital restrictions (or rights, if you prefer) management in Firefox via code from Adobe.
The DRM is meant to support the playing of video streams from places like Netflix; Mozilla’s argument is that other browsers like Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome support it already and that it does not want its users to be forced to use another browser if they want to watch such streams.
If you haven’t seen it already, you should take a peek at Mozilla’s blog entry about DRM to get their side of the issue. It lays out pretty clearly what the reasoning was behind this decision, and it also laments having to do it in the first place.
The industry is on the cusp of a new mechanism for deploying DRM. (Until now, browsers have enabled DRM indirectly via Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight products.) The new version of DRM uses the acronyms “EME” and “CDM.” At Mozilla we think this new implementation contains the same deep flaws as the old system. It doesn’t strike the correct balance between protecting individual people and protecting digital content. The content providers require that a key part of the system be closed source, something that goes against Mozilla’s fundamental approach.
We very much want to see a different system. Unfortunately, Mozilla alone cannot change the industry on DRM at this point. In the past Firefox has changed the industry, and we intend to do so again. Today, however, we cannot cause the change we want regarding DRM. The other major browser vendors — Google, Microsoft and Apple — have already implemented the new system. In addition, the old system will be retired shortly. As a result, the new implementation of DRM will soon become the only way browsers can provide access to DRM-controlled content.
Firefox: A browser in decline?
But did the folks at Mozilla really have a choice when it comes adding DRM? An open source project like Mozilla is not immune to market pressures. And with so many competing browsers such as Chrome adding DRM for Netflix, etc. how could Firefox avoid adding it? Is it realistic to think that Firefox can simply ignore such things? I don’t think so and the reason why is in Firefox’s usage numbers over the last few years.
Image credit: W3Counter
I did a bit of searching for browser usage numbers, and it seems like Firefox use has been slipping while Chrome use has gone up significantly. You can take a peek for yourself by checking out the Wikipedia article on browser usage numbers, which has a number of different sources over time. And you can also check out the W3Counter site for additional information.
DRM was Mozilla’s only real choice…for now
So what choice did Mozilla really have except to follow in the footsteps of Chrome? I’d argue that it really didn’t have any choice. Yes, it would have been better if Firefox could have remained aloof from the entire DRM thing. But Firefox does not exist in a vacuum, it has a lot of other browsers it competes with for users. So it has to be on par with other browsers if it is going to survive over time, and that means sometimes having to go against the open source philosophy of its roots.
This does not, however, mean that Firefox has to include it forever. Much depends on the industry itself. If enough people can force a change that is included in competing browsers then I think Mozilla will be one of the first to dump DRM as soon as they can. It’s obvious from the Mozilla blog entry that the organization is doing this very reluctantly because there seems to be no alternative if Firefox is going to retain its appeal among millions of users.
Now I know that some will say that Firefox will actually lose more users than it will gain or keep by adding DRM. I tend to doubt that though because not everybody who uses Firefox is an open source advocate. My guess is that most Firefox users will remain oblivious to the open source issues surrounding DRM in their browser. They may never even realize that it’s there as they use Firefox on their computers.
And I have not seen anything to indicate that Chrome and the other browsers that have added DRM have lost any users. Chrome’s market share still seems to be growing. So why would the average user abandon Firefox just because of DRM? And if they did which browser would they move to? Certainly not Chrome or the other major browsers that have added DRM too. DRM is going to be pretty much everywhere they look unless they opt for an off-the-beaten-path browser.
Mozilla’s recent PR problems
This isn’t the first time Mozilla has been vilified in the media recently. The Brendan Eich controversy gave the organization a huge black eye among many developers and users. People were shocked that Eich has been put in charge of Mozilla and many vowed to stop using Firefox until he was removed.
After Mozilla weathered that storm, along came Firefox 29 and the drama floodgates were opened all over again as many Firefox users quickly came to loathe the interface changes in Firefox 29. I did a column about it and it got more than 100 comments from irate Firefox users.
And now, of course, we have Adobe’s DRM being added to Firefox. Talk about adding fuel to the fire! It makes me wonder if the folks at Mozilla are just gluttons for punishment. Maybe they need to hire some kind of PR firm to help them carefully navigate these nasty situations? Whoever they hire couldn’t possibly do any worse than what’s already happened to Mozilla over the last year or so.
What’s your take on DRM in Firefox? Will you stick with Firefox or dump it? Tell me in the comments below.