share

Mojeek on Waterfox

josh

03 July 2024

5 min

The Waterfox logo, a big blue

Mojeek now makes the list of search engines for the Firefox fork, Waterfox. Let’s have a look at this longstanding Gecko-based browser.

There are a lot of browsers out there which are built using Chromium, Google’s own open source browser project which uses a rendering engine called Blink. The main alternative to Blink and Chromium is Gecko, the engine which powers Firefox. There are considerably fewer browsers which use this rendering engine, but for diversity and competition on the web Firefox’s Gecko is a vital open source project.

Thankfully there are some newer browser projects using Gecko, such as Mullvad, and hopefully there will be even more developers in the future who decide to go for Gecko over Blink. In this piece we’re going to talk about someone who made that decision more than 10 years ago, and who has continued to work on a fast and private fork of Firefox ever since.

Waterfox

Much like Mojeek, Waterfox came from the brain and work of one single individual. It is the creation of British developer Alex Kontos, who originally released his browser to the public back in 2011. This first version of Waterfox, built whilst Alex was still a student, aimed to create a 64-bit version of Firefox way ahead of Mozilla offering one - this meant that Waterfox was blazingly fast on higher-end computers. Alex then moved to taking out elements of Firefox that its audience found to be controversial, such as sponsored links and telemetry.

Waterfox has always prioritised the wants and needs of its userbase, offering a great degree of customisation and encouraging people to make it work as best it can for their use case. The version that you are able to download today has privacy and anti-tracking features out of the box, but on top of that there is a whole lot of extensibility which means you can browse the web your way.

Alongside this Alex also maintained a browser called Waterfox Classic, with this project using a version of Firefox that supports a whole range of addons that Mozilla decided to let go. Classic also worked on considerably older versions of OS X, supporting users whose hardware had been long forgotten by Apple. This was, and still is, vital work; technology companies very frequently pay more attention to what is new and fast than supporting those who are happy with the consistency offered by their older hardware.

With Waterfox having ambitions of building out a team and finding more long-term sustainability, Alex decided to take a more sizeable next step on the journey to making sure Waterfox could support itself.

System1

In February of 2020 Alex announced that Waterfox was acquired by System1, a search advertising technology company which owns the Startpage metasearch engine. He was to continue on developing the project, with the revenue generation element now in the hands of his new employer. In the System1 Welcomes Waterfox press release they stated:

System1 is trying to change [the lack of resources behind privacy tools and services] and put together a suite of products that gives users a more comprehensive privacy-friendly experience. We are doing that via internally-developed products and also by working with great founders who have long experience building and bringing products to market. Waterfox is a great addition to these efforts.

This was an acquisition which allowed System1 to further push on with their proposition of delivering a suite of privacy products. For the next three years Waterfox was a System1 product, advertised alongside Startpage as a complementary search option to it.

A New Chapter

Three years later, in July 2023, Alex published the piece A New Chapter for Waterfox, establishing that the browser was now back to being an independent project.

I am happy to say that Waterfox is independent again. This change allows the community and myself to shape the browser’s future direction.

This piece, along with the ones which have followed, reassert Waterfox’s mission to deliver a browser which puts the people who use it first. In the following year an Android App and a range of other features were introduced into the browser. Releases since have also shown Alex’s ambitions to deliver upon privacy, security, and autonomy.

In one such release of Waterfox was Oblivious DNS, a privacy-enhancing technology which prevents your Domain Name System (DNS) queries from being exposed to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Without this feature, websites that you query through your browser are resolved by asking your ISP to map a human-readable web address onto an IP address, allowing you to type mojeek.com into a browser and connect to us. Oblivious DNS stops these queries from going through your ISP, adding in a middle relay to this process. This middle relay can see where you want to connect, but not the contents of the connection. The destination can see the contents of the connection but not where it came from.

Mojeek

With Waterfox G6.0.13, released in April 2024, you can now choose Mojeek from the preselected search options list. Make no mistake, you were always able to add us in as an option and then turn us into your default, but being added to the list a browser ships with is a massive help when it comes to getting Mojeek in front of more seekers.

With a Waterfox / Mojeek combination you get privacy, alongside a great deal of customisation in both your browser and search engine stack. If using a combination which is fully British matters to you, you can sit down now, boil yourself a cup of tea, and experience tools developed within the country of William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Alan Turing. Why not give it a go? 🇬🇧

josh

03 July 2024

5 min

Get the latest

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive Mojeek news and articles by email.

Subscribe