Firefox 85 is Here, But Mozilla is Killing PWA Features

Posted on January 27, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Mozilla Firefox with 67 Comments

Mozilla released Firefox 85 this week, adding protections against so-called supercookies. But it’s also taking a major step back from Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which makes this browser a lot less interesting and useful.

“At Mozilla, we believe you have a right to privacy,” the Firefox 85 announcement post notes. “You shouldn’t be tracked online. Whether you are checking your bank balance, looking for the best doctor, or shopping for shoes, unscrupulous tracking companies should not be able to track you as you browse the Web. For that reason, we are continuously working to harden Firefox against online tracking of our users.”

On that note, Firefox 85 now protects users against supercookies, which Mozilla says is “a type of tracker that can stay hidden in your browser and track you online, even after you clear cookies. By isolating supercookies, Firefox prevents them from tracking your web browsing from one site to the next.” It also includes small improvements to bookmarks and password management.

Unfortunately, Mozilla has separately—and much more quietly—stopped work on the Site Specific Browser (SSB) functionality that I highlighted a few weeks ago. This feature allowed users to use Firefox to create apps on the local PC from PWAs and other web apps, similar to the functionality provided in Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and other Chromium-based web browsers.

“The SSB feature has only ever been available through a hidden [preference] and has multiple known bugs,” Mozilla’s Dave Townsend explains in a Bugzilla issue tracker. “Additionally, user research found little to no perceived user benefit to the feature and so there is no intent to continue development on it at this time. As the feature is costing us time in terms of bug triage and keeping it around is sending the wrong signal that this is a supported feature, we are going to remove the feature from Firefox.”

As you might expect, Townsend got a lot of pushback from users in the post, and I’ll point out that there’s no way to gauge user benefit or interest unless you make this feature easily discoverable in the browser. But whatever, Mozilla is walking away from a key tenet of modern web apps and, in doing so, they are making themselves irrelevant.

“There is currently no plan for PWA support in Firefox,” Townsend finally blurts out in response to one complaint.

Well, there you go. There is likewise currently no plan to ever recommend or use Firefox ever again.

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Comments (73)

73 responses to “Firefox 85 is Here, But Mozilla is Killing PWA Features”

  1. LT1 Z51

    Why do we care so much about PWAs?


    To me You have Applications or Websites. I don't want a Website that's wrapped up to be a pretend application. That's one of the dumbest ideas ever. PWAs should be banished to the great tech garbage pile of the past with things like Active Desktop.

    • Paul Thurrott

      PWAs are real applications that really work across multiple platforms, really adapt to the unique capabilities of each platform, and can offer many native platform features. That's why. They're not "pretend applications" and they are most certainly not a dumb idea.
      • LT1 Z51

        In reply to paul-thurrott:


        Can I run a PWA in a browser tab? Sorry that's not an application. I'm old school here, an application is somehting I install and runs on either a common run-time (like .NET or Java) or runs natively on the PC (like Win32). Can websites have application like features or run server side scripts? Sure, but that's not an application. It's an extension of a web browser. Reskinning functionality that can work in a regular browser tab isn't cool, it's lame and a waste of time. Just make the browser better.


        Further, other than on this website (and other tech websites) I've never seen PWAs mentioned or even advertized. My 70 year old parents don't know what they are (granted they barely understand what a web browser is) but that's the vast majority of users. Clueless (and happier for it).

        • Paul Thurrott

          You're not old school, you're just misinformed. Browser tabs can do all kinds of things that aren't just about reading text and looking at pictures. They can host real, full-featured apps too. Sorry you don't get this. But that doesn't make it untrue.
          • LT1 Z51

            In reply to paul-thurrott:


            I don't think how you and I define application is identical. To me the term "browser tabs hosting an application" is incorrect as the browser is the application. An application can stand alone, anything that needs a browser to "render" the information (regardless of what's going on in the background). I get that people call these things applications for lack of better terminology, but technically speaking it's incorrect usage of the word those "applications" can't work by them selves.


            Fundamentally, unless you consider the browser rendering engine to be part of the operating system (like Chrome OS does), "applications" that rely on HTML and associated technologies (front end or back end) that must be rendered by a "browser" aren't true applications. In fact calling them PWAs is wrong (or using the term web apps in general) because none of them are client side apps. A server hosted app isn't an app. Not to me, it might be an app to the server, but on the client, no way, needs a browser. The browser is the app.

        • jparnell

          In reply to LT1 Z51:


          You have a few things I'd like to address here, across multiple comments. If you'd like the TL;DR, it's a quote from Luke Skywalker:


          "Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong".


          Can I run a PWA in a browser tab? Sorry that's not an application.


          application: noun. a program or piece of software designed and written to fulfill a particular purpose of the user.


          Websites are rendered in HTML and CSS, but most websites are written in PHP, JavaScript, vbscript, python, and other "real programming languages". I program in .NET (VisualBasic, C#, C++), Java, and Python almost daily, and I can use any one of those languages to write a website. What's the difference between code I run in an exe vs code I run on a website? I'll answer: the only difference is whose CPU is executing it.


          One could even use your own logic by saying "Applications are nothing but window handlers for processes the CPU is running", and in fact they'd be technically correct.


          I don't think how you and I define application is identical. To me the term "browser tabs hosting an application" is incorrect as the browser is the application. An application can stand alone, anything that needs a browser to "render" the information (regardless of what's going on in the background).


          That's because your definition of an application isn't an application. You're applying the definition of "application binaries" to "applications". An application binary is what is run in order to execute the application. The application itself is nothing more than logic that your computer understands.


          Take, for instance, Java applications. Those are real applications, by your own admittance. Yet I can take the same "app.jar" compiled Java application on Windows, macOS, or Linux, and run that application by calling java[.exe|.app] -jar app.jar and it will run exactly as intended, regardless of OS.


          PWAs operate the same way - in fact, if you've ever looked at a PWA shortcut created by chrome or edge, you'll see it targets C:Program Files (x86)GoogleChromeApplicationchrome_proxy.exe --profile-directory="Profile 1" --app-id={chrome extension identifier}. Yes, Chrome is the "engine" that runs the application, but it's targeting a specific application, an application that was installed in, and resides in, %localappdata%GoogleChromeUser DataProfile 1Extensions{chrome extension identifier} (just an FYI, your "LocalAppData" directory is EXACTLY like the Program Files directory, only for applications that are only installed for YOUR account... as an example, if you've ever seen "Would you like to install this for: [x] Just Me [ ] Everybody", if you selected Just Me, it's installed in %LocalAppData%). And guess what? For PWAs, things DO get installed, even if you don't see it happening.


          Further, other than on this website (and other tech websites) I've never seen PWAs mentioned or even advertized.


          The good ones don't need to be mentioned or advertised. All they need is an alert "Would you like to use ________ offline?" and the option to allow the app to install as a PWA. But even then, just because you don't see them doesn't mean they've never existed.


          One of the best examples of a PWA in action is office apps - Microsoft Office Online (Office 365 for Web, Office for Web, whatever they're calling it these days) and Google Docs are probably two of the most stable PWAs in existence. And the purpose behind them is not just to "run in a browser" instead of installing, the purpose is to be able to run those same, critical applications offline (with no internet connection) and with fewer resources than a standard Office 2016 installation. No, it's not as feature-packed as a standard Office install; but most people don't need most features that come from it, and DO benefit from a PWA. Even those that don't even know they could benefit would, if they'd give it a try.


          Fundamentally, unless you consider the browser rendering engine to be part of the operating system (like Chrome OS does), "applications" that rely on HTML and associated technologies (front end or back end) that must be rendered by a "browser" aren't true applications.


          This is just flat out wrong. Even .NET apps need styling. What, you think that the dropdown boxes, radio checks, buttons, hyperlinks, etc, are all just native functionality? Please, that'd be impossible to manage.


          Coding a button in HTML / CSS:

          <div class="button">Click Me</div>


          div .button {

          display: inline-block;

          height: 10px;

          width: 50 px;

          position: relative;

          border: 1px solid black;

          border-radius: 15px;

          }


          Coding a button in C#.NET:

          var myButton = new Button()

          {

          Location = new Point(20,150),

          Height = 10,

          Width = 50,

          Text = "Click Me"

          };


          A server hosted app isn't an app.


          Decades of computing process and best practices disagree with you. And with the push to move everything into the cloud, we're actually going BACK to the "centrally managed compute" model that was prevalent in the 70's and 80's. Think Mainframe and OS/400 practice at 2020's technological level.


    • wright_is

      In reply to LT1 Z51:

      I tried a couple of PWAs (Twitter, for example), but it was a pain. This is a website that is used to open other websites. It works much better pinned than as a separate PWA.

      Even though I've switched to Brave on the desktop, I still use Twitter as a pinned tab and not as a separate PWA app.

      The super-cookie blocking, on the other hand is the real news here. This is a major step forward and I hope other browsers follow suit - although I doubt Chrome will let that happen, until they have a better alternative of data gathering.

      That said, some people prefer it. Why not expand the support for it? I'm guessing financial restrictions mean they have to concentrate on features that benefit the most users and blocking tracking has a much bigger benefit for more users than the introduction of PWA support.

    • matt11to5

      In reply to LT1 Z51:

      I personally like PWAs. I use one for YouTube music and I've been experimenting with using the one for Outlook. They can do more features than using something in a browser tab, plus they are added to your app list, pinnable to task bar, and act like a native desktop app in many ways.


      I think it's a big part of the story for Windows 10X and Chrome OS. These web-first OSs are basically just a browser to start off with and adding more native features is a way to make services more accessible to markets like education and first line workers.


      I would say, just remember that you may not be the target user for these features, but that does not mean someone else may need or want them.

    • duncanator

      In reply to LT1 Z51:

      I too only use a browser to view websites. I'm not really sure what PWA's are used for so I don't really care about them and at no point have I even needed to care about them. I'm not saying I won't at some point, but I haven't had a need for it so I'm not sure why it's a big deal. Perhaps some research is needed.

    • sherlockholmes

      In reply to LT1 Z51:

      Thats not the point. The point is that Mozilla doesnt deliver what users want or use. And thats a bad decision.

      • retcable

        In reply to SherlockHolmes:

        Where is this "demand" for PWA's that you speak of? I would wager that the vast majority of computer users have no clue that PWA's even exist or are an option. I tried out the function on Firefox after Paul wrote about it. It was cool and all but in no way was better than having an actual app installed on my machine. It was not worse but it was no better. Accidentally close the main browser window and poof, there went the PWA, your work and everything, not a good experience.


        Also, if my machine was not connected to the internet at the time, not having an actual application installed on my machine to work with meant that I could not do anything related to that app and then when I was again connected to the internet, have it do its internet-related functions. So there are pros and cons to the PWA thing. Having a machine with no physical apps installed on it and requiring internet access to be able to do anything seems to me to be rather ridiculous.

      • LT1 Z51

        In reply to SherlockHolmes:

        But do users REALLY want it? Or is this the case of Tech Gurus telling users they want this?


        I don't think Jo Schmo knows or cares about PWAs.

        • sherlockholmes

          In reply to LT1 Z51:

          I for one dont use PWAs either and I dont get Pails excitement on it. But: What does mozilla gain by not doing it? It will for sure lose users. And looking at mozillas user base, that cant be the intention.

          • LT1 Z51

            In reply to SherlockHolmes:

            Limited resources, risk analysis. Sometimes just doing something to have it on the "spec sheet" isn't worth it. Especially if it's going to hurt things you need to do. I'm assuming Mozilla is the most resource constrained of all the browser makers.

          • wright_is

            In reply to SherlockHolmes:
            But: What does mozilla gain by not doing it?

            It has more money and resources to plough into features that are used by many users. That is Mozilla's problem, they are cash-strapped and can't do everything at once.

            If it is buggy as hell and hardly used, it makes sense to can it and concentrate on features that are heavily used.

            That said, given that this is still a hidden, experimental feature, it isn't really surprising that it isn't well used.

            What would be interesting is a report on the top-10 PWA enabled websites and see what percentage of visitors actually use them as PWAs...

    • richardbottiglieri

      In reply to LT1 Z51:

      Aside from the ability to work offline (if the PWA supports it), I don't see a tangible benefit of a PWA, either. The web browser has become arguably the most important application we all use every day. We have our web browsers open pretty much all day, anyway. For me (and for most of us, I suspect), it's the first application launched whenever I log onto my PC. What's the difference if Twitter or YouTube is operating in a tab in Edge/Firefox or running as a separate icon in your taskbar?

      I have tried this out on my PCs and Macs, and every time, I just uninstall it and use the PWA "app", and use the site within a browser tab.

      On a mobile phone or tablet, I totally get why we'd want to use an app and not have a million browser tabs open. But on a PC/Mac, I don't really see the benefit.


  2. j5

    I enjoy using Outlook as a PWA but I do have to ask, how many people actually use PWAs? I mean common users and percentage-wise compared to the entire user base?


    I used to be a hardcore Firefox user till Edge moved to Chromium. But honestly, I don't hear talk about PWAs beyond geek circles like this. I have friends and family that are normie users and a typical "tech" conversation with them would like yeah I use "X" browser or app because it's better for privacy. It's never about Edge Collections, PWAs, or I can use a custom theme on Chrome or Edge. And they can't even say way whatever browser or app is better for privacy.

  3. graememeyer

    damn this article salty af

  4. stijnhommes

    "There is likewise currently no plan to ever recommend or use Firefox ever again."


    On the contrary! It appears Firefox is the only sensible browser among all the possible choices.

    We don't need to add a new security hole to our browsers, thank you very much.

    If developers are too lazy to learn how to code a real app, I shouldn't have to be the guinea pig suffering for it. There is already one company that decided to cut the program I was using in favor of a web app, while clearly forgetting that requiring your customers to use a browser when they had access to a standalone app before might not be the best idea (bugs, inability to remember passwords automatically, inability to install on certain browsers, etc). I'm not letting anyone else go that same route. They either make a native app, or be ignored as they deserve.


    We should (1) boycott all PWAs to ensure secure browsing, but at the absolute very least, we should at least (2) make the ability to install them OPTIONAL (no icons, buttons or menu items unless the user wants them) and (3) force every "developer" to clearly mark their PWAs as such in app stores.

  5. needmorehare

    Just wanted to chime in to say that I use PWA functionality to manage Office 365 for 30+ companies, having persistent logins to each admin panel under a separate profile with a simple PWA shortcut from my desktop. Without this, life would freaking suck, as anyone who works with multiple 365 tenants (each secured with a separate 2FA) has surely encountered ECP and SharePoint screwing up and thinking you’re still logged into the previous tenant. Incognito Mode doesn’t scale up when you have tons of requests to deal with in one go.


    Also, loading Discord, Teams and the like as PWAs within Edge or Chrome saves hundreds of megs of RAM and reduces CPU load, while keeping everything working as it normally would. Electron is a crap waste of RAM.

  6. PanamaVet

    I run FireFox inside a Sandbox located on a RamDisk. When I close Firefox everything is erased regardless of features or changes to features.



  7. SYNERDATA

    It's good to know they are cancelling things they kept hidden due to lack of public support.

    • Paul Thurrott

      This might be the most insightful and correct comment I've read all day.
    • rmac

      In reply to SYNERDATA: On the one hand websites, 'the web', are of course a series of interconnected pages. Conversely app stores are an 'app connection', a series of searchable, related apps. Websites work online. Apps work offline. The holy grail would be in making websites and PWAs contiguous, but thus far the groups AKA Apple, Google and Microsoft have not cracked or simply agreed upon the UI to do this. I don't think this process would be garnering public support but rather a realisation of the benefits were one or all of the groups able to make it happen.


  8. sherlockholmes

    In reply to lvthunder:

    No, because I dont need another browser. Therefore I dont have to install another program. I use a browser to browse the web. I dont need two browsers for doing the same thing.

  9. madthinus

    The reality is that Mozilla is busy refreshing the rendering engine and supporting pipelines in Firefox to bring it into line with the growing requirements of htlm5. Sandboxing was a big hurdle as was multi threading. Now it is the rendering engine.


    At the same time their paid developers have shrunk as the cash flows have dried up. This is a feature I am sure they want to build, but it is just not a priority given the tasks at hand and the resources available. If there was ever a case to switch the Mozilla efforts to Chromium, it is now. I trust Mozilla and I do believe they could offer a compelling browser, but they are firm believers on not moving away from their own rendering engine. This I don't believe will change until Mitch Baker steps away.


    So for now, I do like Firefox and I like Mozilla and I will keep on using it. But I also like PWA's like Twitter and my weather page, so Edge does well for those. Life today is a multiple browser world, and that is just fine.

  10. justme

    "Well, there you go. There is likewise currently no plan to ever recommend or use Firefox ever again."


    I dont know. I respect and understand that not supporting PWAs may mean Firefox no longer works for your use case. We all have our own work flow and needs. To me, PWAs are just a webpage pinned to the taskbar which may or may not have all the functionality of the actual website. Its a website pretending to be a program. If its buggy or only allows a portion of features to be used, I'll just bin it. I am either going to use a browser to view a webpage, or use a program/application. Sure, there is the possibility of multi-platform use - but how many PWAs are actually full-featured or work offline? I just dont get the hype.


    The change regarding super-cookies, however, is a big step forward on the privacy front, which is important to me. That will make me pay attention to Firefox. I also like having an alternate rendering engine to Chromium. From a security perspective, if a security flaw is found in Chromium, you can switch to Firefox and vice versa.


    I'd like to see some numbers regarding the percentage of websites that are PWA-enabled along with accompanying stats describing how many of those PWA enabled sites are actually used as such, and what the percentage of visitors to such websites actually uses the PWA.

  11. sherlockholmes

    In reply to lvthunder:

    No because Mozilla is digging its own grave. First they hide this feature. Then they say they remove it because nobody is using it. What kind of politics is this. Microsoft Edge is now in a phase where it is good and stable enough so that I dont need another browser.

  12. unit682

    Firefox is my main and favorite browser. I don’t use PWAs on Firefox, nothing will change for me.

  13. curtisspendlove

    While I don’t care at all about PWAs (they aren’t well supported enough to be worth developing as a web developer yet), I agree that Mozilla seem bound and determined to drive themselves into oblivion.


    At this point they have pissed away so much money (much of it coming from Google) that it isn’t even funny anymore. It is just sad.

  14. Elan Gabriel

    Can we get real life example of someone using PWA for their daily life ? I don't know anyone that's actually does that, I don't see any mention for it outside of tech sites and the few example I see are pretty much just a website with a fancy icon. I don't get PWA at all. It feels like UWP apps. Why would I want it over using the website or a "real" application ?

    • Alastair Cooper

      I use them all the time (at least the web site in a window paradigm if not true PWAs) with Outlook, Netflix, Plex and Kindle Cloud Reader using Brave on Linux. It's been a reason to stick with a Chromium-based driver despite several abortive attempts to switch to Firefox.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to egab:

      I use YouTube TV as a pseudo PWA. Sure, I could just use it as a tab in a browser, but it's more convenient for it to have it's own separate icon on the taskbar, not buried among the dozens of other tabs I might have open at any give moment. In fact, because Chrome and most of it's derivatives don't let you use Ctrl+Tab in most-recently-used order (Opera and Vivaldi are the only exceptions), if you have a just a couple sites that you need to be able to toggle between, having those sites act like apps solves the problem. You can just Alt+Tab between them like real apps, or just use a browser with proper Ctrl+Tab behavior, like Firefox.

    • foxstar

      In reply to egab:

      I use Amazon Luna PWA on my Apple devices. But on Windows Amazon uses a exe instead lol

  15. mixedfarmer75

    I think PWA's makes apps platform agnostic, which is great. Unfortunately, there are very few full featured PWA's. Especially offline features. Adoption has been too slow.

  16. JerryH

    "Nobody uses it so we are discontinuing it because we get too many bug reports from the people who apparently don't use it." Seems legit...

  17. stevek

    Firefox doesn't use the OS Certificate store. And their settings management is their own custom thing as well. This makes managing Firefox in an Enterprise environment a real PITA. We've banned it ourselves for those reasons. I don't see them surviving as they currently are...they may be able to if they also switch to the chromium engine. Which would be better for the internet but ultimately probably worse for them.

    • wright_is

      In reply to stevek:

      It also makes Firefox safer, in some ways. They don't use Chromium's engine, so they don't fall foul of their security mistakes, likewise, if Firefox has a security hole, you can switch to a Chromium browser until it is fixed. It also means that the Chromium browsers have to stick to the standards, as do Mozilla, not the broken Internet we hat with IE adding its own extensions willy-nilly.

      Also the certificate store for Windows doesn't work "properly", it ignores certificate revokation lists, for example.

  18. rob_segal

    Not supporting PWA's will drive some potential Firefox users to another browser (Edge for example). Mozilla is not in a position to bleed users like this. I understand that it could be difficult for them to properly put attention to a feature like this, but PWA support is necessary to continue competing with other browsers.

    • wright_is

      In reply to rob_segal:

      Possibly. I'd like to see some stats about what percentage of visitors to PWA-enabled sites actually use them as PWAs, before deciding that this is a completely dumb move.

      I'm guessing this is purely a financial move, they can't spread themselves too thin, so have to concentrate on features that are actually popular or core to web browsing.

  19. fishnet37222

    I have actually never used PWAs, so the removal of this feature doesn't affect me.

  20. Cdorf

    RIP Firefox- they had a good run

  21. sherlockholmes

    I dont get Mozilla. I guess its time to remove it from my systems.

    • wright_is

      In reply to SherlockHolmes:

      On the other hand, the super-cookie removal / caching change is a huge step forward and places them ahead of most other browsers, when it comes to privacy.

      That said, I've been a Firefox user since it was called Phoenix, but I just started trying Brave and Edge again, because of a few fit-and-finish issues, especially around LastPass on Android (Firefox doesn't work at all with it, you have to copy and paste usernames and passwords out of LastPass and paste them into the browser, that is a poor user experience!).

      It is a shame, we need Firefox and its rendering engine to help keep the Chromium world honest. A monoculture, especially in an Internet sense is a recipe for disaster.

  22. behindmyscreen

    I agree Paul, Mozilla is being stupid here.

  23. rmac

    Presumably Mozilla has realised that browserless PWA's might obviate the need to have a browser in the first place.


    Perhaps MS could buy out the Mozilla engine and ditch Chrome?

    • behindmyscreen

      In reply to rmac:

      There is zero reason for MS to want to do that.....and you need a browser to even consider a PWA, plus the fact that not everything needs to be or should be a PWA.

      • rmac

        I'd be interested to know why there would zero reason for MS to want to do that: better support for CSS features like subgrid; neutrality; divergence/independence from Google etc.
        Think you'll find Steve Sanderson was looking into browserless Blazor PWAs as an experiment. Why would you need a browser for a PWA when you could download it from a store?



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