Mozilla has revealed that it’s closing Firefox Test Pilot, an experimental program that has allowed early adopters and the perennially curious to try out fledgling features that are still works-in-progress.
The Test Pilot program is available as a browser extension for Windows, OS X, and Linux, and first launched back in May 2016. A spokesperson confirmed to VentureBeat that Test Pilot projects attained an average of 100,000 daily users.
It’s worth noting here that Test Pilot is separate from the various beta versions of Firefox, which are early iterations designed to fine-tune features intended for the prime-time Firefox. Test Pilot, on the other hand, is more about Mozilla dipping its toes in the water to see whether a new feature is worth pursuing at all in the main version of the app, or even as a standalone product. Ultimately, it allows Firefox developers to take bigger risks with their ideas.
Some recent examples from the Firefox labs include a price-tracking feature that lets online shoppers monitor prices for specific products and receive alerts when prices go down. It also piloted a feature that recommends content based on browsing activity.
So why is Mozilla ditching Test Pilot? The company tried to paint a positive picture, saying that it’s “proud to announce” that it’s “evolving” its approach to experimentation. In real terms this means that it is continuing to open up its innovation and ideation to more people within the Firefox team, rather than making it the “responsibility of a handful of individuals,” according to a statement.
“Everyone is responsible for maintaining the culture of experimentation Firefox has developed through this process,” it said. “These techniques and tools have become a part of our very DNA and identity. That is something to celebrate.”
However, Test Pilot was a popular program for many people, and quite a few of the experiments made into the main Firefox product or into standalone add-ons — for example, the recently launched Facebook Container add-on resulted from an earlier experiment called Containers. Its security-focused Firefox Monitor also emerged from a Test Pilot project.
Mozilla’s decision to kill Test Pilot will more than likely lead to some gripes from the early-adopter fraternity. And it’s difficult to align Mozilla’s reasons for killing Test Pilot with the reality — Test Pilot opens up Firefox experiments to infinitely more people than any internal program could do, and by Mozilla’s own admission the program was extremely successful.
“Test Pilot performed better than we could have ever imagined,” its statement continued. “As a result of this program, we’re now in a stronger position where we are using the knowledge that we gained from small groups, evangelizing the benefits of rapid iteration, taking bold — but safe — risks, and putting the user front and center.”
So if Test Pilot was so great, why kill it? Mozilla hints that it may be cooking up a replacement of sorts, but didn’t divulge what this may be. It said:
In the coming months look out for news on how you can get involved in the next stage of our experimentation.
It’s worth noting here that existing experiments that have launched will continue as is, and may still graduate into future Firefox updates.