Since Mozilla Firefox is an open-source browser, you can find its code on the internet and change it however you like, effectively releasing a new browser — or a Firefox fork.
There are hundreds of Firefox forks available, all with their differences and with their specificities. Some forks can really be useful for some types of users, but in most cases there’s no reason why a regular user would want a Firefox fork instead of regular Firefox.
In any case, there’s no harm in knowing about some of the several Firefox forks — and why they might not be a great idea.
The most used Firefox forks are arguably Waterfox, Pale Moon and Basilisk. They might seem better than plain Firefox, however, in this article we’re going to tell you why you shouldn’t use them.
From all web browsers based on Firefox’s code, Waterfox is the most popular one. It’s popularity is due to the fact that Waterfox offered a 64-bit browser when Mozilla only offered a 32-bit one. Nowadays that doesn’t really matter — Mozilla Firefox is now 64-bit, considering you’re using a 64-bit Windows version.
These days, Waterfox takes after Firefox ESR (or Extended Support Release). Firefox ESR is an “updated” version of Firefox 52, which supports XUL Firefox add-ons and NPAPI plugins — and which stopped being supported in July of 2018.
Due to being based on Firefox ESR, Waterfox also supports XUL extensions and NPAPI plugins. However, why would you switch to Waterfox when Firefox ESR offers it as well?
Waterfox chooses to do things that you can opt for yourself in Firefox, and that aren’t always that useful. For example, Waterfox disables Firefox Pocket — something you can disable in Firefox yourself. It also disables telemetry data sending to Mozilla — again, something you can disable in regular Firefox.
If you use Waterfox with its default settings, you won’t even be able to watch videos on Netflix. Waterfox disables Encrypted Media Extensions by default — and if you wanted to, you could disable them in regular Firefox yourself.
The main problem with Waterfox is that using it is the same as using Firefox ESR, but with a big difference: Firefox ESR gets security updates way faster. Whenever a security update is released for Firefox, Waterfox developers have to patch Waterfox and release the new version to their users — Firefox ESR just updates.
Let’s jump straight into it — Pale Moon is based on old Firefox code. 4 years old code, to be exact. Pale Moon is based on Firefox 38 ESR, which was released back in 2015. If you’re confident about a future update, just know that the previous version of Pale Moon was based on Firefox 24 ESR — Firefox 24 was released in 2013.
As you can see per the screenshot, due to being based on ancient code, Pale Moon still uses the old Firefox interface, before Australis themes were a thing.
At least Waterfox is based on newer versions of Firefox. Pale Moon doesn’t have any of the new Firefox features, nor performance improvements. There are certain types of videos (the ones with DRM) that you just won’t be able to watch on Pale Moon.
Pale Moon is based on Goanna rendering engine. Goanna is an open-source browser engine, and a Gecko fork. Gecko is Mozilla’s proprietary rendering engine, and what most Firefox forks use. There are no advantages to that particular rendering engine fork.
Even though Pale Moon has constant security updates, patching security holes is way harder for their developers. They are, after all, working with old, outdated and no longer supported code. We’re comparing a team of thousands of employees (Mozilla) to a one-man working crew (Pale Moon).
Pale Moon performs worse than other Firefox forks in several browser benchmarks, even though Pale Moon’s developer disagrees with such tools. We can’t really be surprised with such a position after reviewing the results.
Bottom line, there’s no reason why you’d want to use Pale Moon.
Pale Moon’s creator created another browser, based on newer code. We can only hypothesize as for the why. Basilisk is a fork of newer Firefox code, but stripped from the new Servo and Rust codes, which make Firefox Quantum so fast.
In the future, Pale Moon will also be based in this code, but, so far, Basilisk is considered by its developer as an unstable platform.
Due to the fact that it’s developed by the same developer of Pale Moon, Basilisk is kind of in a weird spot. Pale Moon was based on Firefox 24 ESR, but after a while its creator had to switch to a more modern Firefox 38 ESR. Basilisk seems to be heading in the same direction, forgoing new, useful features just to probably incorporate them at a later date.
The reasons why you shouldn’t use Basilisk are pretty much the same as for why you shouldn’t use Pale Moon — with the added fact that Basilisk is considered as an unstable development platform.
There are plenty of viable Firefox forks — way more than those we’ve covered here. However, you shouldn’t ever download them just because. You have to know exactly what you’re looking for and why is a Firefox fork something that will be useful to you.
There’s a chance that you might be able to do what you’re intending to do with a Firefox fork on regular Firefox itself, and just by changing a few settings.
Regular Firefox has more features and, usually, better security patches. Think twice before deciding that you need a Firefox fork.
If you have any doubts regarding Firefox forks, or if you would like to see us cover any other Firefox fork, let us know in the comments below. We would also like to know if you use a Firefox fork and why — we might be surprised with some use cases.
Petr is a serial tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Apro Software, a machine learning company. Whenever he’s not blogging about technology for itechgyan.com or softwarebattle.com, Petr enjoys playing sports and going to the movies. He’s also deeply interested about mediation, Buddhism and biohacking.