By the Full Moon’s Light

The Beast stumbled in the dark for it could no longer see the path. It started to fracture and weaken, trying to reshape itself into the form of metal.
Even the witches would no longer lay eyes upon it, for it had become hideous and twisted.

The soul of the Beast seemed lost forever.

Then, by the full moon‘s light, a child was born; a child with the unbridled soul of the Beast that would make all others pale in comparison.

from the Chronicles of the Pale Moon, 24:2

about:palemoon

Mozilla has made too many mistakes. It all started with putting tabs on top and getting rid of the status bar in Firefox 4. It wasn’t much of a big deal back then because the functionality could be brought back with an option and a recommended add-on, respectively. Things all changed when Mozilla announced that a new look, called Australis, had landed in Firefox Nightly.


Australis on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows

Australis

Even though Mozilla denies it, it seems quite obvious that they’ve been heavily influenced by Google Chrome. Customization is highly restricted compared to the previous interface, and many features have been removed to make the browser slightly more restrictive. Considering I have numerous add-ons enabled (more than 65) to make my browser look and act like Firefox 2 to a large extent, Australis is unacceptable. Just so I wouldn’t be putting it down without trying it, I installed Firefox Nightly and tried it out; even after installing Classic Theme Restorer, it made me cry.

Since then, I’ve had more motivation to migrate to another browser. I knew it was going to be tough, because nothing else compares to Firefox, especially in customizability. I had previously tried looking for another browser when Mozilla announced Firefox was switching to the RapidRelease scheme (yet another thing inspired by Chrome. I hate to say it, but IE is the only major browser to have legitimately reached a two-digit version number). Thankfully, Mozilla decided to create an ESR (Extended Support Release) channel for large organizations who want something that doesn’t change too drastically too often. Until Firefox 10, I was still using v3.6; I switched to the ESR channel with Firefox 17, and had been using Firefox 24 ESR when Fx17 ESR was no longer supported.

Firefox ESR Timeline

Firefox ESR Timeline

Being on the ESR channel meant that I wouldn’t be hit with Australis until support for Fx24 ESR ends on October 14, 2014, but I knew that I would only have until then to find another browser.

Back in my previous search, I tried out SeaMonkey, the official fork of the Mozilla Application Suite, ancestor to Firefox and Thunderbird. This was my first choice for an alternate browser because I would be going back to Firefox’s roots, with the interface of “the good-ol’ days” but with the modern page-rendering advantages. Before Firefox, I actually used the Mozilla Application Suite. In addition, using SeaMonkey would allow me to stop using Thunderbird because it has an integrated mail client (hence “Application Suite”; Firefox and Thunderbird are the result of separating the suite into its components). Unfortunately, many of the add-ons which gave me functionality that I had become accustomed to would not install in SeaMonkey without doing a little hacking in the add-ons’ manifest files, and I was not willing to do that, especially since I would have to do it for many of my add-ons, and possibly every time the add-ons would update.

SeaMonkey logo

SeaMonkey

One of the browsers that I came across early in my search was Lunascape. It had many appealing features, including the ability to switch rendering engines (Trident, Gecko and WebKit) on the fly. Lunascape also supports addons from both Internet Explorer and Firefox. Unfortunately, I found it to be a little clunky to use, and it would crash every so often. Furthermore, to my knowledge, it’s proprietary freeware and not available for Linux (running under Wine is out of the question). Lunascape was not what I was looking for.

Lunascape

Lunascape

Over and over, I kept hearing of recommendations for Pale Moon. Pale Moon started off as a bit of an optimized build of Firefox for Windows, including a 64-bit version which Mozilla does not offer, plus with good features retained which were removed by Mozilla. Eventually, it considered itself a fork and went on its own way. It seemed highly suitable, especially since all the reviews I’ve read about it all praised it. I would have loved to switch, but there was one thing that held me back: it was only available for Windows. I disappointingly discounted it as an option.

Pale Moon

Pale Moon

Earlier in May, an article on gHacks caught my eye: “Pale Moon author confirms that browser will not ship with EME, ads or Australis”. Highly appealing, indeed. Keeping the thought in mind that it was only available for Windows, I read on.

The article surprised me: it said “[Pale Moon] is available [...] for Linux.” Considering that Pale Moon was optimized for Windows, I did not expect to hear about a Linux version. Even thought it was on gHacks, I still had some doubt, so I went over to the Pale Moon website, and sure enough, there was a Linux version.

Apparently, the first Linux version appeared late January, early February. Having been a few months, I was sure that someone would have submitted it to the Arch User Repository, and indeed, someone did. I installed it and copied my Firefox profile.

Even on my first run, I was very pleased with it. V. T. Eric Layton’s first experience with Pale Moon more or less sums up my first experience: almost seamless, and it appeared to be less resource-intensive. I had planned to transition from Firefox to Pale Moon within two weeks; I switched over completely in three days.

Even better, I was able to get rid of some of the add-ons that I used to restore all that lost functionality because they are retained in Pale Moon.

All in all, I’m very pleased with Pale Moon, and I highly recommend it. Something that would make me want to recommend it even more is if it had a Mac OS X version. I’m sure that someone will make a build by October when the next ESR version is released, but then again, the new Firefox fits right in with the Mac look and paradigm anyway.

Just to be fair to Australis, I tried customizing it for a bit. Thankfully, my Firefox 2 theme and Status-4-Evar are now Australis-compatible, so some of the most jarring elements of Australis were fixed. After that, I figured it would be a waste of my time and effort to go any further.

I’m sorry, Mozilla. Firefox has served me well, but it’s time to admire the pale moon’s light.

Mozilla: In Memoriam

Dedicated to the tireless developers who have come and gone.
To those who have put their heart and soul into Mozilla products.
To those who have seen their good intentions and hard work squandered.
To those who really cared about the user, and cared about usability.
To those who truly understood us and desired freedom, but were unheard.
To those who knew that change is inevitable, but loss of vision is not.
To those who were forced to give up the good fight.

Thank you. Pale Moon would not have been possible without you.

Pale Moon about:mozilla


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3 comments
  1. This is a very helpful post which surely mirrors the experience that thousands of other longtime Firefox users have had with v. 29 and Australis..

    Mozilla seems to be chaffing under the weight of its own backwards compatibility — so 1990s. The foundation may believe it needs to make a clean break with the past so as to move forward — it worked for Apple, right?

    Open source should protect users like you and me by making it possible for variations based on the source code such as Pale Moon and so far so good.

    Note that I didn’t refer to it as a fork. Pale Moon is built using Firefox ESR — currently on v. 24. It remains to seen what will happen in Octoper when ESR 24 is replaced by ESR 31 with the Australis UI.

    Mozilla seems pleased to say Ausralis is so “baked-in” that Pale Moon won’t be able to take it out of the code. While Pale Moon’s developers are publicly firm in their intention to avoid Australis.

    If Pale Moon manages it to stay truly Australis-free after October 2014, that should mean the developers made the jump to being a real fork — but that’s a big jump.. They appear to be a very small team and I don’t think Mozilla’s going to make it easy for them.

    • I find Australis to be change for change’s sake, probably to “make a clean break with the past” (as you put it). Change for change’s sake is never a good thing. The reason why it may have worked for Apple is because of the difference in community: Apple caters to the less-technical, and the less-technical will often willingly accept any change because they don’t know any better.

      One of the reasons why I like open source is that when you don’t like something in an open source program, you’re free to change it. Chances are, you’re not the only one who feels that way, and someone will make a fork. As you pointed out, this is the case for Firefox and Pale Moon.

      Indeed there is some debate about whether Pale Moon is truly a fork. Even though Pale Moon is currently based on 24 ESR, it maintains its own release schedule and includes some significant differences. Plus, the developer considers it a fork. For these reasons, I consider it a proper fork.
      Do remember that a fork is allowed to borrow code from its parent project if its developers choose to do so.

      After October, will it stay on the 24 ESR codebase, or will it ship with the code from the Classic Theme Restorer integrated into the browser as some have speculated? It probably won’t be the latter, and I hope that the developers will figure out how to not stay stuck in 24 ESR, but only time will tell. That, or figure it out ourselves and contribute to the project.

      As David Wheeler points out, there are four outcomes of a fork: death of the fork, remerging of the two projects, death of the original, and successful branching. The first and fourth are the most likely, and for our benefit, hopefully it’s the fourth.

      • I agree with all you’ve said. Pale Moon is a case of open source working.

        I think Mozilla is acting as though they are not open source or at least like they don’t want to be.

        Darn big bullies is what they’re being!

        I should add how satisfied I have been with Pale Moon.

        So far I have only encountered one website Pale Moon couldn’t handle properly — a City of Vancouver database site — and that might be be due to the ESR24 version flag (something discussed in Pale Moon Forums).

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