I’m Funding Ladybird Because I Can’t Fund Firefox

Posted on July 6, 2024

by Jack Kelly

I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while, but the announcement of the
Ladybird Browser Initiative
makes now a particularly good time.

TL;DR: Chrome is eating the web. I have wanted to
help fund a serious alternative browser for quite some time, and while
Firefox remains the largest potential alternative, Mozilla has never let
me. Since I can’t fund Firefox, I’m going to show there’s money in
user-funded web browsers by funding Ladybird instead. You
should too.

Why Browser Diversity

An open web requires a healthy ecosystem of several competing
browsers, where each has enough market share that no one vendor has de
facto control over web standards. That’s the world we used to have,
after Firefox cracked the dominance of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer
(IE) in the 1990s. IE’s poor support for internet standards held back
web development all through the late 1990s and early 2000s, and
competition from Firefox allowed developers to build “for the web”
instead of “for IE6”, forcing browser vendors to catch up.

Unfortunately, we are back in a world without healthy browser
claims that Chrome, Google’s browser, has over 65% market share. Add
Edge (which uses Blink, Chrome’s browser engine, under the hood) and
you’re over 70%. This market dominance allows Google to push through
changes like its “Manifest V3” format for browser extensions, which
coincidentally cripples ad

Sidebar: Ad companies had their chance

While a discussion of the economics of ad-supported sites is outside
the scope of this post, someone will ask “don’t you like free things on
the internet?” if I don’t address it first.

Online advertising has become so obnoxious that ad blockers are
all-but-necessary for users to get anything done online. More than that,
I feel obliged to install ad blockers on family computers that I
support: skipping all those megabytes of random advertising JavaScript
significantly extends the lifespan of older computers and stops my
less-technical family members from being tricked into installing fake
malware versions of software. Even
the FBI recommends ad blockers

Sorry, the online advertising industry had its chance, and they blew it.

This is also the case for other user-hostile features like “Encrypted
Media Extensions” (aka “DRM for the web”). A healthy browser ecosystem
would have been able to vigorously push against features that take
control from the users; instead, Mozilla
in the hopes of maintaining Firefox market share but didn’t
even get that.

Why won’t Mozilla let me
Fund Firefox?

According to the Mozilla Foundation’s Donation
, “Firefox is maintained by the Mozilla Corporation, a
wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation. While Firefox does
produce revenue — chiefly through search partnerships — this earned
income is largely reinvested back into the Corporation”. “Search
partnerships” means “Google”, who made up 81% of
Mozilla Corporation’s revenue in 2022
. This means Firefox’s primary
revenue source is also their direct competitor, and they seem to have
little ability to change that.

Mozilla has backed themselves into a very poor position. In recent
years, Mozilla Corporation has made several controversial moves in
pursuit of revenue. Off the top of my head, there was the Mr. Robot
, automatically loaded into people’s browsers to advertise a TV
show; sponsored
links in the address bar
; sponsored
“top sites” on the “new tab” page
a reading list startup called
“Pocket”, integrated
into Firefox without warning
; and a Mozilla VPN service, complete
with in-browser
pop-up ads
. Cal Paterson has another good list.
Meanwhile, Firefox market share falls and the outgoing
Mozilla Corporation CEO
gets paid millions (6.9
million USD in 2022
— see page 8).

The problem is that many people specifically use Firefox because
they’re sick of advertising and cross-promotion everywhere and want a
browser that’s “just a browser”. On top of that, silently installing
addons like the Mr. Robot extension undermine user trust in one of the
most sensitive software projects people use.

Despite desperately trying to find more revenue sources, Mozilla
Corporation stubbornly refuses to just let users fund Firefox.
Mozilla Foundation even has a specific donation form for Thunderbird
(Mozilla’s mail client), but not Firefox. I’m sure they could have found
some way of making it work with their corporate structure, and it
baffles me that they haven’t.


Ladybird used to be the web browser for SerenityOS, a from-scratch hobby
operating system written by Andreas Kling (and community). On 2024-06-03
(about a month ago), he forked Ladybird into a separate project
and stepped
away from SerenityOS
. Presumably this was prep-work to launch the Ladybird Browser Initiative, a
non-profit dedicated to building the rest of the browser.

They are very open that the browser is unfinished — the first alpha
release is planned for 2026. But they have running code, and I can
actually help fund them. Wesley Moore runs
some numbers
in a similar post to this one, and concludes that 15
USD/month (~22.50 AUD in July 2024) is a good amount for a recurring
donation. I’m in; are you?

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