Firefox is preparing to do the unthinkable and release a web browser you'll have to pay for. Not since the browser wars of the early 2000s, when Microsoft made Internet Explorer free and destroyed Netscape's business model, has a paid browser been considered.
What will the paid version offer? Will preexisting features become 'premium'? And how will the other big browsers respond? Here's everything you need to know.
In an interview with German tech publication t3n, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard laid out the company's tentative plans for a premium Firefox - where "premium" is a code word for "not free". His horrified handlers shut things down relatively quickly, but some juicy titbits were divulged before the interview was cut short.
What will Firefox Premium deliver?
Details are still sketchy but the big ticket items are VPN access and cloud storage. According to Beard, a “certain amount of free VPN bandwidth" will be offered in a future update, with those who want more having the option of a monthly subscription.
Firefox has dabbled with ProtonVPN in the past, offering some users the option to buy a monthly subscription to the Swiss-based VPN. But that was a fairly limited trial. Perhaps it was testing the waters before going all in.
It's possible Firefox Premium could also usher in an app store experience where some extensions are free but third parties could charge for premium tools to make your browsing faster, more secure and more private.
Given we are at least a few months away from Firefox Premium launching, there's a lot we don't know. But an integrated VPN and secure cloud storage are features I'd pay for. It's worth noting that Proton, the company behind ProtonVPN and the very popular ProtonMail is planning to release a highly secured storage service.
If that happens, I expect we'll see Firefox Premium and Proton announcing a more formal deal.
How much will Firefox Premium cost?
It's too early to tell. But monthly subs to ProtonVPN start at around $4 a month and I expect its secure storage will cost about the same for a basic service. If Firefox is able to scale up sales by making it part of its browser, then we could see Firefox Premium priced at something like $US6 per month.
That's about $100 per year in local dollars.
If the browser comes with a decent VPN and reasonable capacity of secure storage, then I don't think that's too high a price to pay.
When is Firefox Premium coming out?
Bear indicated the premium version of Firefox could be available in time for Christmas. Put it on your letter to Santa.
Does this mean less features in the free version?
No. At least, not according to Beard. The CEO explicitly stated that Mozilla has no plans to charge fees for features that are currently free. Phew.
What about Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and the rest?
The other heavy hitters in the browser space will be watching Firefox Premium very closely. If the subscription numbers are healthy, you can rest assured that other browsers will probably follow suit with premium options of their own.