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

Posted on July 6, 2024 by Jack Kelly
Tags: rants, web

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 Matters

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 competition. statcounter.com 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 blockers.

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 caved 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 FAQ, “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 addon, 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.

EDIT 2024-07-07: To clarify, the Thunderbird donation page sends money to MZLA Technologies Corporation, which is a different wholly-owned subsidiary from Mozilla Corporation. It is set up to receive non-charitable donations, which makes the decision to block users from funding Firefox seem even more bizarre.


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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