For more than a decade, we’ve been able to count on one crucial piece of software being available entirely for free: web browsers. But that may soon change. Kind of. In an interview with German publican t3n spotted by the Next Web, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard said a premium Firefox is on its way sometime in fall this year.
What’s going to separate premium Firefox from regular old Firefox? Basically, VPN and cloud storage capabilities. Beard’s answers sounded more hypothetical in detail than the announcement of guaranteed features, but he did give some insight into what a premium Firefox might offer. One example Beard gave was a hypothetical situation where a user wanted to do some online banking over public wifi. That user would get a “certain amount of free VPN bandwidth, and then offer a premium level over a monthly subscription.”
To be clear, Beard emphasized that Mozilla has no plans to charge fees for features that are currently free. We’ve reached out to Mozilla for more details and will update when we hear back (although it’s not clear we will since t3n appears to indicated that Mozilla PR ended the interview after Beard started gabbing about a premium version Firefox.)
Last year, Mozilla partnered with ProtonVPN to offer a small, randomized group of U.S. users the option to buy a subscription at $10 per month. At the time, Mozilla described it as part of a process to “explor[e] new, additional sources of revenue that align with [its] mission.” Talk of a premium-level Firefox seems to be a natural evolution from this experiment.
On the one hand, good job, Mozilla, for thinking of ways to integrate much-needed features and simplifying the use of a quality VPN—something most people should do but won’t out of laziness, cheapness, or lack of funds. But if you’re a pessimist, you could read ominous undertones into premium Firefox as the start of browsers pivoting toward becoming yet another subscription service as Chrome’s competitors try to whittle away at its dominance. And if it were to take off, a shift to subscription models could spell the slow chipping away of the good, fast, and free browsers we’ve become accustomed to.
That’s surely a darkest timeline outcome—after all, some people are more than willing to pay for extensions, and is a paid web browser with premium features built in really all that different?
So, knowing all that, would you cough up a few extra bucks for a supercharged version of Firefox? Or will Mozilla—and potentially others—have to pry your money from your cold dead fingers before you give up free browsers? Feel free to sound off in the comments with your manifestos.